Reuben Jarvis: “I understand the fear but I will never accept it.”

Last month, Scottish Rugby followed the lead of their counterparts in the other home nations by banning trans women from playing the sport.

It is one of the latest setbacks for those campaigning for inclusion in sport, and came after a long consultation to determine what steps the governing body would take.

While much of the furore and impact of Scottish Rugby’s decision, much like the attention of large parts of the media, have been focused on trans women, there has also been an effect on trans men who want to play rugby.

Admittedly, that impact is not so severe. Trans men will still be allowed to play in men’s rugby, with new cases being dealt with on an individual basis and those who have already been participating being allowed to continue on close to normally.

One such player is Reuben Jarvis, who says the SRU’s new policy came as no surprise to them.

“Frustrating is a good word,” they said.

“I say this to everyone, I can understand fear to a certain extent because fear is an emotion that we as a species developed for survival. People who spend their lives on social media, see nothing but transphobic, fear mongering drivel and don’t have the resources or the willingness to to critically engage with the world around them, I can understand how they might see a headline and think the worst.

“I understand the fear but I will never accept it. I feel as though there are currently instances in the popular media and recent news reports of society latching onto one or two awful representations of trans people in order to feel vindicated in their fear and juvenile hatred, meanwhile willfully ignoring the rest of trans people who are doing great things or average things or just trying to live their lives. 

Reuben Jarvis is one of those trans people just trying to live their life.

“Whereas, for example, we could take a survey of the MET police and we wouldn’t need to use the one instance of a bad apple repeatedly because we’d have 1000 examples. It is frustrating to see the lack of contempt for an institution like that but then witness the concentrated vitriol aimed at trans people daily.

“As I said previously, far too few people are willing to critically engage with the world around them because it would mean challenging everything they have been taught about the world, and for some that is too much to bear.

“Going into the consultations with the SRU, I think we always knew what the decision was going to be. We just wanted to know what the decision process was. For me, I think we knew what the outcome was going to be, but we just wanted them to show us their evidence for making that decision. The RFU didn’t, the Welsh Union didn’t and neither did the Irish one. They made the decision but didn’t give any real, meticulously detailed decision process.

“On a personal level, I am very pessimistic. I like to try and be optimistic, but given the state of the world a certain level of realism is needed to keep yourself grounded, so I kind of already just knew what the decision was going to be.

“England and Wales already made their decision, and then Ireland, and Scotland weren’t going to deviate from that. It would take a certain level of principle, which I think if you’re a large organisation full of cisgender heterosexual people, is almost too much. As with my previous point, I can understand but I cannot accept. 

“I was more surprised at the meeting that we had with the SRU when they announced what they were doing, and that they were just kind of blasé about it. They seemed to act like it was almost out of their control, so that sort of attitude from the SRU was kind of disappointing – but then again, the decision that they made was disappointing.

“You’ve got to make a stand sometimes, and I just cannot tolerate pandering to the unjustified rhetoric of transphobic fear. Again, I understand that on a basic human level, but they supposedly wanted to engage and they supposedly wanted to make the right decision.”

The trans of it all

A rising tide of exclusionary policies from governing bodies in sport have been accompanied by a concerted campaign to paint trans people in a negative light.

Research from leading trans charity Mermaids in 2019 highlighted the extent of the media obsession, which has only continued to escalate in the years since.

With census data showing that trans men and trans women accounted for just 0.1% of the English and Welsh population each, it has been a disproportionate attack on the community – one that has a real-life effect on those who are part of it.

“There are a lot of people who are feeling a lot worse than I am,” Jarvis explained.

“I’m trans masculine, and a lot of hate seems to be going to trans feminine people, so I recognise my privilege within the community currently. However, I also affirm that mine, and every other trans masculine person’s anger, sadness and fear is just as valid. It is a scary time.

Jarvis’ privilege includes being able to continue playing rugby, while trans women cannot.

“I was scrolling through Twitter the other day and I saw a video of two trans women being interviewed in 1995, and it was just done with such an air of sophistication; an unfamiliar concept to me regarding coverage of trans people. There were no underlying tones of fear and the audience was so receptive. That was so strange to me because I don’t think I’ve known anything other than people refusing to understand, people hating, people wanting to literally wipe us off the face of the earth.

“I don’t think I’ve really known much else. It’s never ending and it’s everywhere, so it’s difficult. I’ve said to people around me so many times that I’d like to live in a hut in the woods and not have to do anything, because I go on Twitter, I go on Facebook and it’s just there.

“I’m fairly lucky in the fact that I’ve established a decent network, if you will. I’ve got quite a few close friends, I’m sort of surrounding myself with as many queer folk as possible.

“I can kind of ignore it for the most part, so I’m quite lucky to have quite a few queer friends. I’ve got a few coping mechanisms – I’ll go and hike and cycle on the weekends. Nevertheless, it’s difficult, it’s really difficult. I still struggle hugely.

“I have heard and seen online so often the following, ‘I hate being trans because it’s so difficult’, and I hate that we live in a world where that is a feeling. It’s a feeling that I have frequently, and it’s so profoundly sad.

“Trans people have existed for as long as homosapiens, possibly humans, have existed and the idea that we are new is based in a racist and colonialist mindset. We are ancient and our stories are weaved into the fabric of humanity. Ignorance of our existence does not erase that existence. We have always been here and we will always be here, and being trans is so thoroughly magic, if you are trans or cis do not forget that. 

“I feel like it’s almost inevitable that trans men will be targeted in the same way – this kind of hate was directed at gay people 20 years ago, and now it’s being directed at trans women. People have to hate something, they have to fear something. It almost brings us together in a sense. If it wasn’t truly horrific, it would almost be slightly heart warming. 

“I have thought about trans men possibly being the next target, but as it stands I’ll keep on playing  rugby for as long as I can. Due to the nature of rugby, my body might get destroyed before we get to that point anyway, who’s to say.

“If rugby gets taken away from me, I hike, I cycle, I do other things. I’ve got friends, I’ve got a partner who is very understanding. I try not to let things affect me too much – with the amount of therapy that I’ve been to, I can’t afford to let things destroy me. I have to try and put it to good use. Outwith all that I will mourn, of course I will.

“It’s inevitable that it might happen, but I try to not worry about life too much, which is sometimes to my detriment. Look on the bright side is what I always think – try and find the rainbow in every cloud.”

Bouncing between “straight” and inclusive rugby

Jarvis’ main club is inclusive outfit Aberdeen Taexali, where they are now Vice Chairman and Welfare Officer, but they do also occasionally turn out for Aberdeenshire 2nds in the Scottish Rugby club pyramid.

There can be quite different dynamics in traditional sport compared to inclusive sport, but Jarvis quite enjoys going between the two – even if being one of the very few trans people at either of them means they have a unique perspective.

“Because I’m the only trans person on my team it’s quite frustrating at times because I’m attuned to very different issues than they are,” Jarvis reasoned.

“Not just being trans masculine, but also bisexual/pansexual which are terms I use interchangeably, there are so many facets of myself and it’s great playing rugby in an environment I do feel quite safe in, such as in IGR (International Gay Rugby) matches/ tournaments.

“I don’t really speak to the Aberdeenshire guys much outside of matches, but they are aware that the folks that come down to matches to help out are coming from an LGBTQ+ inclusive club. Still, I don’t come out to them. There are areas of my life where I don’t come out, because I don’t need to. Sometimes it’s just easier.

“My LGBTQ+ identity has been used against me so negatively sometimes, and there’s always a fear  when you’re a trans person of being outed and then getting the negativity that comes with it. I think that goes for every LGBTQ+ person, but I think when you’re trans it’s a very specific and individual experience as a result of social conditioning and different traumas that we go through, whether direct or indirect.

“You see the rhetoric that’s currently playing out in public media, and being a trans person – no matter how far along you are and how well you ‘pass’, which is a concept I hate – comes with a certain level of being scared of people finding out and responding to that information negatively.

“There’s always a little bit of that going on, but for the most part if you give your best and you’re a good player, the Aberdeenshire boys I’ve been playing with are just thankful that we come down and help them out. I don’t feel the need to come out to them, and I think I’ve been through so much at this point that if they did respond negatively, I would just get on with my life. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I do not dwell for too long in sadness.

“There is obviously another side to me that they don’t know, but also sometimes it’s just nice to be in an environment where things are quite black and white. I’m trans masculine, bisexual and neurodivergent; sometimes being in an environment that’s very black and white is a good thing, there is no underlying tone of cattiness. This is not the case in every situation I have played in, given that the majority of IGR players are cis gays. I sometimes just want to turn up, throw myself round a pitch getting muddy and bloody, have a beer and head out – there is something nice in that.

“I’m also very vocal on pitch, I tell people where to go when someone needs to be somewhere, so I appreciate when they’re screaming at me to do the same. There are pros and cons to it – I enjoy being in an environment where it’s black and white, people say what they mean and they mean what they say, but there is also an underlying feeling of ‘what would happen’.

“I haven’t heard anything from them that would make me feel uncomfortable. It’s so bad when you’re like ‘great job, you’re not homophobic’, but I haven’t heard anything that would make me feel uncomfortable otherwise I wouldn’t play with them.

“There are pros and cons, like any situation. At Aberdeenshire it’s a second team, and essentially their thinking is about going out there and doing their best – they’re not going out there to be absolutely astounding and be the first team, they’re just on the pitch giving their all, which I’m here for.”

Looking ahead

Even despite Scottish Rugby’s ruling, Jarvis has not seen their enthusiasm for the sport wane.

They are still preparing to go to the Hadrian’s Cup with Taexali next month, where they will be surrounded by fellow members of the LGBTQIA+ community including some trans players Jarvis has only spoken to online before.

Whether there will be a response to the introduced legislation remains to be seen, but even if not it may provide something of a comfort blanket to be immersed in a like-minded community for a few days.

“The whole fear mongering thing is affecting such a small number of people, but what you’re doing then is feeding into the culture and feeding into fear instead of taking a stand,” they added.

“If more large bodies took ethically and morally stronger stances, then the factions of society that want to see trans people eradicated wouldn’t feel as vindicated in what they’re saying.

“I don’t think Scottish Rugby’s decision has changed how I view rugby too much, it has more just confirmed to me that the people who have the opportunity to make changes, like the SRU, won’t because that would require going against the grain which people don’t want to do.

“At somewhere like Hadrian’s, you can go and be as much of yourself as you want while also being a very active person. When I started playing rugby and started playing games, and I started getting fairly into it, it was a revelation realising that I can do this.

Tournaments like Hadrian’s allow players like Jarvis to be completely themselves in sport.

“I don’t know if there’s much planned as far as protests against the policy go. Within the IGR community, from my experience and what I’ve seen, there’s a majority of cis, white gays. It’s a problem.

“There’s a sort of willingness to think everything’s okay because we have gay rights now, whereas a lot of minorities within the community, trans people and/or disabled people for example, so many of us still don’t have those rights.

“Even then, my personal opinion as somebody who has a spicy little brain is that Hadrian’s is going to be a lot of work emotionally and socially but great, it’s going to be really fun. I usually don’t do big events just because of who I am, but thought let’s do it.

“I’m not usually a fan of large events, but I went to the Thebans rugby clinic last year and it was really fun. I could have gone to Hadrian’s last year but didn’t, so I was like this year, I’m going, I’m doing it.

“Again, you can be as much of who you are as you want really. I’m going to try and meet up with the guys in the trans group chat, so it should be quite fun. It’s just nice and safe.”

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