Phil Haigh ✍️
Jamie Hunter won her first World Women’s Snooker ranking title at the US Open last week, but far from celebrating her success in the days to come, she has been dealing with an avalanche of abuse.
The 25-year-old came out as transgender in 2019 and started playing on the WWS Tour last year, with her first big win on the snooker table coming in Seattle after winning the Women’s World Billiards Championship earlier this year.
While the billiards triumph happened with little public scrutiny, the win in America did not and it has been a torrid time for Hunter and her family as they deal with criticism, abuse and hurtful attacks.
‘It’s not like when I won the billiards, when I got home, my dad picked us up from the airport, my parents had balloons and banners round the house,’ Hunter told Metro.co.uk.
‘This time my parents met me at the train station and it wasn’t celebratory at all, it was sad. The first thing my mum said to me was, “Are you okay?” That shouldn’t be the first thing she said . You could see the hurt in her eyes from what she’s read about me.’
Social media was rife with accusations of cheating, fellow WWS Tour player Maria Catalano was critical of Hunter’s inclusion, but it was horrific anti-trans abuse that really hurt the most.
‘The trans debate in sport is such a rife thing at the moment and people are going to have their opinions, which they’re allowed to of course, but there’s ways of going about it,’ Jamie said.
‘A lot of it wasn’t about me being a player, it was about me being alive, that was worse. People don’t want me to exist, not that they don’t want me playing sports, they don’t want me on Earth.
‘People say you can ignore it but knowing it’s going on in the background I couldn’t not read it and see how bad it was. It’s hard to ignore. I’ve got a mobile phone, it’s been buzzing every 10 seconds, how can you ignore it?
‘Monday and Tuesday I didn’t sleep much, I was just crying. When the famous people came out the woodwork and started posting stuff, I just felt that the world was crumbling around me.
‘Sharron Davies was one, an MP on Facebook was taking a personal attack at me calling me a cheater.
‘If someone with that power can take a personal attack at me on social media…I just didn’t know what I was supposed to do.’
Anyone wishing harm on Hunter is clearly not interested in the debate over trans people in sport, but to those who are interested in whether it is fair that Jamie competes on the women’s tour, she is happy to put their minds at rest.
‘A lot of people who disagree with trans people in sport, they don’t know what actually happens,’ she said.
‘I’ve had people saying I have an advantage because I don’t have boobs, but I’ve had a boob job, so that’s nonsense.
‘People say I have an advantage because I’ve got longer arms. I’m 5’4″ and weigh less than nine stone. It’s not like I’m built like a bodybuilder.
‘People talk about testosterone. I have to provide blood tests to prove I’ve got low testosterone. In fact my testosterone level is only 1.6 nanomoles per litre and the average female range is 2-4, so I’m actually lower than the average female.
‘But people don’t know that because they don’t know anything about me and a lot of the time don’t know anything about trans people.
‘One of the requirements for playing under the WPBSA rules is that your ID documents have to say you’re female. That sounds dead easy, but you need to have lived as a woman for two years, show proof of two years living in your gender. Pay slips, utility bills, letters from work, a letter from your doctor.
‘Then to get the medication to get your testosterone levels down you have to have at least four hours of therapy, you have to be signed off by a psychiatrist and two doctors. It takes months.
‘Some people were saying: “What if Ronnie puts a wig on and wants to play women’s events?” Just to get your passport to say female is a lot of hard work and you have to prove a lot of things.
‘You can’t just wake up one morning and decide you fancy playing women’s tournaments.
‘I don’t want to sound like I’m retaliating, but I want to be open about it. Firstly to inspire others to know they can do what they want to do and be who they want to be, and secondly to educate people.
‘People come up to me and ask if it’s alright to ask a certain question, and I’ll always answer because I’d rather them ask me than look at something on Twitter.’
Some of the criticism towards Hunter does seem to suggest that she changed gender so she could have a better chance of winning snooker tournaments. While that sounds ridiculous in itself, it is even more so when she explains what led her to make the huge decision in 2019.
‘If I didn’t transition when I did, my parents wouldn’t have been picking me up from the airport the other day, they’d have been putting flowers on my headstone,’ she said.
‘That’s how bad it was. I don’t think people realise I was a couple of months away from committing suicide. They make out as if I played snooker as a man, I was rubbish, so decided to do it in the women’s instead. I changed my gender for my wellbeing and my life, not for anything else.’
Asked if she could put into words what it is like to feel like you’re in the wrong gender, Jamie explained: ‘Obviously people have body image issues. Wanting to be slimmer or taller or different colour hair or whatever.
‘Can you imagine what it’s like looking in the mirror and feeling like it’s in a film, where the image in the mirror isn’t what is in front of it. That’s what it’s like. Having body parts that you don’t like.
‘Then the dread, the fear of what could happen if you did say something. I couldn’t even tell my mum and dad because I was scared they’d disown me.
‘Scared to walk in Asda in case people said something to me. What if my friends don’t want to know me anymore? What if I’m ridiculed at work? What if people assault me? It’s terrifying.
‘When I was younger I was just so angry and filled with hatred that I just locked myself away. My dad used to tell me to go out and get a life. I used to sit in my room and do nothing. Showering in the dark, never looking in the mirror.’
Hunter’s surgeries, medication, therapy and other procedures have cost around £20,000 so far, with the NHS waiting list around five years and too long to wait for.
It is by no means that she is competing on the women’s tour on a whim and accusations of cheating have no grounding as she complies with the rules set out by snooker’s governing body, as confirmed by WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson this week.
‘People have made out that I failed as a man at snooker and that’s why I’ve done this, it’s nonsense. I never tried to do anything as a man, I played in local leagues with my friends, I never entered proper tournaments as a man,’ she said.
‘It’s absolutely bonkers to say I’d have done all this to play on the women’s tour. I follow the rules. I would never have entered if I didn’t follow the rules.
‘I was talked into joining the tour in the first place, I didn’t know if I would be allowed to play. But people told me there are rules and guidelines, just stick to them, so I did. When people say I’m cheating, it’s just not true.
‘I just love playing snooker, I love competing. I’ve got dreams and aspirations of getting into the top five women and maybe getting onto the World Snooker Tour.’
Hunter is also keen to point out that her improved results on the table are down to a huge amount of hard work and not perceived advantages from growing up in another gender.
‘It’s upsetting when people say I’m just winning because I’ve got physical advantages. I don’t really sleep because I’m just non-stop. Work, practice, go to bed,’ she said.
‘I’ve started practicing more, that’s why I’ve been getting better, because I’ve put the effort in. It’s not because I’ve got dead long arms and I’m dead tall, because I’m not.
‘I do 6pm-11pm four days a week and then Sunday I do 9 or 10 hours. I work a 40 hour job as well, so it’s hard work.’
Hunter has been hurt by the criticism since her win in Seattle but is motivated by the knowledge that she is inspiring people in a similar situation to hers to follow their own paths.
‘I had a message from a girl from Poland who’s transgender,’ Jamie explained. ‘She plays snooker and said she was really worried about joining the snooker world as she wouldn’t be welcome, but as she heard I’m playing and enjoying it and doing well, it gave her the belief that she can too.
‘Receiving that message from her is better than any trophy I could get. Putting myself in the limelight and taking all this garbage off everyone has improved a life and hopes of one person. It’s amazing.
‘I got an email in work from someone saying their son is transgender and he’s got hope for a better world – not snooker related – but things he wants to do in his life, that it’s possible for him regardless of his identity. Receiving message like that is incredible.
‘I’m just a small person, not with millions of followers, I just play snooker in a small town in the northwest of England. To think I’ve made a difference, words can’t describe it.’
Hunter is getting through the difficult time she has endured since her impressive win in the States but warns those who abuse trans people online that others in her situation may not get through it.
‘If I didn’t transition when I did, I would be dead. But if someone else was in my position now, receiving all this abuse, that might send them over the edge,’ she said.
‘Being alive and being transgender is difficult enough, just to go out shopping. For me to put myself in the position to be in the public eye is even harder. For months in the past I was scared to go outside.
‘I’m quite thick-skinned. It has upset me and I’ve done a lot of crying, but that’s it. Someone else, it could have spelled the end.
‘The trans suicide rate is ridiculously high. Get one of those people, add 5,000 hate messages in 24 hours and their odds of surviving aren’t good.’
As much as there has been a wave of hideous messages, there has also been support for Hunter as she continues her journey on the snooker table and in life, which have meant a huge amount to her and her family.
‘There has been so many supportive messages and I’ve tried to respond to all of them,’ she said. ‘Also the WWS, Jason Ferguson and the board members of the WPBSA have been fantastic.
‘I’d like to say thanks to people that have reached out. Words can’t describe how grateful I am that people would take time out of their day to protect me online or just write a small message. It makes the world of difference.
‘I wish I could show you the look in their eyes when I tell my parents that someone has said something nice, it means a lot.’
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