A top soccer referee in Israel is sharing her true identity with the world.
Sapir Berman came out as transgender at a press conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday. The 26-year-old is now the only woman in Israel’s top-shelf soccer league, The Associated Press reported.
“I always saw myself as a woman, from a very young age,” she told reporters at Ramat Gan Stadium, headquarters of the Israel Football Association.
“At first I did not know how to name it, I did not know what to call it, but there was always an attraction to the feminine side, a kind of envy. I lived with it — I lived with it [while projecting] a very male persona,” she said.
Berman said that she imagined that people would never understand her.
“I realized that society would not accept me — and so I continued like this, I continued for 26 years,” she said.
However, about six months ago, Berman decided that she could no longer hide her true identity.
“Finally, I decided to come out, to show [the world] who I am. First for myself, for my own well-being, but also for my loved ones, so they wouldn’t see me suffering,” she said.
“So here I am today,” she told reporters. “Sure of myself, confident that this is the right decision, that I have broad support behind me. I sincerely hope that our society will improve and be as good and inclusive as possible for all sectors and genders.”
Berman said that she’s already received robust support from her family, the local referees’ union as well as Israeli and international soccer officials.
“We have a new Referee, Sapir Berman. The first referee to be transgender,” the Israel Football Association tweeted on Tuesday.
“We are so proud,” the organization wrote, adding emojis of an Israeli and a transgender pride flag.
On Sunday, Berman will be the head referee for a playoff match between heavyweight teams Hapoel Haifa and Beitar Jerusalem.
Lucy Clark, who in 2018 became U.K.’s first transgender referee, told the AP that her journey “hasn’t been all roses and tinsel.”
But “overwhelmingly, it has been a positive experience,” the 49-year-old said. Most people accept the change and simply focus on the game, she explained.
When asked about Berman, Clark said that it will all be worth it.
“When she sees her name on the program, and when Sapir goes out on to the pitch and the announcer announces that today’s men’s referee is Sapir, she’ll do brilliantly,” she said.