Shivani Dave: “My goal for 2023 is to prove that queerness doesn’t equal whiteness.”

All Shivani Dave ever wanted to do was play football.

Unfortunately, for a long time that wasn’t really an option. Their local club didn’t have a girls’ side, so after the age of 10 they were told they could not train with their brother’s team anymore.

At an all girls’ school at that time, there wasn’t enough interest to start up a team either, so Dave had to settle for any other sport they could get their hands on. Lacrosse, netball, tennis, rounders, skateboarding, roller skating – anything that was accessible, they did.

Finally, the opportunity to play football presented itself at university, but by then it was a dream that had been built up for so long that it was easy for Dave to psyche themselves out of actually going along.

Then, the pandemic hit. At first, that obviously meant it was impossible to start playing football as team sports were suspended, but it did serve as a motivator for Dave to finally take the plunge and join Goal Diggers FC.

After years of wanting to play football, Shivani Dave finally took the plunge after the pandemic. Picture: Goal Diggers FC

Nerves did hit again – in more ways than one – but they have never looked back after that initial training session.

“I was constantly chasing this dream of wanting to play football,” Dave recalled.

“My all-time favourite movie is Bend It Like Beckham, so playing football was something that I’d really held on a pedestal.

“For a lot of people assigned female at birth in particular, university is an opportunity to be able to start playing football, and I had this massive crisis of confidence and thought that I might be really terrible at something I’ve had in my head and loved my whole life.

“So I didn’t play any football at university, I played hockey, which I was terrible at but I wasn’t embarrassed about being terrible at because I didn’t have these lofty ambitions of being good.

“Then after university, the pandemic hit and a lot of things happened in the Covid years. I kind of just thought, you know what, life’s too short to have this thing that I’ve always wanted to do and not been able to do.

“I came out as non-binary very publicly, and I thought that meant the end of my ability to be involved in sports teams because you hear about male and female sports but you don’t see any non-binary teams.

“Then I came across Goal Diggers, which is a grassroots football team, for women and non-binary players, from any ability background. If you’ve never kicked a ball in your life you can still come along, so it was really, really nice. I went and I never looked back, I absolutely love it.

“I was so excited, I laid out my my shorts and my t-shirt that I was going to wear the night before, and I put it on first thing in the morning. I spent the whole day like a child in a full football kit, and training was at 7pm.

“It’s an interesting one because even within football – even within queer, inclusive football – and in sport more generally, there’s this idea of it being quite white.

“I don’t know what the reasons for that are, but if you look at the Lionesses, when you look at any of the pro women’s football teams really, there are pretty much no South Asian players. It’s a hard thing constantly feeling like you don’t see yourself whether that’s in sport, public life, showbiz, entertainment, whatever.

“It’s hard enough when you don’t see yourself represented as a queer person or a person of colour, but when you’re both of those things and you’re trying to see yourself it’s even harder.

“I was so excited, but I was a little bit daunted that it was just going to be a sea of people who don’t look and sound like me – and I was so happy to be proven wrong.

“When I say it’s an inclusive team, it’s not just that trans women are welcome and non-binary players are welcome, or lesbians and bisexuals are welcome – it’s people from every single ethnicity you can imagine.

“It’s welcome to people from all different kinds of backgrounds. With access to sport, there’s a big divide in terms of class as well as race, as well as sexuality, as well as gender identity. There are lots of barriers built into sport, and then there’s this team who is really doing everything they can to try and make sure nobody has a barrier to playing football.”

Providing light in the dark

As well as playing for Goal Diggers, Dave is a well-known broadcaster and journalist.

On-air, Dave could at one time be heard on channels like Radio One, while as a producer they have helped create podcasts like The Log Books. Now, among other roles, they present on Virgin Radio and are one of the TikTok hosts for LGBTQIA+ news platform Openly.

Social media has become a key part of their platform, with a particular focus on showing diversity within the LGBTQIA+ community, and bringing some light relief amidst a torrent of negative headlines.


Some cheery news atm #worldpride2022 is currently happening in #sydneyaustralia and this shark is the best thing ive seen for it #lgbtnews #queernews #rainbowshark

♬ Red Flags – Mimi Webb

“I tweeted at the start of this year, my goal for 2023 is to prove that queerness doesn’t equal whiteness,” they said.

“To some degree, sometimes I do feel whatever platform I have, I should use that in a way that champions the different facets of my identity, not just the queer part of my identity.

“I find that it’s really tough, because even in LGBTQ+ spaces people who come from an ethnic minority background are sometimes othered, which is really disappointing to see and really sad.

“It’s also something that I’ve seen from other communities that I’m part of. For example, the South Asian community largely doesn’t understand the queer experience.

“I feel like what I’m trying to do is normalise being LGBTQ+ in spaces where that seems unusual, and talk about and show that people from all sorts of different cultural identities, religious identities, and ethnic minorities are also worthy of being seen and heard in LGBTQ+ spaces.

“I think a key thing that I want to try and do – with my jokes on Twitter and my videos dancing around topless on TikTok – is touch on those really heavy topics in a light way.

“I want to try and make people not necessarily feel like they’re always coming to a Ted Talk, and that maybe they’re just allowed to feel a little bit uncomfortable, but still know the next step.

“I don’t think I always get it right all of the time, and that’s okay. At the end of the day,  people are not perfect, and they will make mistakes even if they’re massive celebrities – which I’m not, I’m not giving myself any sort of acclaim.

Dave tries their best to bring joy to LGBTQIA+ people. Picture: Paolina Stadler for New Balance

“I’m just like everybody else and I’m going to make mistakes. I’m not always going to get it right. You shouldn’t try and make light of every situation, because sometimes things are really hard and that just needs to be acknowledged.

“I think the reason I try to satirise some of the things that we hear in the press about trans people and non-binary people, the way I joke about how the media sometimes can be very exclusionary towards us, is because I know everybody else who watches my video or looks at my tweet sees exactly the same articles that I’ve been reading, and it’s really exhausting.

“It’s just tiring to get that all the time, so I try to make sure that people who have been seeing all of those things get a smile out of their day, a timeline cleanse.

“Like I said, not everything should be treated that way. We’ve had a disgusting rise in transphobia in this country. This has been a really, really tough year in 2023 – it’s only April and it’s been one of the worst years that I can think of for transphobia in what I’ve seen in the press and online, and that to me isn’t a punchline.

“That’s not a joke. That’s that’s not something I’m going to trivialise, but if there’s a very famous TV news anchor who makes a blunder, and I get to take the piss out of them for doing that, I’m going to do it just so we can have a little bit of fun.”

Sporting progress

When there are onslaughts of attacks on the LGBTQIA+ community, trans women seem to be a particular target – all the more so when it comes to their roles in sport.

Even this week, there was unwarranted hysteria that Dylan Mulvaney, a trans woman, was part of a Nike advertising campaign.

From Dave’s perspective, seeing such overreactions so often only goes to reinforce that progress will be slow, but they hope that grassroots teams like Goal Diggers can help lead the cause for change.

“Within the society that we are in, trans women get a lot more abuse and hostility, disproportionately to any other sort of minority gender,” they reasoned.

“By that I mean trans women get it worse than trans men and non-binary people. That’s just what I’ve seen, I’m not sure if there are any hard stats on that, but I think it’s really important for everyone – cis, trans or non-binary – to call that out when it’s wrong and to stick up for trans women because they’re at a really harsh end of it.

“Dylan Mulvaney is an out, powerful and very inspiring trans woman, and the whole of broadcast media, papers, Twitter, everything just melted. Things like that remind me that it’s so important for us to use our voices to stick up for trans women in particular at the moment, but we can have multiple conversations at once, and they can and should be nuanced.

“I think the issues that are affecting non-binary players at the moment is misgendering for whatever team they play for, and things only get more complicated if a non-binary player were to use hormones that meant they may not be eligible to play in whatever category they were playing in before.

“I think that some of this structuring is going to be quite outdated quite quickly and will need to be reviewed because it’s just not sustainable considering more and more people are exploring their gender.

“I think there is one out non-binary footballer called Quinn, who plays for Canada, and they’re incredible, but it can be hard to watch them play and be misgendered.

“The way that commentators, referees, players and managers – people at all levels within football – engage with non-binary players needs to be considered, and they just need to be aware of what they may be doing that can make somebody feel uncomfortable in those situations.

“It’s not just about whether that player is uncomfortable either, it’s about the non-binary person at home who hears the commentators use the incorrect pronouns and feels like it’s not a welcoming space for them.

“Sadly, I think it has to be a slow and gradual change. I would love for everyone to wake up tomorrow and get it right with pronouns, but when I first came out, I was still misgendering myself all the time because I’d spent so long saying something different.

“The rest of society has spent so long saying ‘he or she’, and there just needs to be a little bit more training for some people to get it right. I think we can do it, and I’m very optimistic that it can happen, I just think that it’s not going to be a quick fix and it’s going to take a bit of time.

“What was really inspiring for me to see was the first ever team of trans men in Europe playing football the other week on Trans Day of Visibility. It was absolutely fantastic to see that happen.

“In the spirit of where can we go moving forward to make football more and more inclusive, it’s to see things like that and see happy, positive stories about trans and non-binary people in sport. That was fantastic.

“Hopefully, people like that at grassroots level are moving the sport to a more inclusive space, and that’s what I want to be a part of – that’s the sport I want to be a part of.”

Setting the example

Dave encountered homophobic slurs while playing sport at school, but then and now with the negativity around trans identities, football is their release.

It is worth, then, looking at what clubs like Goal Diggers do so well to make the sport an inclusive place to see if any lessons can be applied to other clubs.

As a non-binary player, Dave would have more reason than most to not feel included in any team sport, never mind just football, but their teammates have gone to great lengths to ensure that there would be no issues.

“I think it’s really important that I’m aware of the gendered history of football, particularly for women because for the first many years of my life I identified as a woman and saw the world that way,” Dave added.

“That’s how I operated, that’s still largely how I navigate myself and normally how I’m still read by a lot of people who don’t take the time to ask me what my identity is or what my pronouns are.

“With the team that I play with, it’s not just about trying to find a space for LGBTQ+ people, it’s about trying to level the game for all people who have been marginalised within football.

“In 1921, the FA banned women from playing football saying that it wasn’t suitable for women. Women were not allowed to play football for 50 years, and it’s only for the last 52 years they’ve been allowed to start playing again which significantly impacts the level that women’s football is at.

“It’s really important to me that women, cis or trans, are able to access that sport because I know that if I wasn’t able to access it, I would be really upset about that.

“Within the space where I play, as a non-binary player on a team predominantly filled with women, I’m still a minority within my club but there are certain things around language that my club is really good with doing to try and make sure it’s as inclusive as possible.

“Even if I’m the only one at a training session where there are 50 people turning up, and there’s one non-binary person, nobody on that pitch will use words like girls or ladies, any of those gendered terms. We try not to do that at any point regardless of whether or not there are any non-binary people around.

“We try and use gender-free language as much as possible – players, teammates, that kind of thing. That’s really great for me in the space that I’m in.

“Now, when I go and play other teams and I am referred to by a referee or another player who doesn’t know me, it can mean that I’m misgendered and that can be slightly frustrating, particularly when you know the league that we play in are aware that we are a women and non-binary inclusive club.

“That can be tough, but I have this awesome group of people who are there to fight my corner for me and to correct people when they make mistakes, which is really great – particularly when in your life you have to do it constantly wherever you go.

“You go to this environment, which is traditionally really gendered in a very specific way, and there are people around you who are like ‘you know what, you don’t have to worry about that in this space, I’ve got your back’ and it’s so lovely to have that environment.

“I know not everyone who plays football is lucky enough to have that with the team or the club that they play for. I hope that one day they will, because I really think that Goal Diggers have created this blueprint for what football can be for everyone, for fans and for players.

“I think that’s what football should be. It’s still really enjoyable, you still have a great time, but nobody feels excluded or left out. That’s the best of all worlds.”

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