Amber Evans reveals the ups and downs of playing football as a transgender woman
While glossy images of footballers rolling around in the floor in faux agony don't do much for the traditionally masculine image of the beautiful game, it's safe to say that until fairly recently the sport was almost exclusively a male-only pursuit at a professional level.
Women's football is often derided for not being fast-paced or physical enough to command large television audiences, but now we are finally starting to see women's football gain footholds in the mainstream media, with the star players themselves rightly held up as inspiration for other young women.
But what is it like for a trans woman to navigate this new emerging era in women's football?
Amber Evans began her transition from male to female in 2016, at the age of 27, after having the realisation that being female was the only way she was going to be truly happy. Despite some early difficulties, she's now flourishing professionally as a Digital Designer, and plays football for Torquay United LFC in southwest England.
Speaking exclusively to Four Nine, Amber chatted about falling back in love with football, gave advice on how to deal with online trolls, and revealed what everyone can do to support trans rights.
Why is football so important to you?
"From an early age I have always loved sports. Football has been a passion for me as far back as I can remember. I used to live right next to the park in the village and would play football pretty much every day in the summer. I played for an under-11s team, but I was often quite reserved and had a lot of anxiety in new social situations. This held me back from really excelling and progressing in football at a young age, although I continued to play for local and college teams into my early 20s.
"In late 2017, now living full-time as female and having been on hormones for 18 months, I had a strong feeling that sport was very much missing in my life. I knew I wanted to be part of a team again, so started looking for women’s football teams in and around Plymouth. I trained with a team just outside Plymouth for three months up until Christmas 2017, but unfortunately they were not fully accepting of me as a transgender woman and I was pushed out. This really hurt my confidence and I nearly quit football altogether. However, I picked myself back up and found Torquay United LFC. On the same week I signed for Torquay I received my letter from the FA approving me to play women’s football for the next 12 months. I was so happy and this part of my life felt like finding a missing piece to a puzzle.
"My first competitive match with Torquay United LFC was the FA Cup First Round Qualifier against Weston-Super-Mare at Plainmoor. I came on in the last 10 minutes and scored, which I later found out made me the first transgender person to score an FA Cup goal. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to win us the match and we lost 2-1.
"Just being able to play football has been life-changing for me. Sport is a huge part of my life that I don’t want to live without."
What's the hardest thing about being a trans woman in a sport dominated by men?
"The hardest thing about being a trans woman playing football is that people assume just because I am trans I have advantages in the sport. They say that I have physical advantages over cis-women due to having lived 27 years of my life with male-typical hormone levels.
"In truth, many people simply don't want to educate themselves on the truth behind trans people competing in sport. My body has changed so much since starting hormones and I have had to completely change the way I play in order to adapt to my new muscle structure, body shape and a difference in cardio fitness."
What is the media still getting wrong when it comes to transgender issues?
"The media is not only getting it wrong, but at present they seem to be deliberately targeting transgender issues.
"In regards to sport they think that trans women will have advantages over cis-women, and that we are a threat to the integrity of women's sport. All major sporting bodies have guidelines and checks in place to ensure that transgender people can compete fairly in both men's and women's sport. I had to send off blood test results to the FA in order to play for Torquay United LFC, this process took almost a year to finally get approval to play. This has to be done even if a person is competing in a standard, non-professional weekend league as even they are governed by the FA."
What can allies of the trans community do better to support trans people/rights?
"I was asked this question quite recently and the same answer still applies; educate yourself.
"By learning more about trans people and trans lives, allies can help to dispel the myths and lies circulated by the media and by those who speak against us. Trans people have nothing to hide - I kept my true, authentic self hidden from the world for 27 years. Now is the time to give everything, every little part of who I am, to the world.
"I am done hiding. I am done suppressing. I am proud of who I am."
How do you deal with trolls on social media?
"Mostly I either ignore them or state simple facts to them. "Don't feed the trolls" is a line that I try to remember, as they are generally doing it to get a reaction out of you - so it's best not to give them the satisfaction. Although I must admit, sometimes I can't help winding them up and just making jokes!"
If someone thinks they might be transgender, what should they do?
"Seek help and advice. There are plenty of charities and organisations out there that can help you work out what it is you are thinking and feeling.
"Local support groups are one of the best places for this, as you can meet people who may feel the same way. Myself and my friend Erin King are the founders of a support group for trans and non-binary people called Not Alone Plymouth. We have a support group every Tuesday evening and run events through the year, for more information go to www.notaloneplymouth.co.uk."
When Donald Trump ran for president in 2016, he promised to be an ally for the LGBTQ community. Do you see him as an ally?
"No. It's not difficult to see through his blatant campaign lies. He would have said anything to get elected, and doesn't care whether he follows through on it now he is in office. His attitude towards trans people is clear; he is quickly removing a lot of the good work done in the past decade for trans rights in the USA. His attitude towards trans people and the LGBT+ community as a whole is not one of support, I certainly do not see him as an ally."
Where do you see yourself in the future?
"In the future I see myself continuing to help trans people in the southwest of England with the support group and events through the year. In sport I would like to continue to play for Torquay United LFC and help the team build a strong, competitive side over the coming seasons. There is a lot to do to help trans people feel more accepted in sport, and hopefully I can be a role model to anyone wanting to play a high level in football."
What is clear from chatting to Amber is that football is much more than simply a game, it's a way to express oneself - which I think is why lots of people fall in love so deeply with competitive sport. Being the first transgender footballer to score in the FA Cup is truly a landmark moment in the women's game, and secures Amber a place in the record books that can not be erased by anyone - not even the disgusting online trolls or misguided mainstream media who constantly attempt to keep her and the rest of the trans community at the periphery of our society.
Listening to Amber speak, what comes across so clearly is her passion to educate people about the trans community. Maybe if we had more open-minded people with a passion to teach rather than deride, then we'd all be a little less scared of what we don't currently understand.