‘We’re human beings’: Transgender rugby player says ban is punishment

Layt says rugby league's decision to exclude transgender women is "really disappointing".

Transgender former rugby player Caroline Layt said she was assaulted by her teammates nearly two decades ago, and now she fears a new generation of players is being punished for being themselves.

The Australian decried rugby league’s world governing body after it announced a ban Tuesday on transgender players in international fixtures while it undertakes research to finalise a new policy in 2023.

Layt played rugby before and after her transition, a three-year process involving hormones and finally surgery in 1998. 

She went on to play successfully in top women’s sides including representing New South Wales in rugby league, but her time in the sport was often tough.

In 2005 people found out she was transgender, and perceptions of her changed.

“I went from the penthouse to the outhouse,” Layt said in an interview with AFP.

The 56-year-old former player, now a journalist and activist for transgender athletes, said she was “physically assaulted” by some fellow players during club training in 2005.

The following year, playing for another side, Layt said she was targeted for injury on the field by opponents.

“Some of those players have since apologised to me,” she said. 

“There’s a couple that have not and would not have changed in their outlook or attitude, but the ones that have: I really appreciate that and consider them friends.”

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Rugby league’s decision now to exclude transgender women is “really disappointing”, she said.

Layt said the league had decided to “jump on the bandwagon”, a day after international swimming effectively banned transgender athletes from women’s races, placing them instead in a new “open category”.

Swimming body FINA said male-to-female transgender athletes could only join women’s races if they had not experienced any part of male puberty, deciding that it conferred a physical advantage even after hormone suppression.

“We are human beings, we have feelings, and we feel like we are being singled out,” Layt said.

“I transitioned a long, long time ago,” she added.

“They don’t seem to listen to the fact that it is inherent, and it is also intrinsic to us that we were female from a very early age.”

Layt said she felt she was a girl when she was four years old, and if society had been different at the time she might not have had to go through male puberty.

“We get punished for transitioning, we also get punished for having to go through puberty,” Layt said.

“Basically what they’re saying is: ‘We don’t want you.'”

She rejected the argument that transgender women necessarily had a physiological advantage over cisgender athletes.

“We are not all the same height, the same weight, the same size,” Layt said.

She called on the sporting authorities to establish scientific standards on a case-by-case basis, for example by setting a number of years after transition before transgender athletes can compete at an elite level.

For now, she would not encourage transgender girls and young women to play rugby.

“I would tell them to hide,” she said. “Or go play a sport that is inclusive.”

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