Out on the pitch, they can finally feel like themselves.
In addition to the sheer joy that soccer brings them, Mara Gomez has the extra satisfaction of knowing that after a long and difficult journey, she is blazing a trail for transgender players in Argentina.
Tall, slim and with her hair tied back in a ponytail, Gomez plays for the team of Villa San Carlos in La Plata, 60m south of Buenos Aires. At 23, she aims to become the first transgender player in her country’s new women’s professional league.
“I suffered a lot from discrimination, exclusion, verbal abuse in the street and in school. Soccer was like therapy for me,” Gomez said.
She started playing at 15, encouraged by neighbors.
In the women’s league in La Plata, Gomez has distinguished herself as a leading goal scorer in the past two seasons, which prompted Villa San Carlos — in last place in the women’s professional league — to seek to recruit her.
“She’s quick and is very good at kicking on target,” trainer Juan Cruz Vitale said. “Unlike what people and the media were thinking, she isn’t that strong. I have a number of girls who are stronger and even though she’s fast, I have girls who are faster.”
However, Vitale added: “She’s smart and learns quickly — and she gets goals, which is what we were lacking.”
The club is in the process of submitting its application to the Argentine Football Association to sign Gomez up, once the coronavirus lockdown ends.
“There is a law on gender identity that they can’t get around. We are convinced she is going to be a star,” the coach said.
Argentina led Latin America by passing a gender identity law in 2012, which allowed Gomez to officially change her gender on her national identity card when she turned 18.
“I am very happy to know that as a society, we are doing a little more. We are opening up minds,” she said, as she contemplated the prospect of becoming a professional player in a country that has produced some of the world’s best soccer player, including Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi.
Union del Suburbio president Sebastian Rajoy said that “everyone has the right to play sports.”
“Clubs on the margins are the ones offering the opportunity,” he added. “Someone has to take the first step and in this case, it is us.”
In this early stage of incorporating transgender players, Gomez and Rojo are aware that they could be asked to submit to a hormone test before they are fully accepted into the leagues.
“The discussion is linked to the dilemma between biology and respect for people’s rights,” said Ayelen Pujol, a specialist in gender identity in sports.
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