Ellia Green realised as a young child – long before – that a person’s identity and gender assigned at birth can be very different things.
Now, about 20 years later, one of the stars of Australia’s gold medal-winning women’s rugby sevens team at the 2016 Olympics has transitioned to male.
Green, who has kept the same name, spoke about the decision publicly via video shown on Tuesday at a summit in Ottawa as part of the Bingham Cup rugby tournament.
Seeing so few trans athletes at the elite level and negative commentary on social media, particularly since World Rugby’s decision to bar transgender women from playing women’s rugby, hastened Green’s push to highlight potential harms to children.
The 29-year-old Green 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.”
He’s in a much better place now with his partner, Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts, and their infant daughter, Waitui.
“I was having bad episodes. That’s the last time I want her to have to see me like that,” Green said.
“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.”
Ellia Green was one of the stars when Australia’s women’s rugby sevens team won the inaugural Olympic gold in Rio. Source: Getty / Ian Hitchcock
Green, who was assigned female at birth, was adopted by Yolanta and Evan Green and moved to Australia from Fiji at the age of three.
“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.'”
Yolanta also helped channel Green into sports, and excellence as a sprinter in track and field eventually led to a professional career in rugby. When rugby sevens made its Olympic debut at Rio de Janeiro in 2016, Green was one of the stars as Australia won the inaugural gold medal.
All the while, deeper feelings were becoming clearer for Green and 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.
“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.”
Green now wants to advocate for others, emphasising the harm that can be by sporting bans and how 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.”
Green hopes his story will inspire other trans people to be confident in their decisions about who they want to be.
“I just knew it was going to be the most liberating feeling when I had that surgery and to be in the body I knew I had to be,” Green says in the video.
“That was a bright spark in my mind during these dark times facing demons, but I knew there was light at the end of the tunnel.”