‘Transcending’ follows Vancouver’s Ness Murby on his journey to become the first openly trans paralympian
It’s Ness Murby’s name and face on the new Accessible Media Inc. docuseries, Ness Murby: Transcending. But the Metro Vancouver-based para-athlete cares less about being the centre of attention and more about how he can help lift others up.
“This may be Ness Murby: Transcending, [but] we really need to start listening to a diversity of voices,” he tells the Straight in a phone interview. “Just because it’s called Ness Murby, this isn’t just my story… May this spark people to ask others to not assume, and to elevate each other’s voices.”
Murby has competed internationally in goalball, powerlifting and athletics in his professional career. He’s been top-ranked, held records and a bevy of titles—all while competing as someone he knew he wasn’t. Murby currently focuses on discus, and competes in the F11 category for athletes who have severe visual impartments.
He made headlines in late 2020, when he came out as a trans man. He began medically transitioning in 2021, and had been on hormone replacement therapy for less than a year when Transcending began filming.
“Being in sports, so binary, so gender-based, that really was just constantly pouring vinegar on the wound,” says Fejes, Murby’s wife of over 10 years, who is also his training and competing assistant. They're on the same line as Murby, and the two often add on to each other’s sentences.
Originally, Murby had planned to compete at the Tokyo Paralympics in 2020, then retire and transition privately—but then COVID happened, and the competition was delayed. The couple were also in the process of having a child, and Murby realized he had to “be congruent” for his kid.
Murby was consistently one of the top athletes in the world in his category before he came out, but encountered pushback from sporting bodies once his transition began. Murby is the first openly trans masculine person competing for selection to the Paralympic games; and only the second trans person overall, after Italian sprinter Valentina Petrillo came out as a trans woman in 2019. Neither Petrillo nor Murby competed at the Tokyo Paralympics.
“The message that sport gave is there is no room for me in sport,” he says, “that we will have you as top three in the world, but not as your authentic self.”
“There was so much sort of old-school pushback from our sporting body, and all those people getting a kick out of rubbing it in—it was really hard to be existing in that space,” Fejes adds.
Athletics Canada, which provides funding to athletes to help them train and compete, had not had a trans athlete before—and Murby’s contentious dealings with the organization weave through the docuseries. In the first episode, he’s issued a red card—a warning that he is likely to have his funding rescinded—a week before the Canadian National Championships.
Getting that news right before “the biggest competition of the year, without any thought or consideration of the repercussions, just speaks to the toxicity and brokenness of the sport system that has been normalized,” Fejes says.
At one point during the documentary, someone from Athletics Canada tells Murby, “We don’t fund passion.” The comment struck a nerve. “This is exactly why this documentary is so important, because passion is pretty much the only thing that keeps me in such a broken system,” he says.
The documentary does double duty, lifting the curtain on the world of competitive parasport while also showing the realities of Murby’s everyday life. There are few media representations of disabled or trans people’s domestic lives, let alone the intersection of both.
“So often, it wasn’t just my identity that got erased, it was also Eva’s,” Murby says. People would assume they were siblings, or even that Fejes was Murby’s mother—the two never being perceived as a romantic couple.
“That was important, as well, in this documentary, for us to raise that issue of relationships around disability. ‘Does Ness rely on me as much as people think?’, ‘Is he able to take care of our kids?’... these topics were ripe,” Fejes says.
While parasport is accessible, they say, it has “zero recognition of any other element of a person’s life.” And she adds, “if we enter a queer space, there’s usually difficulty around ableism—at the very least, just massive discomfort, not knowing how to behave.”
While there’s plenty of heavy topics on display, there’s also gorgeous moments of light and joy too: Murby visiting Big Bros Barbershop in East Van to neaten up his facial hair; Murby and Fejes celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary; an old friend enthusiastically hugging Murby at a competition.
“My next goal is to break the Canadian record,” Murby says. He’s only two metres off, though that won’t make the cut for making the team at the next worlds event—so there’s plenty further to go. He hopes to qualify for the 2024 Paralympic games, making history as the first trans man to do so.
“I take heart in each piece of space that I’m carving out that I’m holding for the next person. I hold world records, titles, medals, and I don’t mind going to being bottom of the ranks,” he muses—then notes that he’s not actually even at the bottom of the ranks. He’s still one of the best in the world among his cis peers, because why wouldn’t he be?
“I don’t mind it, because the next person who follows me, hopefully, won’t be in a position where they couldn’t be their authentic self from the beginning.”
Ness Murby: Transcending is currently airing on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. EST on AMI-tv and is available to watch for free online.