Transgender footballer Hannah Mouncey runs onto the field. Image credit: AAP Image/David Crosling

Hannah Mouncey is a transgender woman and a footballer. Last month, Mouncey withdrew from the AFLW draft accusing the AFL of treating her poorly and putting the organisation’s “corporate image” above all else. Here she expands on the toll of trolling and abuse on her mental health.

Do you ever get used to being hated? It’s a question no one should ever have to ask themselves, but more and more one I am having to come to terms with. Often being judged without question, ridiculed without reason, just hated for being you, doing your job or asking a hard question.

October is Mental Health Month and while many people are understandably talking about the need for better funding and research, I’m asking myself, what role does hate play?

Hate isn’t a term I throw around lightly. I never thought I would find myself in the position of being hated the way I am, or at best disliked by most of the people I come across. Can you imagine, nearly everything you hear about yourself being so negative that the only conclusion you can come to is that the best you can hope for is simply to be tolerated?

To many, but not all, I am defined simply by my size and my gender. I’m not a person, I’m just a thing placed on this earth purely to be open to their baseless criticism, to be harassed and bullied for their amusement. Most of these are people I don’t know. They send death threats, call for me to be taken to the vet to be put down, mocked because I dared ignore their opinion.

But there’s also another group, where I’m hated for the way I play sport, and this has been the case for as long as I can remember, long before I transitioned. I’ve always been aggressive when I play sport, regardless of what it is, because it’s always been my job to be that way. None of what I do is illegal, but do I enjoy more success when it’s pushed right to those limits? Of course. I need to make the game played on my terms. But the reality is off the court I’m the complete opposite of that, I’m shy and introverted and try and avoid confrontation as much as I can.

But that doesn’t matter to people. They’ve already judged me because they assume who I am on the court is who I am as a person; which couldn’t be further from the truth. Not just for me, but for lots of athletes.

I’ve spoken to Daniel Kowalski about the same thing. Back in the lead up to the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, he qualified fastest for the Australian team in the 1500 metres ahead of Kieran Perkins, the then reigning Olympic champion in the event. Dan is one of the loveliest people you will ever meet, yet as a young kid who only minutes earlier qualified for his first Olympic team, the first question he was asked in the press conference that followed was; “what does it feel like to be the most hated man in Australia?”

I can’t speak for how Dan felt when he was asked that question, but I can tell you what it’s like to carry around the knowledge that to so many people you aren’t just greatly disliked, you’re actually hated. It’s exhausting and I’m spent.

The question for me though, particularly with the online trolling, is why do we let it happen? Or more to the point, why do organisations let it happen. The AFL have a history of allowing bullying behaviour to continue unabated. Initially when Adam Goodes was booed after he took a stand against racist crowd behaviour, but due to the lack of strong action from the AFL, this continued for the entire last two years of his career and even forced one of the greatest players the game has ever seen to decline the invitation for a lap of honour granted to all retirees on grand final day, such was the effect of the continued abuse.

In my instance I’ve spoken many times publicly, and twice privately to the AFL, calling for them to publicly condemn abuse based on gender identity and sexuality, but not once have they seen fit to do so. By their lack of action I can only assume that they therefor condone this sort of behaviour. As is often said, the standard you walk past is the standard you accept, and this is an undeniable truth I remember being taught in primary school 20 years ago. If they don’t condone it, then they need to come out and say so. Without that, the abuse and hate will continue unabated, accepted.

I don’t know if anyone could ever get used to being hated, but you certainly don’t get used to living with it, and that’s not a situation anyone should be put in.