Arden Cassie, 27, of Charlestown says she struggled with her gender identity for 10 years until the "penny dropped". Born and raised as a man, Cassie came out as transgender to her family and friends last year and began making changes she had been thinking about for a long time, many of which she says "were not easy".
Cassie left her teaching job at a school. She changed her name and she began hormone replacement therapy, which introduces extra estrogen into the body and suppresses the production of testosterone.
She then started playing the "incredibly inclusive" sport of roller derby.
"Coming out was a slow realisation of personal growth," she says.
"I kept getting stuck on this idea I was not 'transy' enough. I was not that four-year-old kid on 60 Minutes who has always been adamant they were a girl. I was in my 20s.
"But last year, I was finally like, yes, this is me," she says.
"This year has been the absolute best year of my life."
Cassie says improvements in her mental health and growing confidence have allowed her to become more involved in the community than ever. Working full-time in IT, she is also involved in church, is the treasurer of the Hunter Gender Alliance and a volunteer for the youth organisation Camp Out.
Earlier this year, she also signed up to the Newcastle Roller Derby League.
"I picked up some skates in February and absolutely, really enjoyed skating," Cassie says.
"I ended up getting sucked into roller derby. It's an incredible community and sport."
Cassie is halfway through the league's "freshies" training program and soon hopes to join one Newcastle's three competitive women's teams: the Bogey Rollers, the Fort Smashleys or the Harbour Hellcats.
"Quite a lot goes into making you a competent skater," she says. "Because it is a full contact sport and you are on wheels."
Cassie says that due to the sport's policies, roller derby has provided her with a space where she feels "completely comfortable".
"Roller derby is one of the only sports in the world where I can compete in a women's league right up to the top level, with no questions asked," she says.
"They say 'If you're a transgender woman, join our women's league. if you're a transgender man, join our men's league.'
"The spaces I value the most now are the spaces where I don't have to be the 'transgender person' and roller derby is one of those places."
In other sports, especially at a professional level, how transgender people, intersex and gender diverse people participate continues to be a divisive topic.
Since 2016, the International Olympic Committee has allowed transgender men to compete in men's events without restriction and transgender women to compete in women's events so long as blood tests show their level of testosterone has remained below a certain level for 12 months, and remains at that level throughout the competition.
This year has been marked by challenges to that position. The gold-medal win of Kiwi weightlifter Laurel Hubbard at the Pacific Games prompted groups to call on the IOC to suspend rules that allow transgender women to compete.
When Cricket Australia released new guidelines in line with the IOC rules earlier this month, it was met by commentary from the Prime Minister that the rules were "mystifying".
A Western Sydney University pediatrics academic told 2GB the guidelines were the "death knell of women's sports because at all ages on the sporting fields males do better than females."
Back at home, the president of Newcastle's District Cricket Association Paul Marjoribanks said Cricket Australia's new rules were both "progressive and necessary".
At a community level the rules allow transgender people to play as their affirmed gender without any restrictions.
"I know there are some transgender women people playing in Sydney's women's competition and we want to be just as welcoming," Marjoribanks says.
National program manager of Pride in Sport Beau Newell, who lives in Newcastle, said the organisation aimed to foster an environment in Australia where a person's ability to participate in sporting leagues that best affirmed their gender was valued.
"At a national and international level, that's when rules have to become more comprehensive. But at a community level organisation's attitudes should be 'let them play', he says.
Pride in Sport is run by ACON, a health promotion body for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people primarily funded by the NSW Government. Pride in Sport assists sporting organisations to create policies inclusive of LGBTI people.
"Studies demonstrate that transgender people shoulder a real burden of mental health issues related to stigma, discrimination and transphobia," he says. "The National LGBTI Health Alliance has found that transgender and gender diverse adults are nearly 11 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population with 35 per cent of transgender and gender diverse adults having attempted suicide in their lifetime.
"On the flip side research shows that when transgender and gender diverse people are accepted, and participate in their community as their affirmed gender, we know mental and physical health outcomes improve dramatically."
He says where community sporting groups did not have access to guidelines for the inclusion of transgender and gender diverse players from a parent organisation, they could refer to the guide published by Sport Australia this year.
The guidelines reiterate that generally it is unlawful to directly or indirectly exclude someone from a club or team because they are transgender. The guide does note that under the anti-discrimination act there is a "competitive sporting exemption" which allows competitors to be excluded because of their sex or gender identity in "any competitive sporting activity in which the strength, stamina or physique of competitors is relevant". However, Sporting Australia states that sporting activities where the main purpose of an activity is social participation may or may not be considered a "competitive sporting activity" in court. The exemption also does not apply to sports involving children under the age of 12.
Newell says a community group's own policies would also come down to their values, saying that generally sporting codes in Australia were "very inclusive and wanted to provide a welcoming environment."
"What is a step-by-step guide that should be followed in order to support a trans person? That's the stage where we are at and where we are developing in that regard."
Taryn Dorrough, 23, of Shortland, is someone who knows the value of a supportive club from personal experience. He says his soccer team has been his biggest backer throughout his transition since coming out as a transgender man at the end of 2015.
He had moved to Newcastle the year before from the Central Coast to study physics at the University of Newcastle, and said almost all of his friends in the city were on his women's soccer team, the university's grade C side Team LiT.
Planning on taking steps to medically transition, including starting hormone replacement therapy, Dorrough says he was unsure whether he should leave the women's soccer club or whether he should stop participating in the sport he had played since he was 12 all together.
"It was a big decision. I didn't know if I should stop playing, or switch club or start playing mixed soccer," Dorrough says. "Soccer is the main social thing in my life. I'd made so many friends playing with them and it was a great club. I didn't want to leave."
Lisa Fraser, captain of Team LiT, said the team was also "unsure what to do". They did not want to lose one of their best defensive players and a great friend.
"We asked the official soccer people [the administrators of Newcastle Football] and they said it was fine if he stayed.
"I honestly thought there'd be more barriers to it. In the whole four years there's only been one team that's brought it up and I just went up to the ref and said we've spoken with Newcastle Football and they had no issue with it."
In the end, it's about what Taryn contributes to our team and what a fun person he is to play with.Lisa Fraser, football team captain
Dorrough says staying on the team had "been great". He has had a handful of negative experiences, but said most of the time the worst that happened during a game was "some odd looks" from players he was marking. Questions or comments about him were usually directed to his teammates.
"They all stick up for me, it's amazing."
He says in the first few years of his transition he did have some doubts about remaining on a women's team.
"A lot of trans guys when they first transition, they try go over the top because they want to look as male as possible," he says. "I guess I was in that phase, where I felt I was trying to make everyone see I am a guy, but being on that field was a space where no one sees that.
"Now I know who I am, and they know I am trans so it doesn't matter that I am there. I have always said that if a club had a problem with it I would leave. But my strong preference is to stay. I feel like because I am one of the smallest people on the team that kind of helps justify to myself that I am ok to play."
Cassie and Dorrough say they understand the need for requirements to be placed on transgender athletes competing as their affirmed gender at pro levels. However, Cassie says the treatment of athletes like Caster Semenya, who is not transgender but has been banned for competing in track events if she does not suppress her naturally elevated levels of testosterone, raised philosophical questions about sport - in which everyone has traits that can contribute and detract from their prowess at a game.
Dorrough's team captain, Lisa Fraser, says that from her experience playing alongside Dorrough, the support teams can provide to transgender and gender diverse people should be the focus, not a person's physical characteristics.
"In the end, it's about what Taryn contributes to our team and what a fun person he is to play with," Fraser says.
Dorrough says that without his soccer team he would have "really struggled" over that past four years, which have also been marked by visits to hospital to work through ongoing issues related to post traumatic stress disorder and an eating disorder.
"I need the outlet," he says. "It's not just the running around, it's getting out of the house and talking to people."
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