Olympic rugby champion Green finds release in transition

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Ellia Green realized as a young child — long before she became an Olympic champion — that a person’s identity and a gender assigned at birth can be very different things.

Now, some 20 years later, one of the stars of Australia’s women’s rugby sevens team that won gold at the 2016 Olympics has become a man.

Green, who kept the same name, told The Associated Press it was the best decision of his life. Realizing that sharing his experience could save the lives of others is what prompted Green to release a video that will be shown to attendees of an international summit on ending transphobia and homophobia in sport on Tuesday. . The summit is hosted in Ottawa as part of the Bingham Cup rugby tournament.

The only other transgender or gender-diverse Olympic gold medalists are Caitlyn Jenner and Quinn, who go by only one name and were part of Canada’s winning women’s soccer team in Tokyo last year.

Seeing so few trans athletes at elite level and so much negative commentary on social media, especially since World Rugby’s decision to ban transgender women from playing women’s rugby, has accelerated Green’s push to point out the wrong. that these things can cause to some children.

More importantly, it’s an attempt to draw attention to a serious health issue – some studies indicate that more than 40% of trans youth have considered attempting suicide.

The 29-year-old Green admitted to being in a “dark place” after retiring from rugby at the end of 2021.

“That’s what happened to me,” Green told the AP. “My rugby career came to an end and I had been in and out of mental health facilities for serious issues. My depression reached a new level of sadness.

He’s in a much better place now with his partner, Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts, and their baby girl, Waitui.

“Vanessa was pregnant and had to go to the hospital to visit him,” Green said. “I had bad episodes. This is the last time I want her to see me like this. But the only way to help heal is to talk about it. . . I would like to help someone to not to feel so isolated telling my story.

History has been difficult at times. Green, who was assigned female at birth, was adopted by Yolanta and Evan Green and moved to Australia from Fiji when she was 3 years old. – lasting trauma.

“I guess from witnessing that I knew from a young age that it wasn’t (the kind of) relationship I wanted to have, but it shaped me to know how a woman should be dealt with,” Green said. “I believe that even in traumatic circumstances, there was a lot to learn.”

It is also a childhood which for Green was marked by an overwhelming realization.

“As a kid, I remember thinking I was a boy in public, I had a short (haircut) and every time we met new people they thought I was a boy,” Green says. . “I always used to wear my brother’s clothes, play with tools and run shirtless. Until my boobs grew and I was like “oh no”.

“My mom used to dress me in girlish outfits . . . I always wanted to make her happy, so if she wanted me to wear a dress, I wore a dress.

Yolanta also helped channel Green into the sport, and excellence as a sprinter in athletics eventually led to a professional career in rugby. The all-action rugby sevens form made its Olympic debut in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and the women’s competition came first, with Australia beating New Zealand in the final to claim the first gold medal. Green, a flying winger, was among the stars of the show.

All the while, however, the deeper feelings were becoming clearer for Green and really came to a head after the announcement of the decision to retire from rugby last November, months after missing out on selection for the Australian women’s team. for the delayed Tokyo Olympics.

“I spent a lot of time after I finished my Australian rugby career just at home in a dark room, I didn’t have the confidence to see anyone,” Green says in the pre-recorded video for the top.

“I was ashamed of myself, I felt I had let a lot of people down, especially me and my mom. I felt like a complete failure, it was heartbreaking,” Green added, explaining the feelings that lingered afterward. being cut from the Olympic team.” The only thing that kept me positive was that I had already planned my surgery and treatment in preparation for my transition. It was something I counted down the days with my partner.

Now Green wants to stand up for others, highlighting the harm that can be done when sports bans are introduced and how these policies can amplify negativity towards trans and gender diverse people.

“Banning transgender people from playing sports is shameful and hurtful,” Green said. “It only means that suicide rates and mental health issues are going to get even worse.”

Green’s comments coincide with the release of research from the University of British Columbia in Canada and Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, which shows a disconnect between rugby leaders and women playing rugby. rugby. The survey shows that while around 30% of women think trans women have an unfair advantage, the vast majority are not in favor of banning trans athletes from rugby.

Playing rugby at any level, or even coaching, is not on Green’s radar at the moment. He currently works at the Sydney International Container Terminal – “on the docks”, he says – but is also studying for a university degree in international security and has ambitions to advise businesses on general security and cybersecurity.

For now, Green says he’s a “full-time dad, and it’s tough, maybe tougher” than anything he’s done. He also thanks his partner Vanessa, who has a law degree and is currently doing her doctorate – “she inspired me every day”.

Green hopes her story will inspire other trans people to be confident in their decisions about who they want to be.

“I just knew it was going to be the most freeing feeling when I had this surgery and to be in the body I knew I had to be,” Green said in the video. “It was a bright spark in my mind during those dark times facing the demons, but I knew there was light at the end of the tunnel.”

He adds in the AP phone interview, “I knew one thing that would make me really happy is that, #1, I’m going to live the rest of my life with my partner and my daughter. And that I will live the rest of my life like his father.


AP Sports Writer John Pye contributed to this story.


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