Ellia Green She realized as a child, long before she was an Olympic champion, that a person’s identity and the gender assigned to them at birth can be two very different things.
Now, 20 years later, one of the members of the Australian rugby sevens Olympic champion team in 2016 embarked on a transition to the masculine gender. It’s the best decision he ever made, said Green, who retains the same name, in an interview with The Associated Press.
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Convinced that his experience could save the lives of others, Green released a video Tuesday at an international conference to combat transphobia and homophobia in sport. The conference takes place in Ottawa, as part of the Bingham Cup rugby tournament.
The only other known transgender or “gender diverse” Olympians are Caitlyn Jenner and Quinn, a member of the Olympic-winning Canadian soccer team in Tokyo who goes by one name.
The dearth of elite trans athletes and the negative comments about them on social media, especially after World Rugby decided to ban transgender women from competing in women’s rugbyprompted Green to talk about the harm those things can do to some kids.
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More importantly, you want to draw attention to a serious health problem: some studies indicate that more than 40% of trans kids considered suicide at some point.
Retirement from rugby and his existential crisis
Green, who is 29, admits he felt “very bad” after retiring from rugby at the end of 2021. “I was in and out of health centers for people with mental disorders. My depression made me feel new levels of sadness,” she commented.
Now he feels much better and has a partner, Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts, and a little daughter, Waitui.
“Vanessa had to visit me in the hospital when she was pregnant,” Green said. “She was going through very bad periods. I don’t want him to see me like this again. But the only way to heal the wounds is to talk about it. I want to tell my story to help others not feel so isolated.”
It’s a tough story. Green was assigned the female gender at birth in Fiji. At the age of three she was adopted by Yolanta and Evan Green and she moved to Australia. As a child, she witnessed episodes of domestic violence and saw how Yolanta was mistreated by another couple. That “caused me enormous trauma,” Green said.
“I guess after seeing that, I knew very early on that that wasn’t the kind of relationship I wanted to have and it helped me know how to treat a woman,” Green said. “In the midst of so many traumatic situations, I learned a lot from all of that.”
Green says that as a child “I felt like I was a boy when I was in public. He cut my hair short and when I met people, they thought I was a boy.”
“I always wore my brothers’ clothes, played with tools, walked around without a shirt. Until my breasts started to grow and I was like, ‘oh no.’
“My mother dressed me in girl’s clothes and I wanted to please her,” he added.
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Yolanta facilitated Green’s foray into the sport and she initially excelled as a sprinter, before turning to rugby and turning professional. Rugby sevens made its Olympic debut in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro and Australia claimed the first gold medal in the women’s category after defeating New Zealand in the final. Green, who was flying down the sides, was one of the figures of the tournament.
Green became increasingly clear about who she was and went through another dark period when she was not called up to the squad for the Tokyo games, after which she decided to retire.
“I locked myself in the house, in a dark room, I didn’t want to see anyone,” he said in a pre-recorded video. “I was embarrassed. I felt like I let a lot of people down, especially myself and my mother. I felt that I was a failure and that destroyed me”he added, alluding to the fact that he was not called up for the national team.
“The only positive element (at that time) was that I had already decided to have surgery and start treatment with a view to my transition. I was counting the days with my partner,” she added.
Green wants transgender athletes to compete
Now Green wants to help others, highlighting the damage that can be done by marginalizing people from competitions and how those policies promote negative views of trans and gender diverse people.
“Marginalizing transgender people from a sport is something shameful and harmful,” he said. “It makes suicide rates and mental disorders worse.”
Green does not plan to return to playing or coaching for now. He works at the Sydney International Container Terminal, ‘at the docks’, and studies international security at university. She dreams of advising companies on cybersecurity issues.
For now, he is a “full-time father, the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” he says. He assures that his wife Vanessa, who is a lawyer and is getting a doctorate, “inspires me every day”.
“I knew that when I had surgery and I had the body I was supposed to have, it would be a liberating thing,” Green said in the video. “I knew that it would make me very happy to spend the rest of my life with my partner and my daughter, as her father.”