Every time Mara Gómez enters a field everyone witnesses progress in a sport with a woman that has brought diversity and inclusion on the pitch of Argentine professional soccer. Last December Mara made history when she became the first transgender woman to play professional soccer in Argentina, striking against critics and stereotypes. “The obstacles that life presents you, those that society imposes on you due to discrimination and exclusion, motivate you to walk through that path of struggle to finally conquer your dreams,” she tells HipLatina.
Wearing the Villa San Carlos jersey, representing the city of Berisso in Buenos Aires, Mara began to emerge playing forward. Although the first professional game against Club Atletico Lanús, the local first division team, didn’t go as expected, this 24-year-old had already scored against transphobia. “The price you pay emotionally is high because soccer developed in a very patriarchal environment, if a woman played it she was considered a lesbian.”
Mara obtained the official paperwork identifying her as a woman when she was 18 thanks to the 2012 Gender Identity Law in Argentina. She says that the creation of that law was the product of years of hard work put together by the LGBTQ collective. Her journey is a merit of that community and the support of her family. Before Mara, Argentina never had a transgender athlete participating in a professional league.
“My family helped me. They are a very important part of my life, thanks to them today I am Mara Gómez, I can be a professional soccer player, and I’m also about to get my nursing degree. They played a very significant role in all stages of this complicated journey,” she emphasizes.
But everything has its price, the approval of her participation in the league granted by the AFA (Argentinian Soccer Association) came with a handful of demands that resulted in backlash. Many called her transition to women’s soccer “advantageous” while others doubted it would be fair play compared with the rest of the women’s league.
“There has been a lot of speculation about a supposedly physical advantage over my participation, and in my opinion, many of the people who have criticized me have not seen me play a game,” she clarifies.
Mara must go through rigorous physical tests such as hormonal exams before each tournament. She says that soccer is not a sport of individualisms and that her case is not about a supposed physical advantage, on the contrary, she assures that on the field everyone has a key part to play. “I must have a specific measurement of testosterone in the blood … it is absurd and discriminatory”. She’s previously used the example of Lionel Messi, considered one of the greatest soccer players of all time and the star player from Argentina. Messi, 33, is 5’7″ and known as “The Flea” (La Pulga) for his small stature and yet he’ll regularly have four men blocking him because of his abilities on the field. Clearly skill trumps stature and that’s was Mara’s is fighting for — the recognition of her skills above all else.
Providing blood samples to prove her testosterone levels to comply with the International Olympic Committee’s rules is not an easy task, but her efforts are not in vain, Mara is supported by a large community inside and out of Argentina. She has people who have served as guides and in her career, one of them being Lorena Berdula, her manager, who is also the first female professional coach in Argentina, training soccer teams around the country for years.
Mara never loses hope of fulfilling a desire that for years she has carried in her heart: to be called up to play for the National Women’s Soccer team, which would make her the first trans player on that team.
“Being here is a dream come true, and today I give myself the opportunity to imagine and dream that one day I can wear the colors of my country”, she says firmly when asked about dressing the ‘albiceleste’, the national Argentinian famous white and light blue soccer jersey. “Hopefully institutions such as Conmebol or FIFA can implement non-binary regulations so that everyone can participate in a professional level” she emphasizes.
For the courageous player from Villa San Carlos, soccer has become a sacred practice not just a career. It was on the field that she found relief from an existential crisis that almost led her to take her own life. At an early age Mara struggled with continued criticism that caused her to self-harm. But she’s now starting to see the possibilities of where her career can take her if she continues to push through.
From her humble home in Argentina she admires many of the soccer players who advocate for diversity and inclusion in the sport, one of them the American player Megan Rapino as well as her colleague Marta Silva from Brazil, both well-known LGBTQ activists. Mara is deeply proud of the Argentine skill for soccer, and like her great idols, she assures that her country is a pioneer in this movement for inclusivity.
“As a society we are evolving, our country is known for good soccer, one of my idols is Messi, also (Juan Román) Riquelme… this is about continuing to conquer places, there was no history of a trans player, and now I made the first step in Argentina”.