Adelaide man Elijah Bedson has found acceptance, love, and respect for the first time in an unlikely place – rugby.
Bedson, 30, is the first trans man in Australia to play front line in the sport.
He played a range of sports growing up before finding rugby in his early 20s.
“I played two seasons before I stopped due to work and mental health,” says Bedson.
“I was lost, then last year, I saw a post about all-inclusive rugby.”
He “took a chance” and contacted the club organisers and has never looked back.
Playing as a trans man meant getting special medical clearance.
“I play in the front row, so I had to be specifically dispensated and had to complete a fair amount of paperwork,” says Bedson.
“I had to see an exercise physiologist and my general practitioner.”
Bedson’s rugby club welcomes all genders and has a women’s team as well as his all-inclusive team, the Sharks.
“It’s been awesome,” he says.
“I love the Sharks, it’s given me a home and a family.
“The whole club, including the straight cis guys, have been amazing.
“I’m just one of the boys.”
Bedson explains that his position in the game is significant for having a high rate of neck injuries.
“You have to be a particular size and strength to be in the front row,” he says.
“So it’s significant that I’m trusted with the safety of the scrum.”
Despite the inclusive club environment, Benson has had occasional gender dysphoria since joining in December.
“I had a moment of ‘I’m not man enough for this’,” he recalls.
“Dan, my coach, just said, ‘You’re here, that proves that you are.’”
Dysphoria can be, as Bedson puts it, a bitch.
“It wasn’t anything in particular [that brought it on], I think it was just a bad day,” he says.
“But Dan has been a great support on and off the field.”
Benson says rugby is for just about everyone, whether you want to play or watch a game.
“It’s a real community, family place,” he says.
“Whether you’ve played sport or not, just come check out a game, show some love, and grab a beer.
“It’s a great day out.”
Outside of sport, Benson works with young people with disabilities and complex behaviours.
He loves console gaming and hits the gym a few times a week.
At 5’11”, Benson has size on his side, but he says all kinds and shapes of people are on the team, with the smallest weighing only about 55 kg.
Bedson lives with the chronic pain condition fibromyalgia, which he says can make coordination and sport difficult at times.
“It’s tough, but I have a good medications, physio, and GP,” he says.
“I find the brain fog is the worst, like forgetting left and right.”
Bedson says he gets through the challenges by “keeping moving and staying positive”.
He says his rugby club feels like home, and being affirmed as a man through sport has been very validating.
“I’m happy I’ve found acceptance, love, and respect for the first time in my life,” he says.
“The sense of family is strong – the tougher the sport, the stronger the bond within the team.”