Culture

“The AFL Has Treated Me Like Shit”: Hannah Mouncey Has Withdrawn From The AFLW Draft

"The toll of doing this on my own has ended up being far too great"

Hannah Mouncey has withdrawn her nomination from the 2018 AFL Women’s draft, writing on Twitter last night that “the AFL has treated me like shit” and that “the toll of doing this on my own has ended up being far too great”.

Mouncey had hoped to be the first transgender woman to play in the AFLW, and has spoken out before about the discrimination she’s faced from the league in her attempts to get cleared to play. On Twitter last night, she wrote that despite meeting all the physical requirements the AFLW sets out for trans players, she’s still faced so much discrimination and criticism from the sport’s organisers, “with every effort made to wear me down to a point where I couldn’t continue”.

Alongside her decision to withdraw her draft nomination, Mouncey uploaded copies of her recent blood tests, as well as the athletic data she provided to the AFL to confirm she met their standards. She wrote that she uploaded these documents publicly “to show the reality of where I sit, to show that this is not because I don’t meet the requirements.”

“To do otherwise, I would have risked constant speculation about that, and possibly being labelled a cheat for being above [the required level of testosterone], which is not something I can live with,” Mouncey wrote. Take that in, for a minute — a woman felt so bullied and scrutinised that she had no other choice than to upload private medical documents for anyone to see. She felt so unsupported by the AFL, the only body that could have stood by her and confirmed that she met the standards, that she had to upload those documents.

“Eventually, what has gone on behind the scenes will come out, and it paints a sad picture of an organisation with no leadership, who cares only for its corporate image above all else. There are a number of things I can’t risk by continuing this fight, which are far more important than football,” Mouncey concluded.

“The AFL is happy to talk the talk when it comes to LGBTIQ+ inclusion, but Hannah Mouncey’s experience shows when push comes to shove, they’re not prepared to walk the walk,” is how Greens LGBTIQ+ spokesperson Janet Rice put it.

“The fact that Hannah has met all of the AFLW’s requirements but has still struggled through this process unsupported is absolutely unacceptable. The discrimination Hannah has faced through this whole ordeal is indicative of an organisation struggling with fear and ignorance.”

“The AFL must apologise to Hannah and commit to doing better so that trans and gender diverse people feel welcome and are able to participate in the sport.”

A Reminder: This Is About Science

Let’s take this opportunity to clear something up once and for all: whether transgender athletes meet the requirements to play a sport is a matter for science, not your opinion. Speculating about whether a trans woman is too strong or tall or heavy to play a sport is none of your fucking business, because you cannot tell simply by looking at someone what their hormone levels, muscle and bone density and strength are like.

This is an issue Hannah Mouncey has spoken about before — back in February, she pointed out that “this seems to be the only area of medicine where people with no background in science, medicine or the relevant issues are more than willing to dismiss the advice of experts simply because it does not necessarily match what they were brought up to believe”.

Yesterday, Mouncey tweeted some of the evidence gathered by actual experts, quoting from a groundbreaking study by athlete and scientist Joanna Harper which found that transgender women runners who had been on hormone therapy to lower their testosterone for at least two years did not have an athletic advantage over cisgender women runners. That’s because hormone therapy actually has a huge impact on trans women’s bodies — testosterone levels drop, muscle and bone density drop, and strength and speed drop as a result. We’ve also written about this before, at length, which you can read here.

In short, trans women who have been on hormone therapy for a significant period of time — as Hannah Mouncey has — do not retain the same strength or speed they had before transition. So when people voice concerns about trans women having an unfair physical advantage in women’s sports leagues,  that’s not necessarily the case.

That’s not to say this isn’t a complicated issue, and whether transgender women retain an advantage will often depend on the sport in question. Hormones won’t change something like height, for example, which may be an advantage in specific sports. There’s still a lot more research to be done on how hormone therapy affects trans women’s performance in different sports, and decisions will likely have to be made on a sport-by-sport basis. But it’s also worth noting that sometimes cisgender people are just taller than average, or heavier than average, and their right to play a sport isn’t scrutinised in the same way.

In the case of the AFL and Hannah Mouncey, though, those decisions had already been made. The AFL put together a set of physical requirements trans players needed to meet — which are stricter, fyi, than the Olympic requirements — and Mouncey met them.

The medical documents she tweeted yesterday back this up, though she shouldn’t have needed to show these to the public. It should have been enough for the AFL to confirm she met them, and the matter should have ended there. Instead, Mouncey found the process so hard, and the AFL so unsupportive, that she’s had to give up on her career. That’s a real fucking shame.