This weekend, players and fans alike celebrated the AFL’s first Pride Round — but not without an elephant in the room.
While in the men’s competition a single Pride Game is played annually between St Kilda and Sydney, AFLW has well outpaced AFLM by evolving over just five short seasons into a full round.
It’s an historic achievement made possible by the culture of AFLW, in which many players — and members of the community who support the game — are openly proud of their sexuality.
AFLW has fundamentally changed the relationship of the LGBTIQ community to football and vice versa, but this has not necessarily translated into the inclusion or celebration of trans athletes.
Perhaps the best case study of this is Hannah Mouncey.
Mouncey is best known for nominating for the AFLW draft in 2017. While her draft nomination was initially accepted, she was eventually told that she was ineligible for the draft with just over 24 hours’ notice.
Now, Mouncey is in another — potentially legal — battle with the AFL, this time for the right to play in the AFL Canberra Women’s First Grade.
Mouncey insists she no longer wants to play AFLW but, given she wants to play in the Territory’s highest grade, she must undergo a range of testing in line with the AFL’s Gender Diversity Policy.
Under the policy, the applicant must prove their testosterone levels are below a limit of 5nmol/L for at least 24 months, while they must also submit a range of other data including their height, weight, bench press, sprint time and vertical jump scores.
This data is then used to guide the AFL’s decision as to whether a trans or non-binary athlete is considered to have an “unreasonable competitive advantage” over their cisgender peers.
“I’m more than happy to go through the AFL process,” Mouncey said.
“And I’m all for testosterone testing, because I think there needs to be checks and balances in place.”
More troubling, she says, is the “subjective” nature of the other testing requirements.
“I am going to be taller than the average player, but at the same time, there are more than enough players playing at the same height [as me],” she said.
“Would I be seen as having an unfair advantage because of my height? People have strengths and weaknesses.
“Someone might be able to run a four-minute mile but can’t do a push-up. Do the two negate each other?”
Mouncey claims she has submitted a number of similar questions to the AFL without receiving any clear answers. She also says she has not been given any clarity on who from the AFL would sit on the committee making such decisions — and whether they have would have any expertise in trans and gender diverse issues.
“I think these questions really need to be answered if you’re going to put yourself through this process.”
‘They’re open to learning’
Trans footballer Emily Fox is currently taking part in the AFL’s testing process in her bid to play in the 2021 VFLW competition for Williamstown.
Like Mouncey, she says there are elements of the policy she “certainly doesn’t agree with”.
But at 166cm and 68kg, she also recognises that she is less likely to be considered as having an “unreasonable competitive advantage”, compared with other trans women.
“I think there’s a real barrier for trans women who are taller and heavier than me,” Fox said.
“There’s this Western patriarchal concept of femininity, and what the right way is for a woman to look, that’s really hard to overcome.”
As part of the AFL’s process, Fox has also submitted a range of personal data relating to any medical interventions she has had to affirm her gender.
“I’m a bit reluctant to share such private medical data. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a transgender person, it’s that once you decide to transition you no longer have ownership of your own body,” she said.
“Your body becomes the property of the medical system and your choices are limited. And you have got to just toe the line if you want to get to where you want to be.”
But, despite her reservations about the process, Fox says she is “happy” with the way she has been treated by the AFL.
“I think they’re trying to do the right thing by me. I’ve had open and honest conversations with them. And in those conversations, some people at the AFL have admitted that there’s still a lot of work to do in this space.
“They’re still learning and they’re open to learning. And we’ve just got to get through it together.”
Organisations should ‘lean towards inclusion’
Damien Parry is a PhD student at the University of Canberra and recently completed a Masters degree on the topic of transgender inclusion in sport.
He says the issues Fox and Mouncey raise show that sports such as the AFL are “putting the cart before the horse” in drawing up Gender Diversity policies.
While neither Mouncey nor Fox raised issues with testosterone testing, Mr Parry says there is “no scientific consensus” on the issue, with the current International Olympic Committee policy much less stringent than the AFL’s at 10nmol/L over 12 months.
“I think the rules are well in front of the medical science at the moment,” Mr Parry said.
“Without an agreement on what the starting point is, it’s really hard to come up with a policy that will satisfy both the human right of inclusion in sport and the needs of everyone to compete on this so-called level playing field.
“But when there is a tension between inclusion and fairness, organisations should in the first instance lean towards inclusion.”
In a statement provided to the ABC, an AFL spokesperson said that the League’s Gender Diversity Policies “represent a balance between social inclusion and competitive fairness”.
“Our Gender Diversity Policies provide information, guidance and support for leagues, clubs, players and other participants to provide gender diverse people with a safe and inclusive environment to play our game,” the spokesperson said.
“Australian Football is a game for all… and our policies provide an opportunity to play in an environment that is both safe and inclusive”.