When midfielder Caz Fields got the chance to step up to the third tier of the Women’s Pyramid in August, there was excitement – and panic.
Brighouse Town was keen to bring Fields ahead of her debut FA National Women’s League North Premier campaign. The box-to-box player had impressed at Manchester United FC, and city manager Rob Mitchell had been glowing after a game between the two clubs.
âI saw that Brighouse had open trials and I had always wanted to try,â says Fields, âso I told my boss at FC United I was going to go. But at the last minute , I changed my mind – I don’t know if it was fear or something else.
âShortly after that, Rob made official contact and I knew I wanted to talk to him. When someone is interested in you, it’s different.
“Moving the clubs was always a big risk for me, but I have to say it went brilliantly.” Fields was named the city’s August player of the month, and the team have lost only one of their seven league games so far.
There were two reasons to be concerned before making the switch. âFirst of all, it had been several years since I played at this higher level, so it was pretty intimidating.
“Then I was also thinking about joining a new club from a team where I had been vice-captain and I was very comfortable with everyone knowing that I was not binary.”
Fields had come to their FC United teammates last year, after a conversation with close friend and club captain Kirsty Chambers during the lockdown, helped them clarify their gender identity. Their performances on the pitch improved, catching Mitchell’s attention and providing the opportunity to step up a division.
Part of Fields’ ongoing outing journey is to share with others that their pronouns are ‘they’ and ‘them’. Wednesday is International Pronouns Day – an awareness day that seeks to help people understand gender pronouns and how we all use these words in everyday life – and they are aimed at Air sports share some of their football related experiences.
My teammates were only support. On pronouns, not everyone will understand right away, every time, but everyone tries, and I couldn’t ask for anything more.
A transfer would naturally pose additional challenges for a non-binary player. For Fields, a welcoming and thoughtful conversation with Mitchell helped pave the way forward.
“A few of my former FC teammates told me, ‘What are you going to do when you get to Brighouse?’ I was settled there – everyone respected me and I was about to jump to a new place.
“But Rob called me and really put me at ease. He told me that I would be given the number eight jersey and we talked about how he wanted the team to play. And then he said, “I have another question.”
“He explained that he noticed on my social media accounts that I was not a binary and that he went to research, because he always wanted to make sure that all of his players were comfortable when they entered the club.
âI didn’t expect a manager to be so aware of something like gender identity. We had a good conversation, with him just to reassure me that this part of who I am is respected. He asked me if there was anything to note about gendered language so that he could adapt his coaching style if necessary.
âI explained how it depends on the person, but for me saying ‘Come on girls’ or ‘Come on guys’ when addressing the whole group is something that suits me, for example. individually identifies it is important that my pronouns are used.
“He had lots of questions and really wanted to understand. It made me feel like I had made the right decision.”
Teammates and TikTok
Fields fully understands how talking about gender and what it means to be non-binary is a topic many find difficult, especially when framed by football and other sports split between men’s and women’s competitions.
Yet within women’s football itself, they were encouraged by the healthy curiosity of other players and the strong sense of mutual respect, as evidenced by their first training session at Brighouse.
âI didn’t feel the need to mention right away that I was non-binary – most players were already following me on social media after I announced my signing,â said Fields.
âI just wanted to come in as a player and let my football do the talking, make friends and let them know me as a person.
“And the conversations about being LGBTQ + came naturally, and my teammates were just a big support. On pronouns, not everyone will get it right away, every time, but every no one is trying, and I couldn’t ask them for anything more, we got closer very quickly.
“Some had never met a non-binary person before or knew what it means. If I provide a little representation, a little education, that’s good.”
This visibility is not limited to the National Women’s League. As with many people, confinement led Fields to new avenues of expression and exploration. They opened a TikTok account in April 2020 and discussed topics such as Black Lives Matter, mental health, sexuality, gender, etc.
The videos resonated strongly with the platform’s large LGBTQ + community, but Fields found that their content continued to attract many other users as well. To date, their posts have over 3 million likes and they have over 32,000 subscribers on the platform.
While the downsides of social media tend to be highlighted more often, especially in football, Fields has found its place of positivity. âI just decided to create some fun content that is relevant to me – some posts are educational, others are about random things or just things I like.
“I’m able to convey my personality and on TikTok it’s not about attaching identity to the person. People get to know me and hopefully their perception of what it means to be non-binary. thrives through it.
âThey can ask questions that they probably wouldn’t if we were face to face. Yes, sometimes it’s rude or offensive and these are ignored or blocked if they’re really bad. But if someone is open to dialogue – and you can tell it by the way they approach you – you can get a feel for how their understanding is growing. “
A golden pioneer
There is no doubt that the football community’s understanding of gender identity has grown significantly thanks to the accomplishments of Canada international Quinn, who helped his team win Olympic gold this summer.
The 26-year-old, who has won nearly 70 caps for his country, is a source of inspiration for Fields midfielder, with both players being particularly appreciated at their respective levels for their defensive work and leadership skills. Quinn was released publicly as a non-binary trans in September 2020, and their Tokyo success was a landmark achievement.
âI really pushed Quinn and Canada at the Olympics,â Fields nods enthusiastically. âYou have to think about the impact on people all over the world who watch TV and struggle with their identity. I know for me, growing up, if you are not represented in the media, in sports, it is Thatâs something thatâs not. t seem available to you – you start to think that who you are is a secret and cannot be celebrated.
“So for an athlete like Quinn to be successful on a global scale, with journalists using their pronouns correctly, it’s a big step towards where we need to be.”
How do they assess this progress? âWomen’s football has always been very inclusive – certainly for me – but it is developing so quickly and new conversations around the genre can seem like a lot to take into account.
Awareness days such as International Pronouns Day help in this context. Let’s say there’s a young footballer who thinks ‘everyone calls me’ her ‘and that doesn’t suit me.’ binary This helps them understand who they are.
“People may think there are too many these days, but they don’t realize how many people think they can’t talk about their gender identity, or that of their friends or family members. , because of the stigma that still surrounds him. “
After tackling these topics in their own thoughts, with their teammates, and on TikTok, Fields almost feels compelled to be an advocate. Most importantly, they emphasize the importance of patience and grace – recognizing that mistakes will be made and that adopting an open-minded attitude reduces fear of judgment from others.
The wait for that first phone call with the new manager after agreeing to sign for Brighouse was a case in point. âA little bit of me thought this middle aged man wouldn’t want to discuss pronouns. I was still shy and decided not to mention it – but Rob spoke about it instead.
“I’m so glad he did. It was an early turning point – right away I knew the club was inclusive. Now that means if I’m non-binary for some reason I am confident to talk about it. ” It’s no surprise that they thrive in Brighouse Town’s new engine room.
To learn more about International Pronouns Day, visit pronounsday.org.
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