I got a text Thursday night during dinner from one of the hockey leagues I play with asking if I could play in a game that night at 10:00PM. These kinds of (usually last minute) requests are common. Goalies are in demand. Perhaps because so few people are crazy enough to stand between the pipes and let people fire slapshots at them as a form of leisure enjoyment. But I can postulate more on that another time.
This request was to play at the new Warrior Arena in Boston. Home to the National Women’s Hockey League Boston Pride and practice ice for the National Hockey League’s Boston Bruins, this facility is seriously swank! I got to play there once when it first opened and it was a very cool experience. Partly because it is brand new and partly because it was built for professional use, this state of the art facility is incredible and has every amenity one could possibly think of. As it is still quite new, it is also clean and the locker-rooms do not yet emit the graveolent stink of physical exertion, body odor and ass.
I didn’t jump at the chance to play though. I was already tired and had my mind set on getting into bed and curling up with a good book nice and early. A game starting at 10:00PM means leaving the house well past my bedtime and getting home around midnight after a solid hour of sweat-drenching, fast-paced, cardio workout that wakes you up and has you wired like nothing else. It means being wide-awake in a frenetic corybantic state that can last many hours. If those endorphins were kicking in after an afternoon game I wouldn’t mind. But knowing you have to get up for work as you watch the hours tick by on the clock and the number of hours of sleep you will get slips lower and lower is agitating and nerve-racking. It hardly bodes well for a productive day at work the following day I can tell you that. Also, this game was a division above what my skill level actually is, so I was sure to get an ass-whooping, which for me is hardly ever fun.
It was actually Emily who convinced me to go, reminding me how much I loved playing at Warrior and telling me I’d have a good time. Plus they were paying me to play. Yes folks, every so often I get paid to play hockey (20 dollars!).
I got to the rink around 9:15 and while the parking garage was fairly full, I knew it would be near deserted when I left. I did my best to get a spot as close to the door as possible. A game was in progress and the locker room level was buzzing, but the upper stories of the building were closed up and dark. I found the Shamrock’s locker-room and felt a twinge of apprehension as I pushed the door open. Walking into a locker-room full of half-naked men (who you don’t know) takes a lot more courage than you might think. Especially if you are me.
I don’t think I’m just being anxious and paranoid here. Stereotypically, hockey is a tough-guy sport, a man’s game, macho madness. And that just describes the fans! But seriously, and again stereotypically, the guys who play hockey as adults tend toward pretty masculine. On the men’s leagues I’ve played on in the last two years all of the guys have been cis-males, all but one white, all but one straight and interestingly (and having to do with nothing whatsoever) all have had copious amounts of facial and body hair. Suffice it to say, I’m not describing here a group of people I feel all that comfortable around, never mind safe with. But I digress.
Several of the guys nodded at me as I entered the locker-room and only one spoke to me as we got geared up before the game. In the first period I let in 3 goals. The game was faster and harder than what I’m used to. And it took me time to get on board with the pace of play. In the second period I did not let in a single goal. I did take a slapshot to the mid-section and despite my chest protector and other padding I was pretty sure I had internal bleeding. The ref skated over to check on me and in defiance of the searing pain I did a “Tommy-boy-esque” shrug and shook him off. In the third period I also didn’t let in any goals. As I made saves, my teammates neither cheered nor banged the boards, nor skated over to tap me on the pads with their sticks in recognition. “Tough crowd,” I thought weakly. This was not the friendly bunch of goofballs I was used to playing with. But ok whatever.
It was quiet in the locker-room after the game. We’d lost 3-2, and while I felt badly about letting in the 3 goals, I didn’t take the loss to heart as my sole responsibility like I sometimes can. There was no banter between the guys as they changed or headed to the showers. I am often one of the last ones changed. I have way more pads and accoutrement gear than the skaters. But also, I’m aware of being *different* and am more cautious about how I dress and undress. I worry that someone will notice or question my boxer shorts. My chest is masculinized surgically, but is not exactly a man’s chest. I don’t have chest hair and I do have lots of scars. I not only have scars from my breast reduction and chest masculinization surgeries, I also have a large scar running vertically down my front from collar-bone to solar-plexus from a lung surgery I had in my early 20s when my lung collapsed. It’s an odd-looking chest I guess and I am shy about it. In the winter months I generally wear long underwear and a long-sleeve shirt under a sweatshirt and sweatpants. So I only need to strip down that far to put on or take off my equipment. But in warm weather I’m not up for wearing layers. So I keep my head down and my eyes averted and hope no one looks my way.
Various violent scenarios flit through my head when I’m out and about in public. Especially in men’s locker-rooms. It isn’t irrational, or paranoid and it has nothing to do with reading creepy stories about bad guys kidnapping, abusing and chopping up their victims into tiny pieces (though I do admit to reading those stories). Homophobic or transphobic reactions to me are what I fear. And those reactions lead to violence against transgender people all the time. I mean often. As in: All. The. Time. Far more often than you might be aware. The Human Rights Campaign tracked more than 40 fatal violent attacks against trans-people in just the last two years. More than 40 transgender people were attacked and KILLED in the past two years. Just stop a minute and take that in. First of all, that is just about one every other week! And these stats are DEATHS. These statistics don’t even cover the countless crimes against transgender people that are not fatal. I shudder to even think about it. I am neither foolish nor unreasonable to be afraid.
At any rate, I was in the locker-room changing into my street clothes close to midnight at a hockey rink with a group of unfamiliar men as the locker-room emptied. I turned to face the wall, noting in my peripheral vision that no one was near enough to me to see, and I removed my sweat-soaked long-sleeve shirt and quickly replaced it with a clean dry t-shirt. When I turned back around 3 good-sized men were coming toward me from across the locker-room. I figured they were heading out. (incidentally, I also always sit by the door so if I needed to I could get out quickly) Two of the guys were really tall and big. Wide shoulders and muscular chests. The third guy was shorter (still taller than me) and stockier. And they were definitely heading toward me and not the door. I suddenly became aware that we were the only ones left in the locker-room. They were smiling, but I still found myself feeling scared. I stood up and pretended to be tucking in the pockets of my pants as they came close to me. They formed a semi-circle around me and one guy said, “We noticed the rainbow tape on your stick.” Simultaneously the other two asked, “Does it mean something?” and “Is it Pride tape?”
*As an aside, a few years ago the National Hockey League helped to create a “You Can Play” campaign designed to welcome LGBTQ players, family members and allies to help combat homophobia. A smart startup jumped on board and made rainbow hockey tape. And it isn’t just colored tape. It is rainbow-colored tape designed specifically to create a rainbow as it is wound on a hockey stick. It’s totally cool!
My heart and my mind were racing. Before I could answer, the tallest guy asked if I’d heard of Boston Pride Hockey. I was flustered and confused, “As in the WNHL Boston women’s team?” I asked. They all said no. “BostonPrideHockey“, they said in unison. “No, what’s that?” I asked and one guy said, “It’s a gay hockey league.” I sat down. They all continued to talk at once: “We saw your tape before we hit the ice and we were so excited!” – was the basic theme. Suddenly I noticed that they did all seem a little bit gay. And I felt a little bit light-headed.
As the adrenaline left my system I was quite sure my skin took on the pallor of chalk. The men all stopped talking and began looking from one to the other. An awkward silence followed. I looked up at them. “You guys really need to work on your approach.”, I said, “I practically just shit myself.” At first they looked bewildered. And then they took in the scene: An empty locker room and three big men essentially cornering me. Then they all got really gay, with a lot of flamboyantly flapping hands and coquettish prim apologies and finally with girlish giggling at the thought that they might be misconstrued as tough guys.
It is, indeed, Pride tape on the handle of my stick. And I had never thought about it being the reason for drawing added attention (negative or positive) to myself. I guess it’s something I’m going to have to think about. In the meantime, they ended up being really nice guys. We chatted for a while and they asked if I might be interested in playing in the Pride league. Another thing I will have to consider. Then they walked me to my car and made sure I got on the road safely.