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Find a sport you love and go with it – the possibilities are endless.

To me, playing sports is freedom. It’s freedom to be yourself, your body and mind being at one, and being part of a team. It’s hope for new beginnings and challenges and it’s a home where friendships and families are built.

As I walked into the sports hall at secondary school and saw all the girls in gym skirts and the boys in rugby shorts, something inside of me pulled and made me feel sick and shaky. I didn’t want to be with the girls, I dreaded Gymnastics and Netball, and just wanted to play rugby and football. The teachers told me no, “because you’re a girl”, with no explanation.

I would hide in the changing rooms hoped that PE was my last lesson of the day so I could just go home in my kit. One day, my mum rang the school to say she wanted me to be comfortable and not be made to wear something that wasn’t me, so I got the wear the boys kit instead.

Those 80 minutes on grass and in the mud were the most important minutes of my day. In the changing rooms where no one cared what gender you were, just that you played well and had your team mates back.

I remember a teacher writing in my school diary that “we must have Verity in a school dress”.

My mum just wrote back “we tried”.

I knew I was not a girl but I didn’t know how to say I was a boy either. The school said that I couldn’t play football on the boy’s team, so I wrote a letter to the Football Association to get them to challenge the school – and I became the Goalie!

Then I found a local girls team where I could play regular sport, and I felt free to be me. Finally, I wasn’t questioned or pushed aside. I still knew I wasn’t a girl, but I got to play sports and make friends.

Once I discovered Rugby I switched teams, and the rest is history! I played all over the UK and met so many amazing people from all walks of life.

We were all playing on the same team but had our own different reasons for being there. For me it was the hope for a better future after personal loss but also to take me away from myself and my feelings. For 80 minutes I was on that pitch as Verity and nothing else mattered, no gender or family life or outside problems, just me and my teammates.

Sport has gone from supporting my mental health through my younger years of confusion and anger to bringing happiness and the feeling of being myself.

Those 80 minutes on grass and in the mud were the most important minutes of my day. In the changing rooms where no one cared what gender you were, just that you played well and had your team mates back.

Some of these team mates have been in my life now for 30 years and after all my injuries I would still do it all over again. All of this has made me the man I am today, someone who’s happy in himself.

Since I started working at Mermaids, I’ve been talking to young people who were too afraid to take part in PE because their school was not able to support in mixed classes due to the pandemic. I find these conversations difficult because I know how frightened they feel and it just makes me sad. This week I got an email that made me so happy and relieved, because it showed what I can do at Mermaids. One of the mums I’ve been supporting said “the changing access was much better”. It made me feel excited for the young person. That’s why I wanted to write about my own experiences with school sports to let you know I’m here and I understand.

Hearing this feedback is such a massive positive, and it shows that change can happen through support and education, and that non-binary young people who are often overlooked with sport and physical activities are also not left out.

Playing sport has taught me compassion, social skills, self-worth and shown me how to belong to something bigger. I have hope that the future will be better for the next generation, and that sport will evolve to enable everyone to be free.

Find a sport you love and go with it – the possibilities are endless.

5 easy tips for how schools and parents can support trans kids in school sports

  1. Allow the young person to play sport in their identified gender
  2. Help support changing room arrangements
  3. Allow young people to wear the PE kit of their identified gender
  4. Stop splitting PE lessons by gender
  5. Support young peoples sport of choice