Samantha Walker: “Proud of myself – I posted an update on my social media… and it really kicked off…”

*Trigger Warning: The following blog contains quotes of transphobia, and references to sexual assault*

Guest Blog written by Samantha Walker, formerly of Soho FC & Bristol Panthers. Twitter: @No7Sammy. Instagram: No7Sammy. Facebook: Samantha Marilyn Walker.

When I was contacted to do this guest blog I was humbled – but also slightly apprehensive. In this piece, I am tasked with both shining a light on the horrific tactics used by trans-exclusionary feminists and anti-trans groups, while also educating on the best way to deal with it, giving hope that things are improving and encourage those who feel alienated within sport because of their gender identity or sexuality. I hope I can achieve this – It is, to be honest, quite the balancing act!

Football was my first love. I have been playing for 25 years on and off, but my interest in it and desire to play never waned – even if for long periods of time I didn’t feel like there was a place for me within the sport. When I first started playing at 5 years old, it was the only thing that consumed my attention and made me forget my problems – and it still serves the same purpose to me now.

Early in my transition, looking very much like a male, I didn’t feel that womens sports would accept me, and I was right. I didn’t meet the FA’s inclusion policy (link here: https://www.thefa.com/news/2016/mar/22/guidance-trans-people-in-football). I tried to join a team, who let me train with them but was made to feel like I shouldn’t be there. I felt dejected. I gave up.

Then, a year later, I heard about a league that was totally sexuality and gender inclusive. If you want to find an LGBT+ friendly club – make use of PrideSports awesome club finder: https://pridesports.org.uk/lgbt-club-finder/

I investigated, and chose to play within the LGBT+ inclusive league that runs here in the UK, it seemed like it was the only place that would accept me. I joined Soho, and later, Bristol and in both places found a space to enjoy the game I loved without prejudice. It wasn’t perfect (I was still the only trans woman playing in matches and got some confused looks) – but my identity was respected and it was the best thing on offer to me at the time.

Fast forward 2 years and in July ’20 I was invited to attend a trial at a high level womens football team. I felt so nervous beforehand. What if people objected or refused to play if I was there?

There were a number of trialists there of varying ages and abilities. The team, at this point, didn’t know I was transgender – but the ladies on the pitch, chairman, manager and first team coach were impressed enough to ask me to sign for the upcoming season. Only 1 other trialist made it through. I was ecstatic, for the first time in my life I was playing football as my authentic self without fear of repercussions.

Proud of myself – I posted an update on my social media… and it really kicked off…

“Isn’t it cheating if you are a man”…

“Too much of a p***y to play against men so you have to dominate women?”…

“Why can’t you just start a trans only league, and stop ruining womens sport”…

“I bet you only want access to the womens spaces so you can rape/abuse ‘real women’ “…

These are, quite frankly, some of the tamer responses I received about being a trans woman in competitive sport, and all I had done was attend a trial! All of these were posted by faceless social media accounts who, when questioned why they wouldn’t attach their face to their beliefs – suggested they would be discriminated against… the irony!

So lets address these objections…

Isn’t it cheating if you are a man”…

YES! If I was a man playing in a womens league, it would most definitely be cheating… but I am not a man… I may have been born with male genitalia – but that doesn’t define my identity as I write this piece. I am a woman, who has transitioned.

I live, walk, talk, act and am perceived as female; the effects of my ‘first puberty’ have been reversed and I do not possess a physical advantage over my team-mates. The inclusion policy is clear – and is rightly judged on a case by case basis. If a trans woman who has met the FA’s inclusion policy is on the pitch with other women – there are exactly ZERO men in that game.

“Too much of a p***y to play against men so you have to dominate women?”…

Well… no! I played in male dominated leagues up until the trial. I was always the ‘odd one out’ in those leagues, oftentimes the only woman on the pitch and at a significant performance disadvantage. I didn’t even consider womens football until womens football considered me!

I am not the fastest, strongest, biggest or heaviest or best player there. The team plays in the 3rd tier of English football, one league below the full professional leagues. Does that sound like dominating to you?!

There is also the ‘safety’ argument. The idea that trans women are more robust and more likely to hurt cis women based on very small deviations in bone and tissue density. However, lets just set aside biology for a moment, and focus on physics. A 5ft woman, weighing 60kg, collides with a 5 ft 10 woman weighing 85kg. Who is more likely to be on the receiving end of the worst of the impact? The smaller one, right? So why are people not advocating for weight classes withing womens football? Because it would be wrong, and exclusionary! The best players in the world are not the biggest, fastest or strongest – they are the ones with great technique.

“Why can’t you just start a trans only league, and stop ruining womens sport”…

This is constantly thrown in as a ‘solution’ – and it is just not feasible. I am quite embedded in the issue of trans women in sport – particularly football – and can honestly say I know of maybe 9 players who openly identify as transgender and who play in womens leagues, at various levels. We make up a tiny percentage of the population: I highly doubt we could get 2 teams together for a match – let alone have a trans-specific league!

Even if we could hypotherically do so, there would be even higher disparity between players. There is a big difference in physicality between someone who is, for instance, not taking hormones – and someone who has transitioned and been on hormones for 5+ years!

“I bet you only want access to the womens spaces so you can rape/abuse ‘real women’ “…

This one is probably the one that hurts the most, but it’s one that really gets down to the basis, and bias, of their argument. For a start – Feminism isn’t misandry. It is standing up for the rights and equal opportunities of all women; and to direct this man-hating attitude towards trans women is just mis-directed misandry. The trans-exclusionary feminists who suggest that every trans woman is just a predatory man looking for an opportunity to invade womens spaces aren’t feminists, and do feminism, women, and human-kind a disservice.

Predatory and abusive men pose a very real risk and I feel truly sorry for whatever these people have gone through for them to feel that this means anyone with male genitalia has the same intentions. The type of man the exclusionary feminists fear, is the same type of man I fear. I am in danger from them too. I have been the victim of, what I fear, were the same horrific experiences.

But this is the real problem; the argument over trans people in sport is often reduced to a comparison between cis men, and cis women. Which is like trying to compare an apple and a carrot to ascertain whether or not a tomato is a fruit; and we all know that tomato’s are fruits! An odd metaphor – but hopefully you follow its meaning!

My club (which will remain nameless until I make my official debut to avoid affecting pre-season preparations) and my team-mates have been fantastic. I have played in 2 pre-season friendlies, scoring in one and hope to make my full debut soon, which I believe will make me the first openly trans woman to play at that level. Each time I step onto the pitch with other women I feel an intense euphoria. I am where I am supposed to be.

There are 2 options with how we deal with the way trans people are targeted. We can either block and avoid the conversations and rhetoric being pushed or we confront it with robust, rational and logical arguments. I personally choose the latter because I feel I have a responsibility to prove them wrong and to educate the middle ground.

However, it should not fall solely on trans people to justify their existence and participation in sport. It should fall on the shoulders of a sports governing body to enforce and educate, on team-mates and clubs to promote inclusion, and also on those who have no direct benefit from the outcome.

Allies need to stand with us, ideally in front of us – but definitely not just quietly behind us. 

If you would like to learn more about my journey – please check out www.SammyWalker.co.uk


Want to provide better trans inclusion at your club? See our Football v Transphobia campaign for more information: https://www.footballvhomophobia.com/fvt/