conundrum: having my cake and eating it too

I got a call recently from the coach/captain of a local hockey team asking me if I’d be interested in playing goal for them.  Now, to be clear, this isn’t just any team.  I have been jonesing to play for this particular team for several years now.  Really, since I started playing hockey.  If I were a skater, I’d like to think I might have been considered before now.  But there is only one goalie spot on each team and their’s was filled with K, an awesome goalie and all-around sweetheart of a person.  K decided to move up a division and the team was asking me to be K’s permanent replacement.  I was positively delirious and intoxicated at the prospect of playing with them.  This team is a well-known, cohesive, strong and solid D level recreational hockey team.  They win games, but more than that, they are a charismatic, tenacious team whose camaraderie is palpable and whose spirit is indomitable.  They have fun, genuinely like one another and love hockey.  It is also a women’s team in a women’s league. {cue screeching tires}

What?!  What the… Shut the front door!  What happened to not identifying as a woman?!  What happened to the whole *trans* thing?!  I’m taking testosterone for crying out loud!  I quit playing in women’s leagues over a year ago.  I’ve only been playing on men’s teams since then.  What am I thinking?!  How could I even consider playing for this, a women’s, team?  What the hell was I thinking?!

Harrison Browne made history in 2016 when he came out as transgender, becoming the first openly transgender person to play in the NWHL (National Women’s Hockey League).  He knew he was trans long before he came out publicly.  His plan was to transition after college.  But then the NWHL was created, and with that, the opportunity for Brownie (as he is referred to by teammates and friends) to play hockey professionally.  An opportunity he couldn’t pass up.  The opportunity of a lifetime.  So he delayed medically transitioning (read that: taking testosterone) so he could be a pro hockey player.  He worked with the league and the league worked with him, helping him socially transition, creating rules and navigating this new terrain with thoughtful open-mindedness, adroitness and respect.  I followed his story closely.  He changed his name, though not legally (more for visa reasons than anything).  And sportscasters and color-commentators referred to him with male pronouns and his preferred name, Harrison, while calling the games.  There were certainly some slip ups, but they were gently corrected and it was, all in all, pretty seamless.  At the ripe age of 25 he retired as a player, so he could move on with his life as the man he knows himself to be.

Several years ago now, as I was coming to my own realizations, I was friendly with a young trans guy who was light years ahead of me in terms of his acceptance and understanding of what it meant to be transgender.  I was twice his age, but he was my role model in many ways.  He was smart and steady and thoughtful (about everything in life, not just trans issues).  And then he was inducted into a private, elite, society of Jewish women.  He not only accepted membership in the group, I learned that he had negotiated his way to the invitation (private, elite and by invite only).  It sort of rocked me and I found myself angry and unable to understand how he could reconcile what to me were clear conflicts of identifying as male and being a member of a specifically and intentionally female-only group.  I sharply confronted him, calling him an opportunist among other things (it being an elite coterie where he would have access to a privileged and exclusive cast of Jewish society).  He didn’t see any problem with his membership, or the fact that joining would give him a leg up in the Jewish world.  His life views were/are simply more expansive and less rigidly binary than mine.  It was not the first time I have been accused of rigidity.  We grew apart after that and I’m not sure if this issue wasn’t partly the reason.  I heard his arguments and tried to understand his more fluid world-view, but I’m not sure I ever really came around.

Am I not doing the same thing considering playing for this women’s hockey team in this women’s league?  The debate in my head grew uncomfortably louder and louder.

I have played on co-ed teams with two of the players on this potential hockey team and we have become more than acquaintances even while we are less than actual friends.  I currently play hockey on a men’s team with the husband of one of them.  Both these women, L and M, texted and reached out to me after the team’s meeting and decision to recruit me.  I decided on a whim to ask them to meet with me.  What I was hoping for or planning I had no idea.

We met at a local pub and before our asses even hit the vinyl-booth-seat they were both reaching for my arm and asking, “So, are you gonna do it?! Are you going to play with us!?!”  And before I could answer, they’d each launched into cogent compelling snippets and stories about how wonderful it is to play on this team, peppering me with inveigling heartwarming stories of individual characters and kindnesses shared and strong connections made.  It took me a minute to realize they were both trying to convince me to join the team, assuming I was having doubts.  I sat back and smiled.  They had their own anxiety.

I interrupted about 15 minutes in (having let myself bask in the warmth of recruitment).  I explained that the desire to play for them was 100% there.  That wasn’t the problem.  “What is the problem then!?” M asked, “So you’ll join, right?”  “Well it isn’t quite so simple”, I said as I took a deep breath.

I realized yet again how difficult it is to simply say, “I’m transgender”.  In addition to the fear of rejection and scorn (which I didn’t actually have so much with these two women), there is always the fear of disbelief.  As if anyone jokes about this kind of thing.  Still, the immediate impulse to laugh, tease or treat the announcement as if it were an ice-breaking witticism seems prevalent.  I didn’t want to have to deal with the possibility of having to elucidate awkwardly in the face of either of them thinking I was joking.

“So, the thing is,” I said calmly and seriously, “I identify as transgender.”  I let that sit in the air, wondering to myself about my choice of phrasing, watching their reactions.  They were both looking at me so earnestly I almost laughed.  Eyebrows went from upraised in anticipation to narrowed in consideration.  They were both like, “Ok, thanks for letting us know.”   “What’s the problem?”  M spoke first, “So you want us to refer to you with different pronouns? Done.  Is that it?”  They both seemed relieved and like, “what-evs, no big deal”  They each mentioned or referenced Harrison Browne as they talked over one another, clearly relieved at the triviality of what I had told them.  I had to explain that yes, the NWHL let Brownie play in the league but he was not taking testosterone.  And I am.

That brought them up a bit short.  And we sat quietly for a minute or so.  M was the first to speak,”Why does anyone need to know?”  L agreed, “Well yeah. It isn’t like either M or I noticed anything different about you.  I had no idea.”  I felt a mild twinge at that.  Of course part of me is glad that on my slow and controlled journey, where I’m not ready to navigate more outness, there is nothing outwardly noticeable.  While simultaneously I felt a sliver of sadness that my inner changes have not manifest in outward ways at all.

After some thoughtful conscientious conversation about it, they agreed and concluded that I should play for the team.  Their reasoning was well-constructed and intentional, considering each aspect of my situation.  They discounted Harrison Browne’s situation almost out of hand, for several reasons, not the least of which being that the NWHL is a professional league and he is a skater not a goalie.  A recreational league has a lot more leeway to bend and expand rules than does a professional league.  There is exactly nothing at stake by my playing in the rec league.  There aren’t even playoffs or trophies, never mind payment for playing.  I could also understand their reasoning about me being a goalie as opposed to a skater.  If the testosterone has any effect on my strength (which is minimal if not completely aspirant at this point), as a skater I would be able to shoot harder and farther.  Testosterone is not going to effect my play as a goaltender.  Even Harrison Browne wrestled with this issue, and said the following:

I believe that if there’s no physical advantage, it shouldn’t matter what your background is, or whether you’re transgender or not. I think people should take a step back when they think about trans athletes in sports. If hormone levels don’t confer an advantage, there’s no reason to bar anyone from participating.

I agree with that as I agreed with much of what M and L were saying.  But still, something wasn’t sitting right with me.  I think the heart of the matter has to do with my own issues around deserving, entitlement and shame.  The tyrannical trifecta that has plagued me all my life.  And the reality here is that I’m probably making a bigger deal out of this than is necessary (no shocker there).  The reality is that I was always told that getting what I wanted was the equivalent of being spoiled.  And the word spoiled was generally associated by hyphenation with the word brat.

I do want to join and play for this team.  Not because I do or don’t deserve to get what I want.  And not because I benefit in any way that I (or anyone) shouldn’t.  I want to play with them because I yearn to belong and because I love hockey.  If I wait to join a team until I find a team that is *just like me*, a team I *fit in*, I am going to be waiting a very long time.  Like, forever.  This team offers me camaraderie and acceptance, a different kind of belonging than other teams I am playing for currently.  This team offers me a level of play that is commensurate with my own ability, with humans approximately my size, which allows for a certain safety.  And even though I may not identify as a woman, that isn’t the point of this team or league.  The point of this team and league is hockey.  And I do identify as a hockey player.

About halitentwo

i am. god is. we are. as soon as i write something about me i change, am different, evolving. i am trans. i am a parent. i am a partner. i am a human. i am attempting to live a well-lived life in the spaces in between, beyond definition, fluid, dynamic, omnifarious and always changing. hopefully growing.
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3 Responses to conundrum: having my cake and eating it too

  1. Kris says:

    The world is changing… one guy playing for a woman’s team, might just be the one swallow making a summer. What does it really matter, Hali? You know who you are, they know it, so go ahead and enjoy your hockey. Fuck the rest. You are not getting younger, rather regret the things you did do, than those you didn’t. Or something along that line. Bottom line: just do it. Take care!

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