BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Dozens of trophies, balls and beakers stand on two worn wooden shelves in the small house in a suburb of Mara Gómez in Buenos Aires, ready to become the first transgender woman to become professional football in Argentina plays
Gómez looks large and sporty at the memorabilia of her arduous journey in football and life and smiles. "When I started, I was so bad. I would kick the ball on the goal and it would go anywhere. "
Gómez played for years in local women's leagues in the province of Buenos Aires before he was recently signed in the first division by Villa San Carlos. Now the 22-year-old striker is waiting for the Argentine Football Association's decision to approve signing in a football-crazy country that has produced some of the world's greatest stars, from Lionel Messi to Maradona.
In addition to football fame, Argentina has also developed into a regional market leader for transgender rights. In 2012, it gave people the freedom to change their legal and physical gender without having to undergo legal, psychiatric, and medical procedures.
The federal government's decision on Gómez could be made in a few days, and in advance, her cell phone rings constantly with messages from people who contact her. While many support their offer to play professional football, others claim that it is unfair to the non-transgender women in the league.
"The rights of transgender athletes and the social requirements to integrate them into competitions challenge and seriously threaten the rights of women in sports," said Juan Manuel Herbella, a former soccer player who is a sports doctor. "Athletes born as men start with a huge advantage if they keep their basic conditions."
Juan Cruz Vitale, the coach at Villa San Carlos, rejects the idea that Gómez would have an unfair advantage.
The coach said that her speed and goal made her stand out in two successive tournaments. But he said, “When we talk about strength, I have at least five or six girls who are stronger than them. I don't see any advantage on this page. "
In the midst of controversy, Gómez remembers how she started asking questions at the age of 10. "I realized that I wanted to be a woman because I liked men and I wanted them to see me in a different way."
At 13, she told her mother Caroline that she would lose her only son. She said to her, "I want to be a woman and if you don't accept it, I'll leave the house."
Although her mother accepted her, Gómez said that she was tormented by discrimination after accepting the gender she identified with and was about to commit suicide. Then she found soccer. She started playing on a vacant lot in front of her house next to her neighbors.
"I used it as therapy – I tried to accept myself," she told The Associated Press at the house in the suburb of La Plata, which she shares with her mother and four younger sisters. "There were a lot of emotions that made me mentally uncomfortable. I realized that this hill disappeared while playing football. "
On her trip, she says she has suffered discrimination and complaints about her participation.
One of her worst days came during a blitz tournament. "They defended me, but I didn't know how to play well. I set a goal on my own network. When the first half ended, I found that the other team had complained that I shouldn't be playing because I discriminated against them. They considered my sexuality a disadvantage for them even though I played so badly. "
Gómez learned to deal with the insults of fans and the complaints when she received her new ID card at the age of 18, supported by the law.
“Now I had the identity that I had myself. This gave me the confidence to be who I am, ”said Gómez, who has a soccer ball tattooed on her leg and has her long hair tied back while playing.
The requests for interviews she recently received have forced her to change her soccer training and shift work routine as a manicurist and hair straightener, which she does to make a living while studying nursing.
Villa San Carlos is in last place in the current first division tournament and is fighting not to relegate any division.
The Argentine Football Association has no regulations on transgender athletes, so there remains doubts about what it will say in the debate about whether transgender women should play in professional women's leagues.
The association declined AP requests to comment on Gómez’s case.
"You can have speed and power on the field, but that won't help if you don't know how to play football," said Gómez. "I always hold Messi's example high … He measures 1.6 meters (5 feet, 7 inches) and is the best player in the world."
She models her game after Darío Benedetto, formerly with the Argentine Boca Juniors and now with the French Olympique de Marseille, and with Florencia Bonsegundo, who plays for Valencia in Spain.
Some specialists have said that higher testosterone levels in some transgender women give them greater muscle strength and advantage in the women's leagues.
The decision of the football association takes into account the rules laid down by the International Olympic Committee for Transgender Athletes. For male-to-female transgender athletes, they must demonstrate that their testosterone levels were below a certain threshold for at least a year prior to their first competition.
Gómez said she dreams of playing with Boca Juniors, her favorite team, and in the Argentine national team. She also hopes that she will serve as inspiration for other transgender people who, despite recent advances, are still suffering from violence and discrimination.
"We have to change society further so that we can be seen as human beings," she said.
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