Rory Blundell works with Australia’s largest LGBTI youth organisation as their Stand Out Co-ordinator. He also played a huge role in creating a revolutionary social tool to support LGBTI youth who fear coming out to family and friends.
Proud 2 Play is a huge fan of Rory’s work, and we love that he stresses how important being involved in sport is for not just your physical wellbeing, but also for mental health.
What pronouns do you use?
How are you involved in sport or physical activity?
Sport and physical activity has always been a big part of my life and something that is incredibly important to my mental health and wellbeing. I played soccer for over 11 years and also played a variety of other sports including touch football. For the past 8 or so years I’ve been involved in martial arts and am currently practicing a mixed martial arts style called Zen Do Kai with the Melbourne Dragons.
What is the thing you enjoy most about playing sport or doing physical activity?
What I love about sport, and in particular martial arts is how it takes my mind away from all of my other stressors in life and the dysphoria I can encounter with my body and re-focuses it on what my body is doing and how it’s interacting with the world. It’s extremely good for my mental as well as physical health and gives me a sense of strength and confidence.
What is the most important thing about being involved sport or physical activity to you?
Asides from health benefits, being involved in sports and physical activity can sometimes really provide a sense of connection and community. The Melbourne Dragons Martial Arts club is an all-inclusive club aimed at queer and gender diverse people. Training with people, especially people with similar identities and experiences to you, really creates a sense of family and support. Again, I also think the impact on mental health and wellbeing through the distraction, action and energy that sport and physical activity can provide is extremely important.
Have you faced many barriers in being involved in sport and physical activity?
Yes. As a queer and gender diverse person it can be particularly difficult to find a place to play a sport as myself without discrimination. When I first played soccer aged 7-14, I played in the mixed team. Eventually it came to a point where the boys in the team wouldn’t pass the ball to me or take me seriously because I was perceived to be a “girl”. I switched to the ladies division at 14 and encountered the typical issues of being treated as lesser than the boys team, never being given priority and feeling like I would never be able to play professionally. This in combination with the feeling of unease about how my gender was being expressed and perceived in the women’s competition made me eventually decide to stop playing. As I still can’t play in the men’s division in most clubs, I really don’t feel like I can play soccer at club level.
I started Taekwondo at 14 and honestly found the experience refreshing. I feel like martial arts in general are largely gender inclusive and I was always encouraged to spar/partner with people of different age ranges, skill-levels, and bodies to gain experience. After moving to Melbourne I started a new Taekwondo club. While I was starting to be open with my trans identity around friends and the LGBTIQ+ community, I didn’t feel comfortable to share that with the club. I told them my name but I didn’t reveal my gender. As I am not on testosterone and I can’t wear a binder while I train, I was read as a woman and I felt like I couldn’t correct that assumption. After around a year I decided to stop taekwondo and move to a club that was LGBTIQ+ inclusive. Since starting at Melbourne Dragons I have never felt like my gender or sexuality has been a barrier. Everyone there is super supportive and my Sensei uses gender-neutral terms when referring to the class. The group uses a lot of other affirmative techniques and practices making the whole club feeling supportive.
What more could be done by sporting organisations, clubs, or sporting spaces to recognise the needs of Trans people and make them more visible in the conversation around sport?
The first step is acknowledging that trans people exist everywhere and that you have to use affirmative practice regardless of how many trans and gender diverse people are open in your sporting club/organisation/space, because there will be gender diverse people who will either be participating already or who want to access your space and feel like they can’t.
The second step is to make all policy trans and gender-diverse inclusive. This means things like allowing participants to self-describe their gender identity rather than pick between man and woman. It’s also important not to set birth certificates as the marker for someone’s identity. To change the sex marker on a birth certificate a trans person has to undergo some extremely invasive and often inaccessible procedures that many trans people either can’t or don’t want to go through. Trans and gender diverse people come in many different shapes and sizes just like cisgender people, it is redundant to base someone’s ability to play a sport based off of a birth certificate.
If there is a genuine concern about safety of the player or other players in a contact sport then there needs to be an open dialogue with the trans person to discuss options and there should always be an alternative to having to play on a team that doesn’t correspond to that person’s gender.
One of the most important things all clubs can do is challenge transphobia and make transphobic behaviour unacceptable. This starts with learning what transphobia is and can look/sound like and then coming up with disciplinary and reporting procedures that everyone can access.
All sporting clubs/organisations/spaces should go through LGBTIQ+ inclusive practice training and become involved with organisations like Proud2Play, LGBTIQ+ events and important days. Highlighting trans and gender diverse people in campaigns, advertising or player profiles is also extremely important. There are very few trans role models when it comes to sport and this can be a crucial thing for young people and encouraging/reassuring them about sport.
How important is trans visibility in the sporting world?
Extremely important. As stated above, there are very few trans role models when it comes to sport and this is a huge problem. We know that trans and gender diverse young people are at such high risk of mental illness and suicide and we also know how beneficial sport and physical activity is to mental health and wellbeing. When there are active barriers preventing trans and gender diverse people from participating in sport, discrimination when we do participate, and little to no role models, that does not provide a safe or easy pathway for trans young people in accessing sport.
How do we all achieve a playing field where all people regardless of their sex or gender are accepted in the sporting world?
Through both listening and prioritising trans and gender diverse people when it comes to our particular needs and concerns in sport. There are lot’s of obstacles that need to be challenged, changed and overcome and this can only happen when sporting clubs and organisations are willing to make that change and make a more inclusive space and culture for trans participants.