The year 2016 was a turning point for me in sport, as I received a lot of media attention when Marjorie proposed to me during the Olympics in Rio. Since then, I’ve become more aware of the impact sports can have and the platform I have as an athlete to stand up for certain causes. I hope to continue to make my family and country proud, and use rugby to show women and girls that we are strong and resilient.
Coming out hasn’t been an easy process for me, despite the many precedents I had in my club. You would expect that the presence of gay girls would make it easier. But being surrounded by them caused an opposite effect. I hated the idea of confirming a stereotype, so I resisted.
There is next to zero representation of trans athletes in the UK, it can be a hostile environment for trans people, and not as progressive as other nations when it comes to trans inclusivity. I aim to change that by being visible.
I found it a little absurd to out myself as an athlete because your sexual preference doesn’t have the slightest influence on your sport achievements.
Parents didn’t want to send their kids to certain clubs because there were lesbians on the team. Thinking that their daughter would automatically become gay by playing on the same team! We were known for having a good few lesbians on my hockey team but we were the best club around so it didn’t bother us.
When I eventually came out, I also noticed that I felt so much better which improved my tennis. It’s understandable that it’s hard in the beginning, but afterwards you wonder why you didn’t give in earlier.
During games, I often have to endure a lot. “Transbitch, cunt …”, I’ve already heard all kinds of insults. One time I was on my way to score a goal, when suddenly the opponent tackled me really hard, without even having the ball. To the referee, I heard them say: “But that’s a man on the field we have to play against!”.
During my first rugby season, I don’t think anyone knew I was gay, simply because it was not really something scandalous and no one felt the need to pressure me into labelling myself.
I want to inspire people in more ways than just fitness. To do that, I couldn’t be afraid to be myself, because I know there will always be negative and rude people regardless. I want to show others to also not be afraid to be themselves. True happiness comes from being able to express who you are. To accept yourself and love yourself.
I wish no one needed to ‘come out’ anymore and that’s the way I feel things are moving. The club and national team support everyone, from all backgrounds, not just gay people. If you want to come along, train hard and have fun then you are welcome.
The University of New Haven was an amazing place to be a gay athlete; we used to have a saying “she went to New Haven, and now she’s gay”, because there were so many lesbians there.
I could pass as straight and being long and lithe I was always told I “looked” like a ballerina. So I fit this aesthetic and the stereotype but it was not who I really was. I always felt like I was impersonating someone instead of being authentically me.
The platform to impact another human being as a professional athlete is unparalleled. I want to use this platform to inspire and advocate for equality.
One of the hardest aspects of my transition was my love of my sport and the risk that I might not be able to swim.
Many British athletes in the spotlight avoid disclosing their personal lives to the public but could make a real difference if they did. Not just for the young athletes but to the parents/grandparents/family/friends etc of a young athlete.
I try to be more visible about it now than I was then, because I want to encourage a cultural climate where other young trans people can feel enthusiastic about their decisions rather than ashamed or afraid.
Women’s ice hockey is pretty open to gay athletes, but I found that in rowing and track it was slightly harder to come out. Each sport’s mentality is different, and thus causes coming out to be a different experience.
I compete at my best when I have a clear head and zero distractions. If I’ve got the worry of coming out, judgement, people’s opinion of my sexuality, etc on my mind then there’s no chance I’d be able to compete well.
It is good to have separate LGBT leagues because it allows a safe space for LGBT athletes to play the game where they will not need to worry about being judged by others for their sexual orientation.
My mother’s reaction was not understanding or loving. I was told that it wasn’t true, that I did not like women and that I did not know what I was talking about.
I hope more step out, in more sports. When I was a young athlete, I was so scared. I wished I had someone tell me everything will be ok, that you will learn to be comfortable in your own skin and that you will find friends who love you for you.
Every one of my friends and family knows I prefer women. I find it much easier this way, because when everybody knows, I can just be myself and don’t have to hide my sexuality.
You can do this, soon you will play with the boys if you want to.
Being an athlete, especially at the highest level, provides a great public platform to set an example, particularly for younger individuals.
I doubted for a very long time and was in complete denial. Once I knew, I also found it very difficult to tell my team.
If you are good at what you do and put in the effort, that is all that matters. People recognize hard work.
Sports should bring people together. Everyone is different and diverse and that’s what makes it so beautiful.
Racing is a very masculine sport so I was worried it may harm my racing career, and possibly coaching too. But staying hidden was nothing but torture and pain. You kind of live two lives and over time it wears you down and you feel depressed.
I’ve never faced any sort of problem being a gay athlete. But there were more openly gay athletes in Rio as it becomes less stigmatised to come out publicly.
Who you are or who you love doesn’t change the way you play the game.
I have never been scared to lose sponsors. I thought it was a strength of my personality to show them who I really am.
As a coach, you often touch your gymnasts to help to execute their exercises. So when I asked if they didn’t think it was weird that I touched them, they told me they had never even thought about this.
There are a lot of other athletes in the trampoline and tumbling world who are gay. Seeing how they were accepted made it easier for me to come out.
I’ve always played with older girls, so I always had examples. I’ve always perceived lesbian girls as something normal.
I’ve had times when I felt I had to pretend I was straight. Actually that was just to avoid negative reactions, because after a while you get sick of being targeted all the time.
In the end, I think there are much more people who respect you for what you dare to do, than people who disrespect you for who you are.
What really helped me to take the decision to come out, was the fact that I had already achieved a lot in sports. I became world champion, broke a number of world records and won the Belgian championship several times. So I already had proven myself and was confident about myself.
I didn’t have anyone as an example, I cannot name one person who took the same path as I did. In the beginning, I really felt like an intruder in women’s sports. And that is something that should be tackled.
I am constantly in contact with my coach as I work with him on a daily basis. So I thought he should know. I cannot work with someone who does not know me.