All-transgender hockey team 'like an instant family' for players who felt like outcasts: Co-captain
'For a lot of transgender people you can feel the hostility in the hockey atmosphere,' co-captain says
The goals are big for an all-transgender hockey team known as Team Trans.
Comprised of more than a dozen players from Canada and the United States, it's believed to be the first ice hockey team made entirely of transgender men, transgender women, and gender non-conforming athletes.
Honorary co-captain Harrison Browne says hitting the ice for the first time with the squad earlier this month was "life-changing," and he hopes it can be an inspiration to athletes of all stripes who may struggle to find a safe space to be themselves.
"A lot of kids feel like they don't have a place in sport because sport in the past and in history has been so binary — it's always broken into men's and women's sides," says the Oakville, Ont.-born Browne, whose professional career included championship wins with the female Metropolitan Riveters and the Buffalo Beauts in the U.S.
"There hasn't been ... a team that has basically said, 'We support you, we are here for you.' I think this is the first time it's really ever been seen in hockey."
Friendship Series 8 months in the making
That remarkable first game took place at a tournament in Cambridge, Mass., called the Friendship Series. They faced off against the Boston Pride, an LGBTQ hockey organization that hosted the scrimmage, even paying for the ice time and ordering the team's pink-and-blue jerseys, says an appreciative Kat Ferguson, a forward who made the trip from Ottawa.
The players themselves connected through social media and began laying the groundwork for a possible gathering some eight months ago, adds Ferguson, among about four Canadians on the team.
While most of the players hail from the U.S. northeast, Ferguson says they included players from the Midwest and one from California.
Some had decades of experience like Ferguson and Browne, others were more casual players who just played recreationally. One had just learned to skate.
But Ferguson, who identifies as non-binary and prefers the "they" and "them" pronouns, says they were united by shared life experiences little seen in hockey.
"There was no stress about locker room situations. We all have different scars and different life experiences and stuff like that. We're all kind of hiding things, usually in one way or another, when we play with our regular teams," says Ferguson, who added they've been embraced by both male and female hockey teams in Ottawa.
"It was like an instant family. It was really special ... Honestly, by the end of the weekend we were all sobbing because it was over. It was really emotionally amazing."
Sports environment still 'very gendered'
The next goal is to make sure the games don't end there.
Ferguson, 41, says plans are to arrange another round in Madison, Wis., in the spring, and again in Toronto in a year.
While they acknowledge hockey is evolving to embrace a broad array of fans, Ferguson says Team Trans can help further promote education, awareness, and acceptance. The sports environment is still "very gendered," they say, and that has forced many trans players to abandon team sports.
"In pretty much everything, you have to pick a gender and for a lot of people ... they can't pick a gender (or) there are a lot of years where our bodies are different and our hormones are different," says Ferguson.
Browne concurs, noting that even though his successful professional career included very supportive teammates, there were disconnects that grated.
"I was always called Brownie so I never really had to connect with my birth name but I was with female pronouns," says Browne, who came out in 2016 and prefers he/him.
"And with rosters and everything like that when you're announced on the ice you're announced by your first name so it was a constant reminder."
'You can feel the hostility in the hockey atmosphere'
Co-captain and professional player Jessica Platt says Team Trans bonded immediately over such struggles. She, too, is considered a pioneer for coming out publicly in January 2018.
"For a lot of transgender people you can feel the hostility in the hockey atmosphere because it's still very much a male-dominated sport where anyone who's seen as different is typically made fun of or is an outcast," says the 30-year-old Platt, who plays with the Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association in Kitchener, Ont. The group is largely comprised of members of the former Canadian Women's Hockey League.
"Only recently has women's hockey been getting a lot more media attention."
Browne, 26, agrees, saying what the sport needs are "options."
"I don't think that people should be necessarily put into so many different boxes and not be allowed to play," says Browne, who played in the National Women's Hockey League in the United States until retiring in 2018 to start his physical transition.
"If you want to play with other trans people then that (should be) there. Or if you want to play on an all-men's team, that's there for you. Or if you want to play on an all-women's team, that's there for you. If you want to play on a co-ed team, it's there for you."