It’s Football vs Transphobia week in my native UK and following on from a rather unusual trending tweet on Twitter, I have decided to talk about my own experiences as a transgender football fan. Please note that these are based on my own experiences and may not reflect the experiences of other transgender fans.
So let’s start with the Tweet in question. It was posted on March 25th, started trending within minutes, and relates to James Rodriguez. For the sake of ease, I’m going to use male pronouns for James, mainly because the rumour in the tweets aren’t confirmed, and I don’t want to mistakenly misgender James.
Now, for those that aren’t familiar with who James Rodriguez is, he is a Columbian footballer who plays for Everton in the Premier League. He is widely regarded as one of the best midfielders in the world, backed up by representing two of the biggest clubs on the planet in recent years, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, and on March 25th it was rumoured that he had been absent for large parts of this season to transition from male to female. The rumours stemmed from a Whatsapp chat message (above) that allegedly involves insiders at Goodison Park (Everton’s stadium for the non-football fans that read this).
Now, whilst it is just an unconfirmed rumour and there is no proof that James actually wants to female, that didn’t stop some Twitter users doing what could best be described as “Twitter things”. Some of the tweets were photoshopping Rodriguez and talking about how he has already signed up to place for Everton’s female team, whereas others were, well, you’ll see…
Please note that the below contained a video, but I couldn’t get it to embed properly, if you want to see why this is transphobic, search “Little Britain I’m a Lady” on Youtube.
Fortunately, the vast majority of people did call the people tweeting these, and similar, for it being offensive and not funny, but those that were making the “jokes” on Twitter were simply passing it off as “banter”, but for anyone that is trans, such as myself, it became quite uncomfortable and brought back some bad memories. Regardless of whether the rumours are true or not, which, as I say, are nothing more than rumours at the moment, highlight the type of attitudes shown on social media
Because of this, as well as it being “Football vs Transphobia” week, I wanted to talk about some of my experiences as a transgender football fan, both before and after I came out publicly in 2012, starting the transition later that year. So, for a bit of context, I am a fan of League One side, Lincoln City. I was a season ticket holder from 2001 until 2014, at which point I moved away from the area, and during that time I didn’t miss a single game, home or away between 9th August 2005 (a 2-2 draw at Chester) and 5th October 2013 (another 2-2 draw, this time at Nuneaton). Infact, between April 13th 2002 and 5th October 2013, I only missed two matches. I lived and breathed the club. Whether it be a sunny day in mid-August, or bitterly cold Tuesday evenings in, well, again mid-August (this is England after all), I was there. The highs of beating some of the biggest clubs in the country, right down to losing away at Carshalton Athletic in the FA Trophy in early 2012, I’d be paying my £15-£20 (usually in that bracket somewhere).
Towards the start of my time being a regular at Sincil Bank (Lincoln City’s stadium), I had told a few people I attended games with that I was transgender and planned on transitioning at some point, although I was only 16 and too young to even apply (or so I thought), and the reaction was largely negative. The people who sat near me (who I hadn’t told) found out and consistently mocked me, causing me to relocate, and any time I got into an argument with one of my best friends (at the time) at football, he would always bring it back to me wanting to be female and saying it like an insult. To quote, “oh, why not just fuck off and have your sex change?”. I believe those were the exact words and they were shouted in front of people I didn’t even know.
Anyway, I didn’t really talk about it with friends from football anymore, other than with a select few, for a long time. Suddenly, in 2012, a lot of stuff happened in my personal life, with something traumatic happening the day before Lincoln City travelled to Bath (in typical Lincoln style, we lost to the bottom of the league side) in mid-March. I spent the entire day thinking a lot about life, so much to the point where I wasn’t even that bothered when Bath took a 2-0 lead within the first three minutes of the game. On the way back I decided to seek professional help. In those discussions with the psychologist, she said to me “I don’t know what you’re hiding, but whatever it is, it’s clearly having a negative impact, so why not go away and think about it?” I did, and I decided it was time to transition.
I told my immediate football friends (at the time) first, and as you can imagine, they were a bit surprised. Max, a lad who I’d gotten to know over the previous three or four years, was pretty much the first person I told, and he was surprised, but in a good way, and I thought “well if one football fan is cool with it, the rest will be!” Oh, how ignorant I was.
On July 2nd 2012, I announced my intentions on social media to change gender, and I also put a video up on my Youtube channel at the time, which had a fair few subscribers from various football teams.
Who’s ready for some cringe?
The announcement drew a mixed reaction from people I knew in football, including several threads about me on the forums of opposition teams in our division. Most notable was the Grimsby forum known as “The Fishy”, whereas a lengthy thread about me started. I’ve been unable to locate it since as I believe they eventually wiped their forum a few years ago.
Lincoln City, as a club, were actually great about the situation. They were supportive and I even got into a lengthy chat with some of the staff when I went to renew my season ticket, but had to change the name on it. I couldn’t have been happier with the way the club handled it. Granted, I did get a few odd looks from some members of staff, but you get used to that over the years.
At games, I could tell things had changed. Obviously, people that had me on social media knew and had gotten used to it, including some rather unusual chats with the early version of the 617 group on the way to a pre-season friendly at Eastwood (which we won 4-2, if memory serves), but those that didn’t know me that well struggled to even talk to me like I was still their friend. I won’t name names, but one middle-aged gentleman who will be well known to a lot of Imps fans, even said to me “I can’t get used to calling you Kate, you’re Nathan!” I don’t think he ever actually called me Kate. I appreciated that it’s a lot to get used to, but it was a common trend. On the coaches, even though they knew, I was still being referred to is commonly referred to amongst trans people as our “deadname”, ie, people were still calling me Nathan, even after the point I legally changed it. Pro-tip for anyone who knows a trans person, don’t call them by their deadname on purpose, we lose respect for you automatically, and we can tell if it’s a mistake or not.
Going to games, home or away, I used to get dodgy looks from stewards on my way in, and I was often just allowed to walk through as none of them wanted to frisk me, or they would argue amongst themselves about who would do it, which was a common occurrence. I could have snuck anything in. As if the actual football wasn’t bad enough, towards the end of that season I had lost a lot of the friends I had earlier in the year, and now they were consistently singing transphobic chants about me. At the time I was still doing my away day vlogs, and when I’m trying to interview some fans, you can clearly hear the chants at various points, and it became very hard to enjoy going to matches. I asked the relevant people to stop, but they refused.
For example, below is a video I did for our final game of the 2012/13 season, away at Hyde. Head to near enough dead on 30 minutes when two of my friends are hugging (we had just avoided relegation) and if you ignore what they’re saying, as well as the music, you can hear one of the two chants. Also, please kindly ignore the quality of the video, at the time I thought my away day vlogs were awesome, but looking back, it’s embarrassing how bad they are.
I still kept on trying to go to games, but the combination of the chants and poor displays on the pitch, meant that when I eventually missed a game, a 0-0 draw at home to Tamworth, it felt like a great weight was lifted. To sum up the contrast even more, I started attending ice hockey games in Blackburn (go Hawks!), and became involved in the media team, and not once, in my time regularly attending games there, did I receive abuse. Infact, people barely acknowledged it. It was such a welcome change.
If you’d have asked me during my run of 450 games (or so) in a row if I would ever stop going, I would have said “I’m sure I’ll miss a game at some point, but will always try by best,” whereas a mixture of the chanting and negative experiences on match days made me actually hate going. It was a 5-1 defeat at Halifax towards the end of 2013 that some of the abusers, on a rare trip out a 50 mile radius for an away game, continued to chant at me, and at that moment I was done. I had checked out and no longer wanted to go. I still loved the club, but I couldn’t stand going to games.
Nearly a whole year past before I attended another match, an FA Cup qualifier at home to Tranmere. I gradually started going to games again, only every once in a while, but most of them were away from home, mainly because it was highly unlikely I’ll run into those who made going to games miserable. Doesn’t it say it all that I was more than happy to travel to the arse end of nowhere, otherwise known as Welling, on a Tuesday night, but couldn’t bring myself to walk less than two miles to Sincil Bank?
Even though the club have since recovered in recent years (such as the club’s first-ever appearance at Wembley Stadium, picture below) and are now in their highest league position during my lifetime (even the current poor run of form isn’t going to stop that happening this season), I don’t really want to attend games due to not wanting a repeat of what happened towards the end of my run of nearly 450 games attended in a row.
My experience is relatively common amongst transgender football fans, and linking in somewhat to everyone joking that Rodriguez would simply switch to Everton’s women side, I’ve decided to do a little bit of educating from personal experience. Now, before I begin, I’m not angry and people for not knowing the process of trans people playing in a team sport for their new gender. It is something that isn’t public knowledge, so I can forgive that bit, but not what followed.
In the summer of 2020, I became aware of Gloucester City Ladies wanting new players. By this point, I hadn’t kicked a ball in around four years, and it had been six since I had done it competitively, and I thought “why not at least try?” Now, if you’ve never seen me play, I am not a particularly good footballer, and that’s putting it politely, but I do enjoy playing and so I sent the club an email explaining the situation and they were more than happy to get me on board. As I would have been the first transgender player that they had, they sought advice from the FA on how to proceed.
Over the next few months, I had to basically go through several assessments, medical appointments and have to prove that I had been post-op for several years. Not only that, my hormone levels had to roughly match that of a natural female, and again, you had to prove that. The process of playing in a league when you’re transgender is long and meticulous, so the myth that simply putting a wig on, claiming you’re transgender and then you’re allowed to play, is a complete fallacy.
After a few weeks, another transwoman and I got talking on Twitter as she had been offered a place at a team in Bristol. We were exchanging tweets about it and sharing our experiences in the process (we had the same case manager at the FA, someone she knew personally)…..and then several transphobes caught wind of it, and the flood gates opened, starting with the below.
Now, most Lincoln fans on social media, such as Gary over at the Stacey West Blog, know that I can be argumentative and will keep banging on the same drum long after others have stopped playing their’s, but in this situation, I decided to duck out straight away. I wasn’t interested in getting into arguments about anything transgender-related, but the other transwoman did keep on replying. Looking back on the entire thread now, it doesn’t get any better, even when I wasn’t involved in the replies….
Those are some of the more tamer responses. If you want to read the full thread, search “Transphobia, a thread” on Google, and it will come up.
With how long the process was taking, how many hoops I was having to jump through and the abuse I would be subject to just because I wanted to have fun and kick a football for 90 minutes a week, I decided it wasn’t worth it and pulled out.
The problem is that there is a common saying in football that “football is for everyone”, but from my experiences, that isn’t the case when it comes to trans people. For example, if you are a gay man or woman, it is easier to hide your sexuality if you feel threatened by your surroundings, but as a trans person, you’re always on display, in a way. Unless you are extremely fortunate and can pass (for those not familiar with trans lingo, that is that you can walk down a street as your new gender and no-one would be able to tell you were born as the opposite gender), it is obvious you’re trans.
Whilst society generaly isn’t anywhere near as bad as I thought it would be before I came out, unfortunately, when it comes to football, it still feels like a bit of a free-for-fall. There are far too many people who don’t seem to realise that football isn’t only for straight white men, and people from all walks of life would love to be able to attend games without having to worry about being subjected to abuse.
It definitely doesn’t feel like “football is for everyone”, but I hope that one day, it will be.