In November, Hannah Mouncey found herself at the elite level of handball players, representing her native Australia at a tournament in Qatar with a hope of making it to Rio for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
But Mouncey, 26, was also secretly battling crippling gender dysphoria and accompanying depression—in a hypermasculine environment in a strange country with no support network.
As she explains in a first-person essay on Outsports, the stress took its toll and she acted out—and was disciplined for swearing at teammates during matches and kicking water bottles on the court.
“That my gender issues were at the root of that behavior is something I’ve never discussed with [my teammates], but I’m sure they figured it out,” she writes. “They’ve supported me all the way. This speaks volumes for the culture within Australian handball.”
Mouncey, who has since begun transitioning, says Qatar was a watershed moment.
It was during this tournament that I realized I no longer had a choice—I simply had to start living as my true self and transition from male to female.
The one thing keeping me going was that I had already acquired the hormones I so desperately needed to start the transition, ready and waiting for me in the glovebox of my car when I got home.
Somehow amid the anxiety and dysphoria, she found the strength to come out to her mother while in Qatar.
“I was never going to transition before telling my mum,” she tells the Canberra Times. “I remember one day, it was the back end of the tournament and I was just up in the pool on the roof, I was up there by myself and I thought, ’Why not? What is stopping me from doing anything?'”
“So I just got up out of the pool, went downstairs and sent her a big long message on Facebook. It was a very quick thing to make the decision.”
“I just didn’t want her to be upset,” she adds, “[but] I knew she’d be supportive.”
And despite the less-than-ideal circumstances, she’s also been embraced by her sport.
“The support and acceptance I’ve received from within handball has been nothing but absolute,” she writes. “From players I’d coached, those who had coached me and those who I knew but had never played with, I have not had a single negative response from within my sport.”
Mouncey hopes to qualify for the Australian women’s team, and possibly represent Australia at the 2020 games in Tokyo.
New IOC guidelines require trans women have undergone hormone treatment for a year before earning a spot on a women’s team, but Mouncey hopes to start playing sooner.
“IOC’s guidelines are just that, guidelines, so each athlete can be assessed on an individual basis… The primary objective is always to have a fair competition,” she says. “Its important people be assessed as individuals, because everyone will react differently to treatment.”
Mouncey’s testosterone levels have consistently been between 0.3 and 0.7 mol since she began treatment, well below the IOC requirement of 10.0 nmol. That means her strength and speed loss has been occurring sooner than some other people transitioning.
If she succeeds, she’ll be the first transgender athlete to compete internationally in a team sport—and the first who has gone from a men’s national team to a women’s team.
“Because there’s no precedent it’s going to be a bit difficult, just because you’ve got to work through legal things as much as anything.”
Transitioning aside, playing in the Olympics is a long shot period: Handball players receive no government funding in Australia, and the country only qualified for the Olympics once, in 2000, when it hosted the Sydney Games.
Hopefully, Mouncey and her teammates will earn that spot at the Tokyo Games, where she will join other trans athletes in breaking barriers for inclusion and fair play.
“I am not simply trying to continue a career I started four years ago,” she writes. “It will always be about representing my country as best I can, but now it’s also about representing the transgender community and providing the impetus for true equality within a society that often wants us to be ignored.”
Below, Hannah discusses how hormone therapy has affected her training and her body.