Still image of Heather Fisher during a Zoom interview with BBC's Jo Currie
Fisher has struggled with people’s perception of her due to hair loss caused by alopecia

England and Team GB rugby international Heather Fisher has revealed she “dreads” using public toilets because she is frequently mistaken for a man.

The 2014 World Cup winner has alopecia and says she often has to explain to people “why she has muscles and no hair”.

In an interview with BBC Sport, the 36-year-old said she has been confronted by police and has even “lifted her top up” to confirm her gender.

“That sounds really ‘oh my God’, but it felt like the only way I could explain myself,” said the Worcester player.

“I haven’t talked about it before because I find it really embarrassing. I can smile about it now but I put on a brave face. It’s really knocked my confidence as a human being.”

Since losing her hair just before playing for England at the 2010 World Cup, Fisher has found herself challenged by people around the world.

She has been locked in toilets, with police waiting outside, and once a hand reached into her cubicle, trying to push her out.

The 2016 Olympian, who has been named in Team GB’s sevens training squad for this summer’s Tokyo Games, has also been prodded with a broomstick.

She told BBC Sport: “If I’m at an airport I’ll always have a team-mate come with me because I know there’ll be police waiting or I’ll get told ‘this is a female toilet, get out!’

“The different social aspects of every country we go to make it really difficult. I feel like I have to stick my chest out and walk more ‘fem’, but I dread it every time we stop.

“I feel like I have to explain myself everywhere I go, that I have to introduce myself with what I have.”

‘People should be hearing more stories about ‘different’ women’

Heather Fisher playing for Worcester in February 2021
Worcester player Heather Fisher hopes to play in her second Olympics for Team GB this summer

It’s not just abroad where it’s happened. Fisher has been questioned while with her team-mates at the hotel where the England women’s squad trains.

“I find that hard because I’m always on edge, waiting for someone to say something,” she said. “It gets me upset because it’s something I shouldn’t have to put up with it, but I do.”

Fisher, who helped England win Commonwealth bronze in 2018, admits she has “struggled” with people’s perception of her based on cultural stereotypes but she has found a style that “works for her”.

“I suppose I’m not your run-of-the-mill looking girl. That shouldn’t even be a phrase but it is,” she said. “I feel like it’s affected the way people use me in the media or don’t, because of the way I look.

“We do still stare at what’s different and we shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, but we do.

“More females who are slightly ‘different’ or unique should be on the map, people should be hearing their stories because this is life, this is how it is.

“I feel like a boiled egg sometimes so I try to mix it up with my glasses and my hats,” Fisher added. “I don’t wear hats to cover [my head] up. That’s something I want to take further with younger people because it’s amazing how many females [who have lost their hair] wear wigs because they feel that’s their only option.

“And I hope more people will acknowledge that people are different, that they haven’t got to say what they say, to stare or to literally prod someone out of a toilet and have police waiting outside.”

Heather Fisher was speaking to BBC Sport to launch a new podcast series, 22 Voices, from the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, to mark International Women’s Day.


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