Tori Groves-Little has “come out” three times in their life so far.
The first was when they were 15 coming out as bisexual, an experience they admit today they have learnt plenty from.
The second was coming out as lesbian, before their most recent announcement as non-binary.
In October 2021, a simple Instagram post suddenly made Tori Groves-Little the first openly non-binary player in the AFL Women’s.
To put that in context, it means Groves-Little identifies as neither female nor male and prefers the use of they/them pronouns whenever being referred to.
Despite the SUNS’ AFLW Pride Round game being rescheduled for this weekend, the occasion still holds a special significance for Groves-Little.
“It’s probably been two or so years in the making and a lot of research and education behind closed doors,” Groves-Little told SUNS Media.
“I’ve only been out since last October but it’s definitely been something on my mind for a very long time.
“I think educating myself and being comfortable with who I am myself first before going out and telling everyone (was important).”
Having two friends who also identify as non-binary (Ash and Ruby), Groves-Little wouldn’t be where they are today without their support.
Shortly after their public announcement, Carlton’s Darcy Vescio also followed suit, becoming the second non-binary player in the AFLW.
Groves-Little and Vescio exchanged messages after their announcements, about being comfortable in their own skin and now the women’s league because of the brave step each had taken in their own right.
They will both be known as pioneers in the LGBTQIA+ community, but that’s something which is yet to sit comfortably with Groves-Little.
“When you say pioneer, I think I kind of hate that,” they explained.
“When I think pioneer, I think women playing footy 100 years ago and they paved the way for us.
“I don’t really think of myself as a pioneer in that kind of space.
“Non-binary is just another part of the LGBTQIA+ community so we do have players in the AFL who already identify as bisexual or lesbian and whatever else - we already have other players that fit in that umbrella term.
“It’s something that I’m proud of, of course, but I’d like to think that Darcy and I did together, I wouldn’t too much say that it was just me.
“I just want to make sure that everyone else is comfortable so that if we do have players in the future that do want to come out as non-binary or whatever else, they’ve got a safe place to do it.”
It takes courage to put yourself out there in front of the world, to be the real you.
With it naturally comes questions, but Groves-Little is passionate about providing education for those who want to know more about gender and sexual identities.
“There’s been times where I’ve been uncomfortable and comfortable, but I’m just about educating,” Groves-Little said.
“I don’t mind putting myself in that vulnerable space as long as I’m helping other people educate, and they don’t then make someone else uncomfortable.
“I’d rather it be me (be uncomfortable) than anyone else.”
Another question that gets raised is: as a non-binary athlete, does Groves-Little still feel comfortable playing in a women’s league?
But they put that question to bed quite emphatically.
“The W or the women’s naming rights is something that I’m very proud of,” they said.
“I started playing football when I was 14 and there wasn’t a league then so I’m happy that now females do have an opportunity to play at the highest level.
“It is a male-dominated sport and I’ve gone through all the ranks trying to fight for the same pathways as the males.
“I’m still biologically female, it’s just my pronouns that have changed so the W is something that is very important to me and something that I hold very close to my heart.
“I still want to help the young generation that is coming through next. I want to help grow the participation rates of females in footy and it’s something that I’m still very passionate about.”
Since their announcement, Groves-Little has received a groundswell of support from those around them.
The entire SUNS organisation has made a commitment to use more gender-neutral language, stretching from the women’s program, to the men’s program and all the way to admin staff.
Humble by nature, Groves-Little doesn’t like it to be all about them, but acknowledged how proud they are of the effort and inclusivity that has been elevated since their announcement.
“The support has been unreal,” they said.
“I hate that it’s all on me and they have to change their wording for me, but I think that in society that’s something that we should probably start doing now.
“It’s something that maybe everyone should adapt to in society in the next coming years, because everything is changing so quickly.”
Groves-Little admits that being non-binary and the use of gendered language is a relatively new norm, and it can take some time to unlearn those old habits that have been ingrained in our vocabulary.
People will make mistakes along the way, and that’s ok, as long as they are committed to make an effort to learn and improve.
Groves-Little themself even found it difficult at first when navigating the language around their non-binary friends.
“I was in the same boat as everyone else, especially with my closest friend Ash coming out,” they said.
“I didn’t get it right the first time, or the second time, and I reckon it probably took me about a year or so to get their name and pronouns right.
“As long as you’re trying I’m not going to get too mad at you.”
And if you do make a mistake, Groves-Little has a simple request.
“Just change it quickly, don’t make a big deal about it. If someone ever does call me she, it’s a quick change to they.”
The SUNS have a dedicated Pride Round guernsey for the first time in club history which will be worn when the club’s Round 3 match is rescheduled.
Whenever that match is, Groves-Little can feel their own sense of pride pulling the guernsey on, knowing they are playing a role in continuing to make the AFL Women’s league a world-leader in inclusivity.