Gender in Quidditch: “Why Being The Most Inclusive Sport in the World Takes More than a Gender Rule”
Despite the fact that this is being submitted anonymously, many of you will be able to piece together who I am from context. I am not out to all of my friends, nor my family. So I would like to ask people sharing this or discussing it publicly on facebook to avoid tagging me or naming me if possible. This is written for the quidditch community, and I would like it to remain within that community. Thanks.
I have spent weeks debating whether or not I should include my thoughts in this issue of QA Today. The primary concern for me was that I didn’t want a “gender issue” to be dominated my male-assigned people, once again diminishing women’s voices in the media and in our sport. Just like on the field, it seems like the only way for me to be open and proud about my gender comes at the cost of women. Which is exactly what I want to talk about.
First, some context. I’m a beater, I play in NSW, and until 2016 I considered myself male.
During 2016, I went on exchange to France. When I left, I wasn’t a particularly good player. While overseas, I started to improve, and developed long term goals of representing my state, or even country. But this wasn’t the only thing that changed for me.
In French, every noun has a gender: male or female. The gender of the noun changes the ending of almost every word in the sentence, and a lot of these slight differences carry with them certain connotations. For example in English we have ‘handsome’ which is more associated with “male” beauty and ‘pretty’ which is more associated with “female” (and particularly young female) beauty. Imagine every single word having slight differences like that, and that’s what it’s like speaking French. There’s also the grammatical rule, “le masculine l’emporte sur le féminin” (masculine beats feminine) which states that if no matter how many women are in a group with one man, you use the male plural for the group. As a child, this didn’t bother me at all. I remember laughing and joking at the girls in my class when we learned it (don’t judge too harshly, I was 7). However, now that I was 19 and had spent a large portion of my university life learning about gender and feminism, this jarred me.
At the first quidditch practice I went to overseas, people were introducing themselves, and I happily told people that I played “batteur”. A woman next to me replied that she also played “batteuse”.
This one comment sent me spiralling into an identity crisis that lasted for the better part of 4 months. In Australia, I was a beater, an athlete, a student, and the women I beat with were also beaters, athletes, and students. So how come in France, I was a “batteur” and my partner a “batteuse”? Why was I okay being called a beater but when I heard the word “batteur” it made me feel like I wanted to throw up?
He/him pronouns hadn’t annoyed me in English because I grew up with them and only heard them very rarely. But in French, being constantly reminded that people considered me male, and that meant I was expected to act in certain ways, was awful. Why on earth did one little chromosome mean that I should get punished for crying while growing up, because “real men don’t cry”? Why was I laughed at or judged for wanting to wear jewellery, or liking pink and purple? And what did any of this have to do with my value on a quidditch pitch?
After talking to some close friends and doing a lot of reading, thinking and crying, I figured I must be agender, which means I identify as having no gender, and don’t have any affinity to masculine or feminine characteristics. Saying “I am agender” to myself lifted a weight off my shoulders. Telling my close friends made me go to sleep with a smile. For the first time since I had arrived overseas, I felt comfortable in my own skin. But this wouldn’t last long.
My closest friends in France were my quidditch team. We were all part of this community that prides itself on its inclusivity, that specifically includes trans and non-binary people for who they were in its very rulebook. Surely they would understand. And yet, I never came out to them. I thought about it, and I almost did so many times, but never did. Why?
Ultimately, it boiled down to this: I am a hyper-competitive person, and I wasn’t the only one on that team. My lack of gender meant that I could play alongside four males on pitch, and a lot of people in quidditch consider this a huge advantage because I was also assigned male at birth. But despite how much I love winning, I was disgusted at the thought that my gender identity and sex might matter more to people than my work ethic, fitness, or strategy. More than that, I was worried that people would think I had just made up this whole story so that I’d be more likely to win games and make rep teams. So instead of being honest and having people think I was lying, I decided to lie so people would think I was honest.
Just before I came back to Australia, some of my close friends suggested that I could come out, but make sure the team was aware that I wanted to only sub for men. That way, I wouldn’t be gaining an “advantage” from my gender identity, so people couldn’t accuse me of cheating the system. To this day, I still do this. Now, it’s less for acceptance of myself and more because women struggle for recognition and field time, with or without having to compete with male-presenting non-binary folk for the same limited game time.
While this mostly works well, it still leads to more complication than it should. Every time I try out for a rep team, or sign up for a fantasy tournament, I have to make sure that everyone I’m playing with understands that I want to sub in a male line. The reason I have to say the same thing to every GM and selector is simple. Many people in quidditch still value male-presenting players more than female-presenting players. I have talked to women who said they were considering whether or not they were non-binary, but felt that it wouldn’t matter to their teams because they weren’t “the right kind”. I have listened to coaches talk about styles of male chasers, like point defenders, trucks or receivers, while female chasers are often resigned to one role. I have watched teams decide to send out a female seeker when they stopped concentrating on the snitch, so that they could gain an advantage elsewhere on field. I have stood by as almost every MVP award gets handed to men. I, like many of you, have been too complicit in the continuing sexism in quidditch.
I often see quidditch advertise itself as the most inclusive sport in the world. But for me, quidditch was the biggest obstacle in coming out to my closest friends. Quidditch made me feel as if my lack of gender made me more valuable than any skill I developed. Quidditch, in short, is not as inclusive as we pretend it is.
This isn’t to say that quidditch hasn’t made huge strides in gender equity in sport. I have obviously cherry-picked certain examples, while there are plenty of examples that show how great most people in this community are. But all of the things I have said, I have witnessed first-hand. If we are going to pride ourselves on our inclusivity, we need to keep making positive change. Things like this issue and the “Level the playing field” initiative are doing just that. All I ask is that everyone who reads this article thinks about how they view women and non-binary players on their teams. Try building sub lines based on playstyle, not genders. If you have lots of women on your roster, don’t give them only one spot on field to fight over. Don’t be afraid to not reach the 4 majority on pitch, and instead play 3/2/1, 3/3, 2/2/2 etc. And for those of you already pushing for positive change, keep going. Eventually everyone will thank you for it.