Friday January 13, 2017

​'I'm trapped in the wrong body': NWHL's Harrison Browne on becoming the man he is today

(Aiken Lao)

Listen to Full Episode 30:46

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Harrison Browne, the first openly transgender hockey player, has struggled for most of his life to come to grips with his gender identity. For years, he lived in confusion and fear. It was a path that eventfully led him to the realization that he was trapped in the wrong body. And it wasn't long before he felt like he had no choice but to confront this, and come out publicly as a transgender athlete. 

Hear the story of Harrison's long, hard-fought road to self-discovery, and how he ultimately became a beacon of hope for the transgender community. 


"It's exhausting to live a double life."1:31

A realization

For Harrison, a forward with the NWHL's Buffalo Beauts, his love affair with sports started early. He particularly remembers being drawn to the freedom of playing: "you just go out there and you play. You just play the game." It was this freedom that later allowed him to transition into who he really was. 

Harrison/Hailey Browne

Harrison's love of hockey started early. (Harrison Browne)

As a kid, a combination of short hair and an aversion to dresses meant Harrison often got mistaken for a boy, a mistake that didn't really bother him. In fact, he even liked it. 

While trying to adapt to constant changes in his body, and the emotions that came with the hormonal hell that is puberty​, Harrison realized he was attracted to women.

"It was the femininity behind girls. I liked the long hair, the way that they would smell, just the softness of girls that I liked better than a smelly boy," he remembers.

But in an effort to fit in, Harrison put aside those burgeoning feelings and got a boyfriend. He remembers the whole relationship was "like living a lie. You have to put this mask on." Needless to say, it was exhausting.

More often than not, Harrison found himself wondering about other girls and what they thought about him.


Coming out

And then Harrison met Sophia, a teammate he came across while playing junior hockey. Harrison was immediately drawn to Sophia's openness and honesty about her sexuality, and eventually drew out Harrison to do the same. "She really made me feel comfortable and she was always there. She never judged me and I never judged her." 

It wasn't long before Harrison came out to Sophia and found the courage to come out to the rest of the hockey team. 

"I started scored more goals. I started to have more meaningful friendships with people that I was playing with."

Telling them actually helped Harrison play better - "Having them just have my back made me more confident on the ice made me skate a little lighter."  

Later on, Harrison told his parents. "My mom didn't know who I was. I wasn't myself around her and I just kind of wanted to take off that mask with her." It was difficult for Harrison's mom to come to terms with the news. 


Harrison Browne team

"Having them just have my back made me more confident on the ice." (NWHL)

Questioning his gender identity

But meanwhile, on the ice, Harrison was becoming an elite hockey player. He received a full scholarship to play  college hockey, and ended up at the University of Maine. When he stepped on campus, he was finally able to embrace his sexual identity. But he still felt that something was missing. After stumbling across an article profiling a trans woman who was born in a male body, a light bulb went off.

"I don't want to be a woman in society. I don't want to grow up to be a mother. I don't want to grow up to be a woman professional in the business world. I want to be a man. I want to be a father. I want to be a boyfriend. I want to do all these things that men do," he realized.

"I would cry myself to sleep and wish that I didn't have to go through all these things... like the surgeries that I saw online." 

This realization propelled Harrison to truly confront his identity - he wanted to be a man. 

So Harrison began subtly shifting to "malehood," which, for Harrison, meant no makeup, a buzz cut, and shopping for men's clothing. 


Harrison Browne

Buffalo Beauts forward Harrison Browne high-fives fans during player introductions before a game in Buffalo, N.Y. (Michael P. Majewski/NWHL via AP)

Coming out again

For Harrison, hockey was always his escape from everything. Gender, identity, expression - none of those things mattered on the ice. 

"You're just there to play hockey and the only thing you're judged on is how many goals you score and points you have."

During college, when Harrison bravely came out as transgender to his hockey teammates, it was only fitting that he was respected, and accepted with open arms. 

But there was a stark difference between the acceptance, reassurance and validation that he felt in the locker room, compared to the constant misgendering he received in public. Harrison was living a double life, and it began to take its toll. 

Harrison found himself thinking, "Why can't I change my name? Why can't I align myself like he aligned himself?" 


He reached out to the NWHL and said, "Hi, I'm transgender, and I would like to change my name on the roster and be referred to with male pronouns in articles, my biography on the website, and when I announced on the P.A. If I'm in the starting lineup, or I score a goal or I get a penalty, I want to be referred to as Harrison Browne as opposed to Hailey."

The league not only accommodated Harrison, it drafted a policy to recognize all forms of gender expression on the ice. For pro sports, it was a watershed moment. And for Harrison, it was life-changing.

Now publicly out, the Buffalo Beauts forward says there's relief in his public and personal life finally being in sync. "I have a sense of pride now that I have come out. I am now that beacon of hope for people that you don't have to look a certain way to be something you can be that. And I am proud of that role."


WEB EXTRA | Check out Harrison Browne's first goal of the season with the Buffalo Beauts below: