Caroline Layt battled discrimination and ignorance as Australia’s first trans rugby league player – and now she’s revealed she had to battle her own teammates, as well.
The 56-year-old trailblazer was playing women’s first-grade rugby in Sydney in 2005 when she says she was bashed by six of her fellow players after her coach outed her a few weeks beforehand.
‘The first one was holding my arms while the rest took turns punching my head… bang, bang, bang,’ she said.
Her team’s coach discovered she was trans during an incredible conversation when he said Layt didn’t have any experience in the sport – and got a very unexpected comeback.
Layt excelled on the footy field, with her coach advising her to try to play for Australia
She knew it was ‘wrong’ for her to be male from the age of three or four and asked her father, ‘Why can’t I be a girl?’ before transitioning just before turning 30
‘I replied … ‘Well, actually, I played for Easts 20 years ago, against you,” recalled Layt, who played a rugby league State of Origin match for NSW in 2007.
The following year she was playing in the same competition when a bounty was placed on her, with an elbow to the head worth $25.
‘Whoever injured me the most, they got the cash,’ she told the Daily Telegraph.
But despite having to deal with violence and intimidation, Layt insists her time in women’s sport ‘isn’t a sad story’.
She started playing footy aged four, and was good enough to take the field for South Sydney in rugby league in her early 20s.
But all the while, something didn’t feel right.
‘From around three or four I knew,’ Layt told Daily Mail Australia. ‘I just knew it was wrong to be that way.
‘I remember asking my dad, “Why can’t I be a girl, why can’t I be pretty?”‘
Layt (pictured carrying the ball) played for the NSW Blues in the 2007 Women’s State of Origin
Today Layt is an advocate for trans women in sport – and she wants to speak with NRL bosses Andrew Abdo and Peter V’landys about trans players making their mark in the NRLW
After acting ‘totally macho’ during her time at an all-boys Catholic boarding school, she took up traditionally masculine sports and was selected by Souths aged 23.
Almost seven years later, just before her 30th birthday, she decided to transition.
‘It was tough. In those early transition stages people can tell that you’re trans and they stare and are rude. When I started passing more it got easier, but there were stages where it would flare up. I got attacked by a 16-year-old kid one day,’ she said.
Sport became a saving grace for her as she won four golds, a silver and a bronze in the Sydney Gay Games, then decided to play footy again after playing a game of touch at a high school reunion where her classmates embraced her new identity.
She excelled, being named a finalist for the women’s player of the year in the Sydney Morning Herald’s 2004 rugby awards. Her coach wanted her to play for Australia at the time.
Her Origin debut for the Blues followed three years later, and she missed playing more games for NSW when a knee injury ruled her out for 2008 and much of 2009.
Layt was always a handy footballer. She returned to the field after transitioning when playing a game of touch at a school reunion reignited her love of the game
Trans women playing sport – especially contact sports where there are concerns about other competitors getting hurt by bigger and more powerful trans opponents – has become a big issue in Australia.
Layt is right in the thick of the debate now that she works as a journalist, blogger and advocate for trans women.
‘Nobody was killed. Nobody was hurt,’ she said of her time in rugby league.
‘The year I played for NSW, Queensland beat us 38-16. And you can find the footage, I was just another player.’
Layt wants to sit down with NRL bosses Andrew Abdo and Peter V’landys to talk about trans women playing in the NRLW.
‘As a minimum, I think trans athletes should have to wait at least two years after transitioning before they can play footy,’ she explained, adding that her bench press dropped substantially when she transitioned, and her drop in endurance was worse.