Transgender athlete Caroline Layt opposes Save Women’s Sport bill

Caroline Layt started her sporting career at a “hyper-masculine” boys school but went on to become a star female athlete – until this moment.

Caroline Layt understands, more than most, the importance of trans women being allowed to compete in professional sport.

At the age of just four, Ms Layt started playing rugby league on her brother’s team — one of a myriad of sports, including cricket and athletics, she competed in as a male — at first grade and state level — for the 26 years before she transitioned.

It was a “hyper-masculine” environment to be immersed in, yet she “knew from a very early age” that she was transgender, Ms Layt told, despite the fact she “tried to fit in and be one of the boys”.

Throughout her years at an all-male, Catholic boarding school, she “always was wistful” when, in her uniform, she’d see female students “and think, ‘God, I wish I was like them’”.

“So sport was pretty important to me, because it allowed me to forget I was different,” she explained.

Which is why Ms Layt — who continued a successful career in sport post-transition, and appears on tonight’s episode of SBS’s Insight to discuss the matter — stands in opposition to Tasmanian Liberal Senator Claire Chandler’s so-called “Save Women’s Sport” bill.

“It basically precludes trans women from playing women’s sport. But in the broader sense, it precludes trans women from life — it’s just the beginning,” she said.

The bill seeks to amend the Australian Sports Commission Act 1989 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, and would ultimately give sporting bodies and organizations the right to lawfully exclude a trans person from competing “in any sporting activity intended for persons of a different sex”.

While Ms Layt believes that “you can’t transition one day and expect to play the next, not in elite sport anyway”, “if you transition and you’ve followed all the rules and waited [the required 12-month without testosterone in the body]then you’ve followed your rules and guidelines and you should be able to play”.

“You can’t just go, ‘We’re going to blackball the entire trans community’. It’s a case-by-case basis and that’s how I’ve always looked at it,” Ms Layt said.

Being “blackballed” because she was a trans woman is something she experienced on more than one occasion in her own sporting career, after being outed by her rugby coach to her teammates.

“It’s not direct, it’s sort of like you’re just erased, you’re invisible, [coaches] don’t see you or your performances, so you’re just out of the picture,” she recalled.

“So [as a trans woman] you can only get so far — you’ll never get to the top, and that’s what I found with those people … I didn’t have a voice.

“It wasn’t directly ‘you can’t play’, but from the players’ perspective, it didn’t matter what I said, I was always in the wrong and I was always the bad person.”

Her fear is that “these people, the Katherine Deves’ and the Claire Chandler’s, they want to take that further and exclude trans women from a societal basis, as far as accessing healthcare”.

“It won’t stop at just sports. I’ve had my surgery — not that that should matter — but I’ve had my surgery, I had my medical transition,” she added.

“The surgery’s just the icing on the cake … but a lot of trans women don’t have the surgery. so [the bill is] basically saying, ‘Well, you can’t enter women’s spaces now’. I don’t know what danger I present to other women. It’s farcical.”

Referring to the oft-rolled out transphobic ideology that opening cisgender spaces to trans people could open those spaces to anyone, Ms Layt said, “If I go to the toilet, I’m going there because I want to go the toilet. I’ve never heard of a trans woman going in there and raping another woman.”

That fact — and that hundreds of people still insist on incorrectly referring to trans women as “males” — ignores that she, and other trans women, have “taken all these steps to make our lives, but it will only ever be a silver lining ”.

“I couldn’t grow up as the girl that I always knew myself to be. It’s almost like hiding in plain sight, and living a lie, but you’re living a lie to please other people,” Ms Layt explained.

“And there’s consequences for that post-transition, because you’re never going to … I know I’m never going to fit in 100 per cent like you will, or another woman will, as a cisgender female. My life is only ever going to be a silver lining in the fact that it’s probably harder to attract a partner, it’s harder to get jobs, so my life, I make the best of what I can.

“And I never really wanted to go through male puberty, but I didn’t really have a choice — that’s what I’m trying to say. And that’s always overlooked when they talk about this, and they say that we have male privilege — but did we want that male privilege?

“It’s sort of like you’re punished one way because you to go through that male puberty, but people weren’t aware because we hid it so well.”

Insight ‘Gender Games’ airs on the SBS and SBS On Demand at 8.30pm AEST tonight

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