By Zooey “Effy” Perry, London GD, British Premier Handball League and Athlete Ally Ambassador
‘First in history’
I remember being at the back of the coach returning to London, wearing a golden top hat and a T-shirt with ‘CHAMPIONS’ printed on it, repeating that statement over and over. I was trying to process what had happened not just on that Saturday in April 2019, but throughout the 2018/19 season: Olympia Handball Club had just won the English Premier Handball League championship unbeaten, and I was the first trans player in British handball history to be a part of that.
I grew up in the northeast of England in a small town in Teesside called Billingham. It was while living here that, in 2011 at the age of 14, I ‘came out’ as trans in high school.
Prior to coming out, I played for the boy’s football team for a couple of years. I’d spent much of my early teens trying to understand what began as a fascination with cross-dressing and ended with me, at age 13, discovering what transexualism and gender dysphoria were. After realising all of this, I began to distance myself from the football team while I tried to work out who I was. This was probably due to a lack of visibility; back then, I don’t think I could have named a single trans athlete in the world that I could have looked up to, but we’ll come back to this later.
Little did I know, this ‘break’ from sport would last a whole two years.
In 2016, I moved to London for my studies. I saw it as a fresh start in the big city, the polar opposite to the small town I grew up in. I had lost my mother, who was my biggest supporter, to a long battle with cancer two years previous and I needed to get away from the North. It would always be easier to ‘blend in’ with London’s massive population, and it was there that I began to regularly play handball. At first, I played through the club at Middlesex University, one that I would end up captaining for 3 years, coaching for 2, winning the ‘Player of the Year’ award once and becoming the first trans athlete in the university’s history to be presented with the sports department’s prestigious ‘Captain of the Year’ award in 2018. Then, I played with the two biggest handball clubs in the UK: Olympia HC and London GD, both of the nationwide Premier Handball League. It was at these two clubs I felt as though I had finally become comfortable with who I am – a trans athlete.
Nothing, or no-one, can ever change that or take that away from me, because that’s what I am and I’m proud of it. The sport of handball has blessed me with a lifetime’s worth of amazing people, many of whom I consider to be family. I’m a big believer that the amount of love you give is the same as the love you receive in return, and I think that’s reflected in the company I keep. I’m here today writing this because of them and everything I do in my career is for them, my family and my mother watching above.
A while back, I was asked by a friend if considered myself to be successful, and I had to say ‘no’, because in my head, i’ve always seen success as a nice dinner at a restaurant, and proper dinner etiquette has always taught me that I can’t start eating until everyone on my table has their dinner too. I can’t consider myself a success until my whole team is sitting around that imaginary table with me, and I truly believe we’re all going to make it one day. I’m proud to be joining Athlete Ally today as an Ambassador, and helping to work towards a future where every LGBTQI+ athlete can be fully themselves.
Rewind back to the start of this story and to the back of that coach on its way back to London. How I felt that day, and how I still feel about it now, is a proud feeling I wish everyone could feel at least once in their life. Being able to say I was the first openly trans player in British handball history is a flag i’m proud to bear, and I can’t wait to see who’s next.
Photos courtesy of Zooey “Effy” Perry
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