Last year was turbulent for HANNAH MOUNCEY, who was thrust into the public eye in 2017 after her nomination for the AFL women’s draft was blocked on the basis of her ‘strength, stamina and physique’. She returned to football with the Darebin Falcons in the VFL, and to the Australian National Handball team, helping the Australian women’s team qualify for the Handball World Championships. The International Handball Federation World Women’s Handball Championship started last weekend in Japan, and Mouncey once again found herself excluded from a sport. Writing for the Star Observer, Mouncey shares what it is like be treated this way, creating awareness and understanding for trans and gender diverse young people who want to build a space for themselves in the world.
As my Twitter, Instagram and Facebook inboxes are telling me, by now many of you—be it in Australia or around the world—are aware of the fact that I am not currently at the IHF Handball World Championships in Japan. Were the circumstances around my omission unusual for this type of event? Unfortunately, no. And while I will of course touch on the reasons around my omission from the team, the lessons to be learned for both transgender children, teenagers and their parents are far greater than anything I could have provided by competing.
I cannot lie—it would have been terrific to have been able to provide the trans community with a visible symbol of the fact that progress is being made towards greater acceptance, but if society is not at that stage then so be it. That time will come, and it is only because we shine a light on these situations and use our own negative experiences to give others strength, that we will eventually make the progress we as a community wish would happen today.
I am not myself actively involved in the trans community, short of attending the Transcend Christmas party each year and speaking at events and functions that I might be invited to. But that does not mean I am any more immune to the same experiences we have all encountered across our individual journeys. I can confirm that yes, I was left out of the team for the World Championships because there was a group of players within the team, supported by the team manager, who did not want me showering or using the change rooms before or after the game. This was in turn the sole reason given to me by our coach for my non selection.
In this same conversation, it was clear that our coach knew what she was doing would not be received well. Despite the fact that prior to selection I passed every fitness test given to me with relative ease, she assured me that she would tell people that I wasn’t fit to play rather than the actual reason just given. She even acknowledged in that conversation how well I’d done in my rehab to warrant selection if the change room issue hadn’t been a factor.
When you jump before everyone else pic.twitter.com/fgNQFwkTk6
— Hannah Mouncey 🤾♀️ (@HannahMouncey) December 8, 2018
I later had it confirmed by someone else within Handball Australia who had done some digging that: “From everything I’ve been told, you’ve basically not been picked because you’re not liked.” And the reason I’m not liked is because I told our manager, and by extension those players, exactly where he and they could go in trying to tell me where I could change and shower.
This is lesson number one to be taken away for all those young people reading who are trans or are supporting someone who is. People will often do what’s easy over what is right, given the chance. This may sound overly negative, but it is human nature. It may not be a nice thought, but you need to expect it, as how you respond to it will determine whether you flourish or not. This could be in relation to a job, sport, relationships or anything you can think of, and it is important to see that there are always positives to take out of even the biggest negatives. You will learn who truly cares about you, as they will never take the easy option over what is right, and this allows you to focus much more time and energy on those who are a positive influence in your life. To know not to waste your energy on certain people, organisations or teams is a true blessing.
But it also gives you a greater perspective on what is right or wrong, a better sense of empathy and a much better perspective on the world. Use this to help those around you, to create and foster positive relationships and experiences.
I am not going to be liked for writing and publishing this piece, not by Handball Australia and particularly not those within the team. I’m not going to be liked for the content and I’m certainly not going to be liked for the timing, only a day or two out from the tournament beginning. But this is something else that comes with time but also experiences such as these—you learn not to care.
It is incredibly liberating to not care one bit who likes you, what people think of you and who you upset in being true to yourself. And while I’m sure I should have learned this a lot earlier, the second lesson is to know that regardless of what you do, you will never please everyone. Some of the very same people who were saying it was bullshit that I couldn’t play AFL Women’s league were some of the same voices within the team who were trying to dictate where I could shower and change. While those people then were supposedly in my corner as I fought the AFL, they were more than able to justify their own position about me to themselves because in their minds “they aren’t like those people, this is a reasonable thing to expect”.
This is going to happen over and over, and eventually you become very comfortable in saying no to people, regardless of how forceful you need to be. So many people spend their whole lives trying to please others and giving in to everything that is asked of them, and being able to develop the skills and confidence to say no is truly wonderful.
Out of all the negative experiences you have, you will eventually get to this point. Once you realize you won’t please everyone, and don’t want to, you truly can do anything and go anywhere in your life. But it takes these negative experiences to get there.
But more than anything, you learn that you don’t have to be active within a community to be an example, take the lead and be someone people look up to. You learn that in being trans, even if you aren’t actively involved in the community, you have a responsibility to, when you’re able to, do what is right to make the lives of those who come after you that little bit easier.
Yes, I would be playing in a World Championship right now if I had given in and accepted the quite frankly ludicrous requests made by the team manager both on his own behalf and those players he represented. Yes, I could stay quiet about this and not speak, so no one knew what happened—and I would probably be much more liked by those in the team as a result. In fact, in doing this, I expect I will absolutely not be welcome back within the national team at all. But really, given what’s just happened, do you really think I would want to be? No. Of course not.
All that aside however, I have a much bigger responsibility to you, and we have a much bigger responsibility to each other to not settle for second best when it comes to being treated equally. Not only would I be letting myself down, I would be letting down the wonderful, incredible people who do truly care about me and have supported me through thick and thin. But bigger than all that, to not speak out is to let down the 48 per cent of trans young people who have attempted suicide at some point in their lives. I would be letting down the 70 per cent who have felt excluded because of who they are and the 90 per cent who said they have experienced bullying due to their gender identity.
It would also be letting down the 331 trans women we know of who were murdered last year simply because they were trans. To get this number to zero, we need to be prepared to not be liked, prepared to speak out and if I have to give up throwing a ball into a goal as a result, well that’s a pretty small sacrifice to make.
Handball Australia was contacted for comment but declined to respond.