Ellia Green's brave announcement amid rugby controversy

·Sports Reporter
·5-min read
Ellia Green has opened up about his transition to identifying as male, speaking out against the exclusion of trans athletes. Pictures: Getty Images/YouTube
Ellia Green has opened up about his transition to identifying as male, speaking out against the exclusion of trans athletes. Pictures: Getty Images/YouTube

Olympic gold medallist and Australian rugby sevens star Ellia Green has spoken out about the exclusion of transgender people from sport, highlighting their own gender transition story in the process.

Green, who helped Australia to rugby sevens gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics, publicly revealed his gender transition at the Bingham Cup International Summit, the biennial championship of gay and inclusive rugby.

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Green was a critical member of the women's sevens team that earned Olympic glory, but revealed darker days after failing to win selection for the Tokyo Olympics.

What buoyed him though, was the knowledge his top surgery had been planned and the support of his wife, Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts, who he had a daughter, Waitui, with last year.

In a speech to the Bingham Cup summit in Canada, Green became the first Olympian to come out as a transgender man.

He said that though the disappointment of missing Tokyo had come as a bitter blow, embracing the 'liberating feeling' of his identity as a man was been overwhelmingly worthwhile.

“I really took it as a reflection on my whole self as a person, so I was unable to leave the house,” Green said.

“But the one thing that kept me positive was the fact that I had planned my surgery, my top surgery, and it was something that I had been literally counting down the days with my beautiful partner.

“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.

“So that was definitely something that was a bright spark in my mind during this dark time.”

Green, who has kept the same name, said it was the best decision of his life.

Realising that sharing his experience could be lifesaving for others is what compelled Green to go public.

The 29-year-old Green has admitted to being in a "dark place" after retiring from rugby at the end of 2021.

"This is what happened to me," Green told The Associated Press.

"Pretty much my rugby career ended and I had been in and out of mental health facilities for serious issues. My depression hit a new level of sadness."

Aussie Olympic icon Ellia Green's brave gender transition announcement

He's in a much better place now with his partner, Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts, and their infant daughter, Waitui.

"Vanessa was pregnant and having to come to hospital to visit," Green said.

"I was having bad episodes. That's the last time I want her to have to see me like that. But the only way to help heal is to talk about it ... I'd like to help someone not feel so isolated by telling my story."

The story has been a difficult one at times. Green, who was assigned female at birth, was adopted by Yolanta and Evan Green and moved to Australia from Fiji at age 3. Recalling later childhood memories of domestic violence, seeing Yolanta being abused in another relationship, Green said "caused a lot of long-lasting trauma."

"I guess from witnessing that, I knew from an early age that was not (the kind of) relationship I wanted to have, but it shaped me to know how a woman should be treated," Green said.

"I do believe that even through traumatic circumstances there was a lot to learn from it."

Ellia Green helped Australia to gold in the rugby sevens at the 2016 Rio Olympics. (Photo by Dan Mullan - World Rugby via Getty Images/World Rugby via Getty Images)
Ellia Green helped Australia to gold in the rugby sevens at the 2016 Rio Olympics. (Photo by Dan Mullan - World Rugby via Getty Images/World Rugby via Getty Images)

It was also a childhood that for Green was marked by an overwhelming realisation.

"As a kid I remember I thought I was a boy in public, I had a short (haircut) and whenever we met new people they thought I was a boy," Green says.

"I always used to wear my brother's clothes, played with tools, and ran around with no shirt on. Until I grew breasts, and I thought 'oh no'.

"My mum would dress me in girlie outfits ... I always wanted to make her happy, so if she wanted me to wear a dress, I wore a dress."

Yolanta also helped channel Green into sports, and excellence as a sprinter in track and field eventually led to a professional career in rugby. The all-action seven-a-side form of rugby made its Olympic debut at Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and the women's competition was held first, with Australia beating New Zealand in the final to win the inaugural gold medal. Green, a flying winger, was among the stars of the show.

All the while, though, the deeper feelings were becoming clearer for Green and really peaked after announcing the decision to retire from rugby last November, a few months after missing selection for the Australian women's team for the delayed Tokyo Olympics.

"I spent a lot of time after I finished up my career with Australian rugby just in the house, in a dark room, I didn't have the confidence to see anyone," Green says in the video pre-recorded for the summit.

"I was ashamed of myself, I felt I had let a lot of people down, especially myself and my mum. I felt like a complete failure, it was heartbreaking," Green added, explaining the feelings that lingered after being left off the Olympic team.

"The one thing that did keep me positive is that I had already planned my surgery and treatment towards my transition. It was something I was counting down the days with my partner."

Now Green wants to advocate for others, emphasising the harm that can be caused when sporting bans are introduced and how those policies can amplify negativity toward trans and gender diverse people.

"Banning transgender people from sport is disgraceful and hurtful," Green says.

"It only means the rates of suicide and mental health issues will get even worse."

With AAP

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