We sat down with captains Lui & Zeenat from our Women & Non-binary teams, to talk about their experiences in football as two individuals who identify as Non-binary. Take a look below to see their thoughts.
Thanks both for taking the time to catch up. Could start by introducing yourselves and your pronouns?
Lui - "Sure, I am Lui Asquith, I identify as non-binary and I use the pronouns they/them/theirs".
Zeenat - "I'm name is Zeenat Afzal and I also identify as non-binary and my pronouns are they/them/theirs too".
What does football mean to you?
Lui - "It’s my ultimate getaway. When I am playing, that’s all I think about and there’s nothing else in my life that allows that to happen. As someone who deals with depression, having football is a huge source of positive wellbeing".
Zeenat - "Football for me started off in the school playground as a safe space away from school work and home. Football has helped me with my physical health and in turn my mental health. I've found friends and family in football circles and it's been an amazing escape. An alternate reality to reality if you will".
“It’s my ultimate getaway. When I am playing, that’s all I think about and there’s nothing else in my life that allows that to happen.”
How long have you been playing for Stonewall FC & what attracted you to the club?
Lui - "I have been playing for Stonewall FC since May 2021 after 14 years of not playing, so I was really nervous about starting again! However, I attended the first training session and have not looked back - the club is amazing; there is a standard of football for everyone and everyone is celebrated. The team attracted me because of the values it holds and the fact it is unapologetically and explicitly LGBT+ inclusive".
Zeenat - "I joined Stonewall in March 2021 playing 5-a-side with the men in Docklands. Though it was enjoyable on the social side, it was really strange having to live out my teenage years playing with only guys, especially when Football has been so integrated recently. Betty started the women and non binary team in May and I moved over straight away. It's been an absolute honour to train and play alongside so many wonderful people.
I initially joined because I hadn't even done a 5 min jog in over 7 years and I wanted to get back into fitness through something I enjoyed. I signed up and the rest is history".
Why is non-binary visibility important?
Lui - Because we exist and want to play as ourselves. Visibility and recognition is the first step to equality and equity.
Zeenat - "Visibility is important because we exist. Having that representation early on will help equip lots of different people from different generations with language, as well as confidence. I wish I'd seen more non-cis/binary representation over the years; it definitely would've helped all of these identity crises over the years".
Has being non-binary impacted your ability/desire to play football? If so, how?
Lui - "My ability and desire is all about the love of the game, not my gender. Playing football is just as much an identity of mine as being non-binary is and I am proud of being both: a non-binary football player. Who we are, who we love/want companionship with is something we have no control over and a particular sexuality or gender identity doesn’t automatically result in an ability or desire toward any particular sport. Being non-binary has impacted my desire for stereotypes and gender expectations around sport to be dismantled."
Zeenat - "Initially it did; I was always worried about being misgendered in spaces I'd want to enjoy. I'd never been in a space that completely accepted me for every aspect of me and since joining Stonewall I haven't felt like I've needed to be anywhere else".
Do you have a favorite footballing memory (on or off pitch)?
Lui - "It has to be going to see my first ever live football match - 1999/2000 season, Middlesbrough V Man Utd at the Riverside (I was a Boro supporter as a kid). It was THE best feeling ever seeing the pitch and the stands in ‘real life’. We lost 4-3 in the end, but it didn’t matter - I was in love with the game even more (which I didn’t know was possible)."
Zeenat - "Meeting Rachel Yankey and Hope Powell at a futsal event when I was a yute".
What advice would you give to someone questioning whether they identify as non-binary?
Lui - You are not alone and I’d encourage you to reach out and find a community if you don’t have one yet. We can all relate to confusion - I still am working out parts of my identity and may be forever, who knows! It’s about ensuring you are around people who support you, whatever the outcome for you - you are you and amazing for it!
Zeenat - "Stay confident and stay true to yourself. The world will try so hard to push down on you and some days you'll hit rock bottom so hard you'll feel it hitting back but there are days where the air feels so free and clean and joyful. You might never stop questioning - I still haven't - and that's okay! You're not alone and every part of you is so so valid and so so loved."
Why are inclusive spaces like Stonewall FC important to you?
Lui - "Because I don’t have to put energy into worrying. Even though I am a proud non-binary person, it doesn’t take away the anxiety my queerness can lead to in some spaces. At Stonewall FC however, there’s no anxiety, just inclusion and loads of footy! I just get to play, as me. I want every non-binary sports person to play with as much relaxation as I am at the moment - we all should be awarded such respect and dignity on the pitch".
Zeenat - "Because I'm allowed to simply exist. No effort, no performance, no pressure goes into who I am or how I present. Being afforded that unconditional love and and a space where I'm free to breathe should be a human right. Society revokes us of that comfort and dignity the moment we fall out of the cisnormative binary, so to have a space where community and protection go hand in hand regardless of how you identity is incredibly important. To only have to come out in a space ONCE has always been a dream haha".
Thanks to Zeenat & Lui for sharing their experiences. Should you or anyone you know like to get involved with any of our club offerings, complete the form on our website here: www.stonewallfc.com/join-us and don't forget to follow us on socials - Instagram / Twitter.