To get a call up to your club’s first team is every Argentinian boy’s dream. Or so the traditional tango goes.
“Now it’s the girls’ dream … too,” Mara Gómez, who became the first trans footballer to play in a top-flight Argentinian league earlier this week, tells the Guardian. Gómez signed a contract with Villa San Carlos in the recently professionalized women’s Primera División, after years of journeying through the amateur leagues.
Gómez’s achievement is not a global first – trans footballers are active in American Samoa, Spain, Canada and England – but it is an important moment in a country where football is entwined with national identity.
While her debut marks a point in history for Argentinian football, the 23-year-old says simply that “the only thing I really did was play football”.
Her contract with Villa San Carlos was signed in February, Gómez’s debut was delayed as Argentina entered a strict coronavirus lockdown. She was anxious during the delay – “Just like anyone waiting to debut in the first division,” she says. She trained indoors and went through the bureaucratic measures of certifying she could play with Argentina’s FA, which follows International Olympic Committee guidelines on trans athletes.
Complying was not an issue for Gómez’s though, as she has been undergoing hormone treatment for some time. “[The AFA] received me with respect … the president heard me and they helped me overcome a past of pain,” she says.
The real difficulties were more personal, says Gómez. While the law, her club and the institutions around her were supportive, it is Argentina’s culture that impedes girls, trans or not, from playing football. Just a few years ago Argentinians didn’t speak about women’s football at all, says Gómez, let alone discuss opportunities for trans players.
“It’s not just what we want to do and the gender identity laws that we have in Argentina, but also one’s personal fortitude,” she says.
Now she’s living her dream and is happy to have broken barriers. Unfortunately football can still be a cruel game: Lanús crushed Villa San Carlos 7-1 in Gómez’s debut.
“It’s not just about the biological, but about the technical, the tactical, training time, years of experience,” she says. “[The game] just ran away from us”.