Hockey player Harrison Browne, thought to be the first openly transgender athlete in any professional U.S. team sport, didn't have many trans athletes to look up to when he was growing up.
Then he saw Chris Mosier, a pioneering transgender triathlete being true to himself: “a trans athlete while still being a triathlete,” Browne said. “For me, when you see it, you can be it.”
When Browne came out as transgender in 2016 while playing for the Buffalo Beauts, a team within the National Women’s Hockey League, he said he had “a flood of people reaching out to me on social media saying, “It’s amazing to see you play your sport and be yourself.” His desire to take part in that type of positive representation is what drew Browne to play on a historic all-trans hockey team, which competed this past weekend in Massachusetts: Team Trans vs. Boston Pride Hockey.
The friendship tournament, played in Cambridge, was hosted by Boston Pride Hockey, an LGBTQ intramural organization that has both cisgender and transgender members. The game came about after a trans player reached out to Boston Pride Hockey and asked about its friendship series with the New York City Gay Hockey Association, which led to a conversation leading to the game.
Earlier this year, Hutch Hutchinson, who played defense on Team Trans, and New York player Aidan Cleary discussed how they wanted to create a space just for transgender athletes. Cleary contacted Boston Pride Hockey Vice President Mark Tikonoff about how they might recruit a full team of trans players.
“We have a few trans members, but not enough to make an entire team, so we started to reach out — to other cities we play with in national tournaments — San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Canada — to see if there were other players who might be interested in something like this.” Tikonoff said.
After receiving a strong response, the group organized the event, secured the space and raised funds to make sure the tournament went off without a hitch.
“For us, we didn’t realize how much we had in common, and we didn’t realize — I’m speaking personally — how much this community was underserved,” Tikonoff said. “As a cis gay man going into a locker room with other cis gay men, I don’t fear for my safety and I don’t fear judgment and I don’t fear exposing part of myself to people.”
While Team Trans lost to Boston Pride Hockey in both of the weekend games, Hutchinson said it was “an honor” to play alongside Browne and Jessica Platt — the two professional hockey players who competed in the weekend tournament. “The common thread was we have all never been on an all-trans team, and we have all gone through the struggle of ‘Where do I belong?’” Hutchinson said.
“We as trans people fight either big battles or little battles every day,” Hutchinson said. “This was an opportunity to walk into a locker room, and we didn't have to explain anything to each other — we’re here, we are trans, this is great.”
Platt, a transgender woman who played with the Toronto Furies in the Canadian Women’s Hockey Players Association before it went out of business, said that being out and trans in a professional sport is “a really lonely experience.”
“There are not a lot of out trans athletes playing professional sports, and there are few in professional women’s sports,” Platt said. “I think that’s partially due to the fact that there's a lot of negativity surrounding trans women participating in professional sports.”
Indeed, just this month, conservative groups reportedly test ran anti-transgender advertisements in key political races that specifically highlighted the issue of transgender inclusion in school sports.
“Growing up, I always played boys hockey and it didn't feel like a safe atmosphere for me,” Platt said. “I knew there was something different about me but I always tried to be who I needed to be to fit in because I saw anyone who didn't quite fit in the male hockey atmosphere got made fun of pretty harshly, so I didn't want to be that person.” And yet she persisted, because she loves to play the sport.
Platt said that if presented with the opportunity to play forward on Team Trans again, she’d do it. “It was such a special experience for me, it was such a positive and supportive environment, I feel like everyone had no problem being themselves.”
Once the players hit the ice, it was easy playing the game they all know and love.
“A lot folks that I played with this weekend, we put years of our lives into practicing our sports and then we came out as trans and found there’s not necessarily a space for us in that sport anymore,” Hutchinson said. “I think that what happened this weekend it was important on individual levels — for me personally, it was like a full honoring of my identity: I am a trans hockey player and I am on a trans team.”
For her part, Platt said she hoped that the tournament would open more people’s minds to the fact that transgender athletes work hard and compete fairly just like cisgender athletes.
“We need more knowledge, more education, and for people to go into these things with an open mind and be willing to learn something that they might not be familiar with.”