Sport

Trans women in the AFLW: The Hannah Mouncey controversy

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Hannah Mouncey in happier days (Image via @HannahMouncey)

Trans sportswoman Hannah Mouncey has pulled out of running to become one of the next big stars of the women’s branch of the Australian Football League, after withdrawing from next month’s national draft.

In a Twitter post last Sunday, Mouncey announced her withdrawal, saying:

“The AFL has treated me like shit, with every effort made to wear me down to a point where I couldn’t continue."

Along with the post, she uploaded testosterone results dating back to 2015, all significantly under the Olympic reference maximum that bars trans women from competing in female competitions.

The attack on Hannah Mouncey is appalling, transphobic and has sexist implications for the wider group of players.

Having played AFL at various local levels over four seasons, in the city, country and in several countries across Europe, I have seen my fair share of body types.

One of the joys of the game is the ability of different players to excel, exploiting niches to their advantage. The zippy Eddie Betts and the impossibly strong Sarah “Tex” Perkins each have an important role to play. This is one of the features that makes the game so inclusive and accessible — especially to young women, who, in adolescence are too often told they must conform to a specific standard to play a sport they love: too short for basketball, too tall for ballet or too rough for netball. It is a game that encourages women to love their bodies for their unique strengths and embraces difference.

As Mouncey herself points out in her article for The Guardian earlier this month, to impose restrictions on players due to their weight sends dangerous messages to young girls and women about what is acceptable. This is a huge step backwards for organisation that has grown out of a community dedicated to supporting all types of women.

Women’s AFL has a proud, progressive history. Football is traditionally a highly masculine sport, with a reputation for excessive drinking, sexual aggression and violence; women’s AFL has been an antidote to this culture. Initially the sport attracted people who were not afraid to be branded as “masculine” and thus a community of forward thinking players, outside the mainstream culture of young Australian women, was formed. This provided a community for people of all different sexualities, races, sizes, shapes and those who presented in many different ways. Many of the AFLW’s most high profile players, such as Moana Hope, Erin Phillips and Tiarna Ernst, are lesbians. I have played on football teams with and against many trans and non-binary players, and they have not only been valuable sporting additions to the team, but helped me and my team mates learn about gender politics (which I should say, should not be their obligation, but was graciously shared with us as their long-term team mates and friends).

People who suggest that trans women should not be allowed to play because of their size, or their purported superior strength, not only flout science, which contends the opposite, with one study showing female transgender distance runners lose their speed advantage over cis women after one year of hormone therapy, but patronise all types of women who choose to play the game. Women are autonomous, and play sport accepting the risk. This contention also ignores the natural variation in the bodies of all women, cisgender or otherwise. Former Melbourne ruck, Erin Hoare, now playing for Geelong, for example, towers over 188cm Mouncey, at 194cm.

With precedent, how will we treat cisgender women who have naturally higher testosterone levels because of polycystic ovary syndrome, should they also conform to the same rigorous testing standards as Mouncey and other trans women?

Sport is an important pillar of mental health for many people, and with the shocking statistics around trans people’s mental health, transgender people are 11 times more likely to attempt suicide in their lifetime, sport provides a vital community and support network for many.

Most of the people protesting against trans womens’ right to play football are not people who come from the women’s AFL community, but instead hail from the same stock as those who are not willing to follow the sport because it is “not as fast or exciting as men’s games”.

We have already lost a promising draft prospect in Mouncey, who was the second highest goal scorer in this year’s VWFL. Letting these people have any more influence on our strong and proud culture would be a grave mistake.

Sib Hare Breidahl is a final year medical student currently working at King's College London and plays AFL for the Wandsworth Demons.You can follow Sib on Twitter @sibhare.

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