Ellia Green, a retired Australian rugby champ, made history as the first Olympian to come out as a transgender man. Green — who has kept his name — announced his transition in a video yesterday, Aug. 16, tied to the Bingham Cup, a biennial gay and inclusive rugby tournament.
In the video, Green spoke about grappling with mental health issues as his rugby career drew to a close (he officially retired in 2021). He said that the “one promise that I made to myself is that when my rugby career ended, I would continue to live the rest of my life in the identity… in the body that I should have.”
While Green was part of the Australian rugby sevens team that won gold at the 2016 Olympics, he wasn’t selected for the team for the 2020 Tokyo games (which were held in 2021 due to the pandemic). On top of the issues he was already dealing with, Green said not being picked made him feel “like a complete failure,” adding, “I really took it as a reflection on my whole self as a person.” What kept him positive, he said, was his upcoming top surgery.
“I just knew I was going be the most liberating feeling when I had that surgery and started to take the steps towards being in the body that I know I am meant to be in,” he said. “So that was definitely something that was a bright spark in my mind during this dark time.”
While Green is the first Olympian to come out as a transgender man, there are two other trans or gender non-conforming Olympians. Caitlyn Jenner, who won gold in the decathlon in 1976, came out as trans in 2015, while the Canadian soccer player Quinn came out as trans and non-binary last year — not long before winning a gold medal with the Canadian women’s soccer team. It was only recently, too, that the International Olympic Committee began to change its policies on transgender athletes, thanks largely to the efforts of triathlete Chris Mosier (Mosier was the first trans man to compete in an Olympic trial in 2020, but an injury upended his qualifying efforts).
Still, as Green acknowledged in his video, this remains an incredibly precarious time for all transgender people and for trans athletes in particular. “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,” he said.
Later, he added, “To those listening or to those who might have a story, even the slightest bit similar to mine, I would just love to tell you that it does get better, and it has taken me so much courage to even take the steps to sit here at now and talk about it. My heart is racing, my palms have been sweating, this is the first time that I have been so open to talk about this, and the main reason is because I am so worried about the reaction of people… Will people treat me differently? Will friends or family love me any less? Are people going to get a shock? What will the media say about me?”
“And the thing is, even without changing genders, changing appearance, identity, people are always going to have something to say, whether that be positive or negative. I learnt that in 10 years of being a professional rugby player. So why not just live the rest of your life exactly as you want to be because life is just too short to live it as something else, and you are beautiful.”