When midfielder Caz Fields was presented with a chance to move up to the third tier of the women's pyramid in August, there was excitement - and panic.
Brighouse Town were keen to bring in Fields ahead of their inaugural FA Women's National League Northern Premier Division campaign. The box-to-box player had impressed at FC United of Manchester, and Town manager Rob Mitchell had been complimentary after a match between the two clubs.
"I saw that Brighouse were having open trials and I'd always had an interest in trying out," says Fields, "so I told my boss at FC United that I was going to go for it. But at the last minute, I changed my mind - I don't know whether it was because of fear or something else.
"Soon after that though, Rob got in touch formally and I knew I wanted to speak to him. When someone firms up an interest in you, that's different.
"Moving clubs was still a big risk for me but I have to say it's gone brilliantly." Fields was named Town's Player of the Month for August, and the team has lost only one of its seven league games so far.
There were two causes for concern ahead of making the switch. "Firstly, it had been quite a few years since I'd played at that higher level so that was rather intimidating.
"Then I was also thinking about walking into a new club from a team in which I'd been vice-captain and was very comfortable with everyone knowing about me being non-binary."
Fields had come out to their FC United team-mates last year, after a conversation with close friend and club captain Kirsty Chambers during lockdown helped to provide them with clarity over their gender identity. Their performances on the pitch improved, catching the eye of Mitchell, and leading to the opportunity to step up a division.
Part of the ongoing coming-out journey for Fields is sharing with others that their pronouns are 'they' and 'them'. Wednesday is International Pronouns Day - an awareness day that seeks to help with people's understanding around gender pronouns and how we all use these words in day-to-day life - and they are speaking to Sky Sports to share some of their related experiences within football.
My team-mates have been nothing but supportive. On pronouns, not everyone is going to get it right straight away, every time, but every single person tries, and I couldn't ask for anything more from them.
A transfer would understandably pose some additional challenges for a player who is non-binary. For Fields, a welcoming and thoughtful conversation with Mitchell helped to pave the way forward.
"A few of my old FC team-mates had mentioned to me, 'what are you going to do when you get to Brighouse?' I was settled there - everyone respected me and here I was about to jump into a new place.
"But Rob rang me and really put me at ease. He told me I'd be given the number eight shirt and we talked about how he wanted the team to play. And then he said, 'I've got one more question'.
"He explained that he'd noticed from my social media accounts that I'm non-binary and that he'd gone away and done some research, as he always wanted to make sure all his players were comfortable when they come into the club.
"I didn't expect a manager to be so up-to-date with something like gender identity. We had a good chat, with him just reassuring me about respect for that part of who I am. He asked me if there was anything to note about gendered language so that he could adapt his coaching style if needed.
"I explained how it depends on the person but for me, saying 'come on girls' or 'come on guys' when addressing the whole group is something that I'm fine with, for example. When identifying me individually, it's important that my pronouns are used.
"He had loads of questions and really wanted to understand. That made me feel confident I'd made the right decision."
Team-mates and TikTok
Fields fully appreciates how talking about gender and what it means to be non-binary is a topic that many find difficult, particularly when framed by football and other sports that are split between men's and women's competitions.
Yet within the women's game itself, they have been encouraged by the healthy curiosity of fellow players and the strong feeling of mutual respect, as demonstrated in their first training session at Brighouse.
"I didn't feel the need to mention being non-binary straight away - most of the players were already following me on social media anyway after my signing had been announced," said Fields.
"I wanted to just come in as a player and let my football do the talking, make friends, and let them get to know me as a person.
"And conversations about being LGBTQ+ have since come up naturally, and my team-mates have been nothing but supportive. On pronouns, not everyone is going to get it right straight away, every time, but every single person tries, and I couldn't ask for anything more from them. We've grown close very quickly.
"Some had never met a non-binary person before or knew what it means. If I'm providing a bit of representation, a bit of education, that's good."
That visibility isn't just confined to the Women's National League. As for many people, lockdown led Fields towards fresh avenues of expression and exploration. They opened a TikTok account in April 2020 and discussed themes such as Black Lives Matter, mental health, sexuality, gender, and more.
The videos resonated strongly with the platform's sizeable LGBTQ+ community but Fields found their content kept attracting many other users too. To date, their posts have over 3m likes and they have over 32,000 followers on the platform.
While the downsides of social media tend to be highlighted more often, particularly in football, Fields has found their place of positivity. "I just set out to make fun content that's related to me - some posts are educational; some are about random things or just stuff I enjoy.
"I'm able to get my personality across and on TikTok, it's not about attaching the identity to the person. People get to learn about me and hopefully their perceptions of what it means to be non-binary develops through that.
"They can ask questions that they probably wouldn't do if we were face-to-face. Yes, sometimes it's rude or offensive and those get ignored, or blocked if they're really bad. But if someone is open to dialogue - and you can tell with the way they approach you - you can get a sense of how their understanding is growing."
A golden trailblazer
Undoubtedly, the football community's grasp of gender identity has grown significantly through the achievements of the Canada international Quinn, who helped their team to Olympic gold this summer.
The 26-year-old, who has won nearly 70 caps for their country, is an inspiration to fellow midfielder Fields, with both players particularly valued at their respective levels for their defensive work and leadership skills. Quinn came out publicly as non-binary trans in September 2020 and their success in Tokyo was a historic achievement.
"I was really pushing for Quinn and Canada at the Olympics," nods Fields enthusiastically. "You have to think about the impact on those people around the world watching on TV who are struggling with their identity. I know for me growing up, if you don't have representation in the media, in sport, it's something that doesn't seem available to you - you begin to think that who you are is a secret and can't be celebrated.
"So, for an out athlete like Quinn to be successful on a global scale, with reporters using their pronouns correctly, it's a big stepping stone towards where we need to be."
How do they assess that progress? "Women's football has always felt very inclusive - certainly for me - but it's growing so rapidly and newer conversations about gender might feel like a lot to take in.
"Having awareness days such as International Pronouns Day helps with that context. Say there's a young footballer who thinks 'everyone calls me 'she' and it doesn't sit right with me'. They learn about someone who was assigned female at birth and who comes out as non-binary. It helps them make sense of who they are.
"People might think there's too many of these days, but they don't realise how many people feel they can't talk about their gender identity, or that of their friends or family members, because of the stigma that still surrounds it."
Having tackled these topics in their own thoughts, with their team-mates, and on TikTok, Fields feels almost duty-bound to be an advocate. Crucially, they stress the importance of patience and grace - recognising that mistakes will be made, and that adopting an open-minded attitude reduces the fear of judgement from others.
The expectation going into that first phone call with the new manager after agreeing to sign for Brighouse was a case in point. "A bit of me thought that this middle-aged man wouldn't want to discuss pronouns. I was still shy and decided I wouldn't mention it - but Rob brought it up instead.
"I'm so glad he did. It was an early turning point - straight away, I knew the club was inclusive. Now, it means if me being non-binary comes up for any reason, I'm confident to talk about it." It's no surprise that they're thriving in the new-look Brighouse Town engine room.
For more about International Pronouns Day, visit pronounsday.org.
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