SYDNEY (Reuters) - When Ellia Green’s mother once said that the Olympic champion rugby player would make an incredible mum one day, the compliment triggered a moment of confusion.
“I definitely wanted kids,” Green recalled. “But I just couldn’t see myself as a mummy, and I didn’t know why. Then I’m like, ‘I’m a daddy and have always have been’.”
Fast forward a few years and Green, a lightning quick winger who won gold in the women’s Sevens at the 2016 Rio Olympics, is living that very role having transitioned to male since retiring from rugby last year.
The cascade of braids that marked Green out on the rugby pitch have gone, he had gender affirming surgery last November and is now a proud dad of a six-month-old baby he had with his partner.
“After finishing up my rugby career, that was something I was really excited about because I had been planning it for a while,” the Australian told Reuters in an interview.
“I knew I couldn’t do hormone therapy or surgery during my career ... it’s all happened so quickly.”
On Tuesday, the 29-year-old will make opening remarks by video at a summit on “Transphobia and Homophobia in Sport” organised around the staging of the Bingham Cup - sometimes known as rugby’s gay World Cup - in Ottawa.
Gender identity in rugby has been a controversial issue since global governing body World Rugby last year banned transgender women from taking part in the women’s game over safety concerns.
While not overly keen to centre his own transition in the debate, Green is certain that when it comes to balancing the various issues, inclusion needs to come out at the top.
“People deserve a choice to do what they want and achieve their dreams,” he added.
“No one likes to be excluded because of how they identify, it’s like being bullied and judged ... and that’s when you see the rates of suicide increase and mental health illness and depression.
“I wish people would just see a human being wanting to be involved, whether it be in the workplace or the sporting environment.”
Green also feels that not enough weight is placed on the varying sizes and strengths of athletes inside women’s sport already, nor on the impact the process of transition has in mitigating the advantages accrued in male puberty.
“I just think there’s a lot of science around it but we could have more research done, or more conversation about it, not just say all trans people are banned,” he said.
Green was born in Fiji and moved to Australia as a child with his adoptive parents, quickly showing an aptitude for sport and competing at the world junior athletics championships before switching to rugby at the age of 18.
He made an instant impact in Sevens and was one of the biggest names in the women’s game by the time he helped Australia bag the inaugural Olympic title in Rio.
Green suffered a hammer blow in 2018 when his mother, Yolanta, died after a long fight against cancer and that was compounded last year when he was left out of the Australia squad for the Tokyo Olympics.
“It was pure disappointment, rugby was something I’d shared a lot with my mum, she’d get so excited watching me play,” he recalled.
“Not being picked, I thought I’d disappointed her, I disappointed myself, I disappointed my partner. I just kind of put myself in a hole. I just shut down, I couldn’t go out of the house for a while, I couldn’t open the windows, I had to be in complete darkness.”
His transition and the birth of his daughter in February had helped his mental health, he said, although there were still “ups and downs”.
Now combining studies with a job at Sydney’s Port Botany, Green is hoping that telling his story might help other athletes struggling with their identity.
“It’s an opportunity to say, ‘this is possible’, and there are athletes out there that are going through this, and continuing their lives,” he said.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)
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