Former rugby sevens international Ellia Green has come out as a trans man, saying he hopes the announcement would help others to feel comfortable enough to make decisions about who they want to be.
The Australian Olympic champion, who said he had suffered from serious mental health issues since retiring from the sport last year, made the announcement in a pre-recorded video shown at an international summit in Canada on ending homophobia and transphobia in sport.
“I promised myself that when my rugby career ended, I would continue to live the rest of my life in the identity and the body that I know I am meant to be in,” Green said.
“I just knew it was going to be the most liberating feeling when I had that surgery and to be in the body I knew I had to be. That was a bright spark in my mind during these dark times facing demons, but I knew there was light at the end of the tunnel.”
The 29-year-old, who won a gold medal at the Rio Games in 2016, becomes the first Olympian to come out as a trans man. The only other transgender or gender diverse Olympic gold medalists are decathlete Caitlyn Jenner and the Canadian football player Quinn, who won gold in Tokyo last year.
Green’s transition comes at a time when the spotlight is on the issue of trans athletes in professional sport.
Transgender women have been blocked by World Rugby from competing in elite women’s international rugby union while the International Rugby League has precluded rugby league players who have transitioned from male to female from international competition. In June, swimming’s world governing body, Fina, voted to bar transgender women from elite female competitions.
The decisions have been widely criticized by trans advocates, including Green, who say they only add to transphobia and compound mental health issues in the trans community.
“Imagine not being able to do what you love because of how you identify, banning transgender people from sport, I think is disgraceful, and I think it’s hurtful,” said Green. “I think that the alarmingly high rates of suicide and the mental health challenges which trans and gender diverse youth experience will get even worse.”
Green has no ambition to return to the sport himself at the moment, after retiring a few months after failing to make the Australian women’s sevens team for the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
At that point, he struggled with his own mental health and suffered from depression, admitting he spent a lot of time “just in the house, in a dark room”.
“I was ashamed of myself, I felt I had let a lot of people down, especially myself and my mom. I felt like a complete failure, it was heartbreaking,” he said. “The one thing that did keep me positive is that I had already planned my surgery and treatment towards my transition. It was something I was counting down the days with my partner.”
Having had a daughter, Waitui, with his partner, Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts, Green said it was important to lead by example and help others who may be facing the same decisions.
“A big reason why I wanted to do this and talk is because I want my daughter to see me one day and say, ‘Wow, my dad was brave enough to talk about this, and my dad was brave enough to share his story with others to help them live their lives a little better, a little easier than what he did at this time,’” he said.
“It is possible to live a life as your true self. It is possible to find love, to have babies, to get married, to do all that, even though there are laws out there and people saying you can and can’t do that. You can do it.”
Erik Denison, a Monash University researcher involved in research around homophobia and transphobia in sport, hailed Green’s bravery and said public support from high-profile athletes was invaluable given the alarming rates of suicide and poor mental health among trans and gender-diverse young people.
“I’m awed by Ellia’s bravery and her deep desire to help save the lives of trans youth through sharing her story,” Denison said. “He will be such a powerful role model to young people and sharing his story of him will help to save lives.”