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Mara Gomez made history in December when she became the first transgender woman to play professional soccer in Argentina.
“I represent a breaking of the binary,” she told The Guardian soon after playing her first game.
Her path to making history wasn’t easy: The 24-year-old striker signed with the team Villa San Carlos — which represents the coastal city of Berisso and is part of Argentina’s premier soccer league — in January 2020, nearly a year before she was able to play in her first pro game. Before she could play, she had to convince the Argentine Football Association that she didn’t have a competitive advantage as a transgender woman. Part of that process included providing blood samples to prove her testosterone levels were on par with the International Olympic Committee’s guidelines for transgender athletes.
In December, the AFA finally announced it would permit Gomez to play, though she would be required to take hormone blockers and have her testosterone levels tested before and in the middle of each tournament, per the International Olympic Committee’s guidelines, according to The Lily.
Soon after, Gomez played her first game with Villa San Carlos against fellow women’s soccer team Club Atlético Lanús. Gomez’s team lost 7-1, but ESPN reported she still had something to celebrate: The opposing team gave her a jersey with her name emblazoned on it, causing her to erupt in tears.
Despite the hurdles Gomez faced before playing in her first professional game, Argentina has some of the world’s most progressive trans-specific legislation, according to Them.us, due to its 2012 Gender Identity Law. The law allows trans people to change their name and gender without requiring an evaluation or gender-affirming surgery and provides access to hormones and surgery for people who want them.
But soccer in particular has historically been a cisgender-male-dominated sport in Argentina, making it difficult for even cisgender girls and women to play, according to The Guardian and The Lily. Gomez said she sees her ability to play professionally as a key part of making things better for Argentinian girls who want to play the game.
“Obviously, it’s not my first team or my first match, but I did have to traverse many obstacles to get here, and I can say we did it,” she told The Guardian after her first game. “It’s a collective battle, a social battle to fight for inclusion.”
Before Gomez had to fight to play as a professional, she said soccer was her refuge — a sport that made her feel alive and distracted her from thoughts of self-harm.
“I used it as a therapy — me trying to accept myself,” she told The Associated Press. “There was a mound of emotions that were making me psychologically unwell. I realized that when I play soccer this mound disappeared.”
She told the AP that she stopped playing the sport for three years, from ages 15 to 18, after being “excluded” and “very discriminated against in the soccer world.” However, after receiving a new gender-affirming identity card, Gomez said she “drew strength from having a document that matched the identity I felt, with which I perceived myself.” She said her new ID “gave me the confidence to be who I was, who I wanted to be.”
For young transgender athletes hoping to follow in her footsteps, Gomez shared a message: “Follow your dreams, I will keep saying it,” she told the Guardian. “Go get them.”