Ellia Green, a member of the 2016 Olympic champion women’s rugby sevens team from Australia, has come out as a transgender man.
Green came out in a video shown Tuesday at a summit on dealing with homophobia and transphobia in sports, held in conjunction with the Bingham Cup rugby tournament in Ottawa, Canada.
“Imagine not being able to do what you love because of how you identify,” Green, who is keeping the same name post-transition, said in the video. “Banning transgender people from sport, I think, is disgraceful, and I think it’s hurtful. The rates of suicide and mental health [issues] will get even worse.”
“Toward the end of my career, I was having some difficulties with my mental health,” Green, who retired last year, continued. “One promise that I made myself [was] that when my career ended I would live the rest of my life in the identity and the body that I should have, and it’s a really difficult thing to do in this time and day. I mean, all you have to do is turn on the TV or go on social media platforms and you can see the amount of bullying, harm, and discrimination that goes on about gender identity.”
“For someone to be open about [being trans] in the public eye is absolutely daunting,” he went on. “So I spent a lot of time after I finished up my career with Australian rugby just in the house, in a dark room. I hadn’t been picked for the Tokyo Olympics, so I felt like a complete failure, and this was heartbreaking.
“But the one thing that kept me positive was the fact that I had planned my surgery, my top surgery, and it was something I was literally counting down the days with my beautiful partner. I just knew that it was going to be the most liberating feeling when I had that surgery.”
“To those listening or those who might have a story even the slightest bit similar to mine, I just love to tell you that it does get better. And it has taken me so much courage to even sit here right now and talk about it. My heart is racing. My palms have been sweaty. This is the first time that I have been so open to talk about this. And the main reason is that I am so worried about the reaction of people. Will people treat me differently? Will friends and family love me any less? You know, are people going to get a shock? What will the media say about me? And the thing is, even without changing genders, changing appearance … people are always going to have something to say, whether that be positive or negative, and I’ve learned that in 10 years of being a professional rugby player. So why not live the rest of your life exactly as you want to be? It’s just too short to live it as something else.”
Around the time of his retirement, he was in and out of mental health facilities, he told the Associated Press in a follow-up interview. His wife, Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts, was pregnant, and he wanted to get better for her and their child. They now have an infant daughter, Waitui.
Green said transitioning was the best move of his life. The athlete, now 29, said he’d been aware of his trans identity since childhood. “As a kid I remember I thought I was a boy in public,” he told the AP. “I had a short [haircut], and whenever we met new people, they thought I was a boy. I always used to wear my brother’s clothes, played with tools, and ran around with no shirt on. Until I grew breasts, and I thought, Oh, no.”
Green said he decided to come out publicly because of so much negativity around trans athletes, including World Rugby’s decision to bar trans women from women’s rugby. “I’d like to help someone not feel so isolated by telling my story,” Green said in the AP interview.
The Bingham Cup, sponsored by International Gay Rugby, is an inclusive tournament, with no discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s named for Mark Bingham, a gay rugby player who was a passenger on United Flight 93, which crashed September 11, 2001, near Shanksville, Pa. Bingham and others fought back against the plane’s hijackers and diverted the flight. The plane was most likely intended to crash into the U.S. Capitol.