Ellia Green realized as a young child — long before becoming an Olympic champion — that a person’s identity and a 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, told The Associated Press it was the best decision of his life. Realizing that sharing his experience could be lifesaving for others is what compelled Green to go public in a video to be shown Tuesday to participants at an international summit on ending transphobia and homophobia in sport. The summit is being hosted in Ottawa as part of the Bingham Cup rugby tournament.
The only other transgender or gender diverse Olympic gold medalists are Caitlyn Jenner and Quinn, who goes by one name and was part of Canada’s winning women’s soccer team in Tokyo last year.
Seeing so few trans athletes at the elite level and so much 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 the harm those things can cause some children.
Most importantly, it’s an attempt to draw attention to a serious health issue — some studies say more than 40% of trans youth had considered attempting suicide.
The 29-year-old Green has 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 AP. “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.
“Vanessa was pregnant and having to come to hospital to visit,” Green said. “I was having bad episodes. That’s the last time I want her to have to see me like that. 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.”
The story has been a difficult one at times. Green, who was assigned female at birth, was adopted by Yolanta and Evan Green and moved to Australia from Fiji at age 3. Recalling later childhood memories of domestic violence, seeing Yolanta being abused in another relationship, Green said “caused a lot of long-lasting trauma.”
“I guess from witnessing that, I knew from an early age that was not (the kind of) relationship I wanted to have, but it shaped me to know how a woman should be treated,” Green said. “I do believe that even through traumatic circumstances there was a lot to learn from it.”
It was also a childhood that for Green was marked by an overwhelming realization.
“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’.”