Jad Harris, 2nd Dan and level 3 coach as well as Judo Lead at St Albans Judo Club. Jad is also a transgender male (AFAB) as well as a member of the Equalities Working Group.
Formally started transitioning was quite late in Jad’s life – opening about fully transitioning in 2011. Already at St Albans Judo Club for several years, he decided to speak to the club about his transition when he was 40. “I had already been training at SAJC for over ten years and assisting with coaching for around 8 of those”.
Transitioning was a very anxious time for Jad, “I was extremely worried about whether there would still be a place for me there when everyone knew”. Speaking to others about his transition, his experiences were wholesome. Reflecting on how accepting everyone has been with him “I first spoke to the committee at the club in the February, I had gone through a fairly painless social transition at work in October before, but I was hugely aware of people who were having a much harder time”. Jad’s love and passion has always been Judo however, there was always an element of worry and anxiety when speaking to his club. St Albans Judo Club reaction to when Jad spoke to them about his transition “Overall, I was hopeful, but also incredibly nervous as to how people would react, judo is my passion”.
During the transition process, St Albans Judo club offered support to Jad. Reflecting on the support he received from his club “From the very start the club was simply amazing!”. When speaking to other members and coaches about his transition, the club, maintained support to help with the process. Commenting on the number of people he would have to speak to “we run classes 5 days a week, so there were a lot of people to tell”. A plan was created across all areas of club for when he was ready to speak to others about his transition. The plan supported Jad when speaking publicly about the transition. “In conjunction with the committee and lead coaches we came up with a plan, and at the point, we were ready to tell everyone, I went and spoke to the parents at each night for a week”. Parents at the club were accepting. Positive and supportive comments were made by parents at St Alban Judo Club.“The outpouring of support from the whole club was something I honestly hadn’t expected. Not one family reacted badly”. Members were also accepting and supportive of Jad. They started to use his new name and pronouns “the kids were already starting to use my new name, and within a month the kids were correcting their parents on my name and pronouns”. Reflecting on the last 10 years since his transition “10+ years on, it’s not a deal anymore. It doesn’t really get talked about, I’m just Jad”. When talking about previous events some members and coaches at the club can get confused if they didn’t know Jad prior to his transition “Sometimes when we’re talking about past events people will forget who knows/doesn’t know, and we might have to take a moment to clarify things”. Jad’s overall, St Albans Judo Club has been supportive and accepting of Jad transition. Commenting on how the club have supported him “It’s just a fact of who I am, and everyone takes it in their stride”
Throughout the process, Judo became Jad’s safe place. Relying on judo for support and comfort “Before I opened up about my transition, the judo club was already my safe place. In some quite dark times whilst struggling with my identity and other concerns, it was the calm space, where I went simply ‘be me’”. Members volunteers and coaches provided Jad with support and positivity. Allowing for a stress-free transition process “With the positive reactions at the club, from all its volunteers and members, and with the help of the HQ teams who got all my records updated quickly and without issues, I felt totally supported”. Judo was that positive influence in Jad’s life, a safe place for him to be himself. Commenting that at judo was able to show the real him “Gradually I was able to introduce the real me to the people I knew within the sport, and within their continued acceptance. I gained the strength to face other areas where people were people weren’t as accepting. When days in the “real world” were hard, being in the dojo brought me peace”. Judo also mentioned how Judo and his club was his safe place “the dojo is still my place, and when I’m feeling run down, I out on my “magic judogi” that seems to fill me with strength, and I step onto the tatami. From there I can tackle the world”. St Albans Judo Club allowed Jad to progress further within his judo career. Reflecting on how the club has been the most supportive of Jad “The massive support of SAJC and the wider judo community when I needed it most, allowed me to embrace myself alongside my judo”. The club also increased Jad’s confidence in every aspect of Judo. Progressing to a higher level as a coach. “Giving me the confidence to move up through the ranks to a L3 coach. Its enabled me to take on my current role leading the club’s Coaching Team, successfully navigate through the pandemic, coming out strong and continuing to develop this 70+ year old club for hopefully another 70+ years of future”
LGBTQ+ topics were never really commented in Judo. Commenting on his experience with judo “Judo is one of those unique things in life, somewhere where most people just don’t talk about stuff. We’re on the mats to train, not gossip”. Attitudes have changed over the years but there are still areas for improvement with attitudes surrounding the LGBTQ+ community. Reflecting on how attitudes have changed “I suspect if you look, then yes attitudes have changed, but perhaps only in line with the shifts across society as a whole. There are still pockets of homophobia and transphobia, even in judo, and ‘coming out’ remains a challenge in some communities, Public discourse on topics which completely de-personalise the conversations, and polarise viewpoints don’t help”. Member’s attitudes toward LGBTQ+ community are personal. Mentioning how people attitudes are towards LGBTQ+ within Judo “overall, I’ve found when it comes down to it, it is personal, people tend to just go ‘oh ok’ when introduced to a same-sex partner, or if they find a child has 2 dads, or if someone presents as a gender that is different to the one they ‘expected’ the person to be”. As judo is an accepting sport and a sport where everyone trains with each other its quite difficult for a member of the LGBTQ+ community to find a club where they will be fully accepted. Echoing how when researching a club online its difficult to really know how accepting of the LGBTQ+ community until you go and try it yourself “unfortunately, because so often it’s just ‘not a big deal’, it also means we aren’t necessarily outwardly seen as being inclusive. People who might be concerned about how well their gender or sexuality will be accepted, can’t just investigate a judo club online, or even pop into a dojo, and feel sure they will be welcome. That’s an area I feel we all need to work on more, simply letting people know that they will be welcomed, supported, and accepted”