Israeli Soccer Referee Comes Out as Transgender Woman: ‘I’ve Learned to Filter Insults’

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Sapir Berman (C) at a press conference, yesterday.
Sapir Berman (C) at a press conference, yesterday.Credit: Itamar Katzir

An Israeli Premier League soccer referee has come out as a transgender woman. In a news conference Tuesday at the headquarters of the Israel Football Association, Sapir Berman talked about her transition and her decision to go public with it. She emphasized the support she has received from her family, the local referees’ union and Israeli and international soccer officials.

“Hello to everyone. First, I’d like to say that I’m talking about myself in the feminine gender, as a woman,” she began the briefing. “Feel free to address me however you like.”

“I’m Sapir. I’m 26 years old. I’ll be 27 in June. I always saw myself as a woman, from a very young age. At first, I couldn’t give this a name, but I was always attracted to my feminine side, and there was some envy of the female sex. I lived with it, along with a very masculine image I projected. As a man I was very successful, whether at the Referee Association or in my studies, or with girls. The family saw me as a man. But when I was on my own, I was a woman. I separated these two worlds, understanding that society would not accept me, would not stand by me, and I continued this way for 26 years.”

Addressing her reasons for going public with her identity, Berman said that she did so “first of all for myself, for my soul, and then for my family, so they don’t see me suffering,” she related.

“I didn’t let them see my suffering, but in recent days, before coming out, I was less than my real self. So here I am, confident that I’m doing the right thing, that I’m enjoying wide support. I hope that our society improves and becomes better and more inclusive towards all sectors and all genders. We are here to bring about changes.”

In response to a question about reactions she encounters and whether she’s worried about curses hurled her way on the pitch, Berman said that she feels very supported by people around her. “I’m getting unprecedented support on Facebook and Instagram,” she said. “This includes well-wishers and people who don’t feel comfortable with their sex, with their bodies. They see me as an emissary. They give me all the strength in the world. I’m not at all worried about insults. For the last 10 years as a referee, I’ve encountered sexist insults, and other discriminatory insults. This never bothered me. I’ll tell you a secret: I don’t hear them. I learned how to filter them out.”

In response to a question from Haaretz about the importance of her transition to the visibility of transgender people, Berman said: “I’m at the beginning of this process and am still dealing with my own issues. I realize that the platform I occupy as a soccer referee every week, where I’m visible, gives life to this story and to transgender society. When I feel completely at ease I’ll try to work and make things better.”

With reporting from The Associated Press.

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