students sat talking on the beach

Read Juniper's story about how university sport can help with feelings of isolation and provide a sense of belonging

  • 08 February 2022
  • 5 min read

Our caring about not caring campaign begins with stories from Team UOP member's. This campaign aims to provide insight into the lives and experiences of members of the LGBTIQA+ community. These honest and frank stories are an example of how sport and physical activity can play a part in providing a sense of belonging and combating feelings of anxiety. We want to raise awareness for these stories and of the issues they look to challenge. These personal stories are powerful and should start up conversations between you and your friends, family and team-mates. We have also supplied a number of resources below if you are affected by this story.

Juniper's Story

Tell us about you and your sport

I started with martial arts at 9 years old. I began with karate and after 2 years I started Shaolin Kung Fu. There was a heavy emphasis on performing shows and acrobatics, which I loved. I loved seeing my progression into being able to perform new tricks, and the excitement I felt when I performed my first back handspring was unrivalled. One of my favourite tricks to perform was standing splits, you would stand on one leg and put the other above your head, and then fall into the splits on the ground. I performed in two shows, one at a local school and one at a carnival. I stopped this 3 years later when I started having anxiety attacks and moved into taekwondo, which has a lot less focus on shows. When I started university I knew I wanted to get back into the style of Shaolin and so I started gymnastics. Since then I've been working on my tricks although I haven't been able to recreate a back handspring yet, I hope to be able to.

Have you ever felt or experienced a negative situation due to your sexuality/gender identity within your sport, and how did the people around react?

The temple I trained at in Shaolin had a very macho environment, and so I didn't feel comfortable being me. The area I lived in wasn't very progressive, to the point that I was bullied before I came out, because I advocated for trans rights at my school.

The main incident would have been while I was training taekwondo and judo, I had a group of boys surround me at school, verbally abuse me for being trans (again before I even came out) and steal my things. The people I trained with watched them do this, and afterwards pretended nothing had happened. I felt so isolated, that the people I trained with, called my friends, and thought I had their support, watched this happen right in front of them and didn't do anything, nor offered me any support afterwards.

This wasn't the case with UOP gymnastics. When I finally got the courage to come out, there was pure acceptance. My new name and pronouns were used instantly, and if there are any mess ups, they're more upset they've done it than I am. I've seen club members correct others on my pronouns before I can. Due to certain political debates I've avoided competing and using the changing rooms, and while this is a personal decision I've had people say that there is no problem and that they would defend me. So at times it seems like they are more accepting of me than even myself.

The word trans is an ‘umbrella’ term for all people who cross traditional gender boundaries – whether that is permanently or periodically. Many trans people know from a very early age that they don’t identify with the gender that is assigned to them at birth whilst others come to this conclusion much later in life. Every trans person’s journey through life is unique and individual to them. There are no right or wrong ways of being trans. It’s what works best and feels right for you!

NHS, https://www.nhs.uk/livewell/transhealth/documents/livingmylife.pdf

If you could meet your younger self what advice would you give you?

If I could give advice to my younger self it would be to be proud of who I am and to live as myself freely. The area I lived in made me feel that there was global hatred for who I was and that I would face it everywhere, but it's not the case. While I am glad for the lessons I've learnt, I would have rather began my journey sooner and had more time to live as myself.

What do you think teams/sport members can do better to make their LGBTIQA+ team mates feel safer within their sport?

I think to help people feel safer, you have to show that you will defend and support them. Unfortunately, we still live in a time where there is bigotry and hatred, and to know that if anything happens you wouldn't have to go through it alone is such an important feeling. Everyone knows that there will be someone there for them, but to undeniably know that the people who spend time with you will go out of their way to support you in times of need is a form of safety that can't be broken.
 

If you need some support with your mental health at this time, the student wellbeing service have a number of resources to help.