Unshackled from societal constructs and speaking with the joy and clarity of someone who understands fully the freedom that exists within self actualization, Canadian Paralympian Ness Murby begins sharing his story.
“I’m blind. I use a guide dog. I’m also genderqueer. Transmasculine. And my pronouns are he and him,” Murby told CBC Sports from his home in Vancouver.
Then he laughs, a little nervously but also with relief.
It’s taken 35 years to get this point — not without dark, lonely and searching moments, somewhat all but a distant memory now as Murby basks in this newfound ecstasy of being able to openly and publicly speak about his journey.
He credits his grandparents, specifically his grandmother Shirley Dawn Murby, for igniting a spark within him at a very young age that for more than two decades was ruminating in his head and heart.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” she asked me when I was six years old,” Murby said.
“And without pause I said a husband and a father. You couldn’t have done it better in Hollywood. That actually happened. It’s surreal.”
Murby is happily married to his wife Eva Fejes, who is responsible for getting him to Canada in the first place. The two met years ago in Japan and immediately fell in love. Fejes is a Canadian citizen and the two eventually settled in Vancouver.
“I’m in awe of how she’s defined her life. I will say it is an honour to be married to her. I love her so dearly,” he said.
Born and raised in Australia
Murby was born and raised in Australia with limited eyesight and is today blind. He competes in the F11 category in discus, that includes athletes who “have a very low visual acuity and/or no light perception.”
He’s competed for his native country of Australia, Japan and Canada at a number of international events, including the most recent at the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil, traversing the world not only in pursuit of the podium in a myriad of sports but has also been unrelenting in his search to love and accept himself — the two are inextricably linked.
“I had the embers of self-concept burning within me my entire life. My grandparents taught me I was enough just being me,” Murby said.
“I’ve always known who I am but being congruent with that knowing and understanding that knowing has been the journey.”
Destination complete. In a recent interview on the podcast Five Rings to Rule them All, Murby came out publicly as trans for the first time, speaking about the importance of this moment and wanting to be intentional about meeting it.
“I wanted to be sure that I was able to represent where I’m at with conscious words. Words matter. This being the first time to speak openly about my gender identity in any setting,” he said.
Despite potentially becoming the first trans athlete to compete at the Paralympics or Olympics, this was never about publicity or drawing attention to Murby — he makes that very clear.
“It’s my experience that Para athletes don’t get attention. This was entirely about doing this openly and recognizing that it might help someone else,” he said.
“Not doing this publicly means it’s less likely to be universally observed.”
Or talked about. And Murby wants people to ask questions, get uncomfortable and challenge their own limiting beliefs.
Murby speaks about all of this with the perspective of someone who has spent many waking hours and sleepless nights contemplating the cost of living incongruently and how that shows up in life and sport.
“There’s never going to be a right time. And there’s never going to be a too late time. Being present and mindful in the moment. It is about who you are right here, right now. Nothing that’s gone before that changes the integrity of who you want to be,” Murby said.
“I understand that living in limbo and incongruence can really be damaging.”
Weight of the feeling
It has been damaging for Murby, the weight of feeling like he wasn’t living authentically pressing down on him at every turn. But deep down there’s always been a desire to break through that — that time has finally arrived.
And now as Murby sets his sights on competing in Tokyo in discus at next summer’s Paralympics for Canada, he wants his story to serve an important tale about what it means to not only create space for oneself but also to create space for those around us to show up fully.
“This has shown me that it does feel better to be open, to be out, to be me. I look forward to competing unquestionably as me, because it will be the very first time. This is the very first time for me where the trade off won’t be my self concept. And that’s huge,” he said.
And while this is just one person’s story about acceptance, resilience and growth, Murby understands the universality of his struggle and is imploring people to see the humanity that exists within everyone.
“Just because we can’t imagine doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I am just one person but I am not the only person. It’s imperative we don’t assume anyone else’s experience but that we do invite it to the table. There’s enough space for all of us,” he said.
“Tolerance is not the same as acceptance. Allyship is active and it has to be intentional. Assuming it exists as a matter of course, doesn’t make it so. It necessitates our conscious consideration. We need to take on the accountability and carve out spaces for each other, especially when coming from a place of privilege.”
Murby exemplifies the intersectionality between sport and disability, social constructs and breaking through them — and has been unrelenting in first looking at himself critically in determining how to move forward and then also inviting those around him to do the same.
“Our present orthodoxy doesn’t nurture our self concept as being the utmost importance and doesn’t respect the gravity of that. A really important message is that without our personal concept, we cannot self actualize,” he said.
Above all, Murby stresses that none of this is easy and that it requires immense bravery.
He says he’s been lucky because at the core of who he’s always been, there’ve been embers of self-concept burning within him.
“I urge everyone to ask the question when we are speaking and when we act, for what purpose and what cost?” Murby said.
“That should be at the fundamental core.”