We are well into the hockey season here. Well, my hockey season anyway. Two of the three teams I play on are killing it. Good games, great competition, and plenty of wins. That third team though, the women’s team, is limping along, with only 1 in the win column so far. Not that the rest are all losses, mind you. They aren’t. We’ve had several ties. I feel good about how I’ve been playing. I have not let in more than 2 goals in any game. Not that I’m absolving myself of responsibility for not winning. We are a team. We play and win or lose (or tie) as a team. I’m simply acknowledging something that used to be much more difficult for me – feeling good about myself.
As for fitting in and belonging? Well, that always takes time, doesn’t it? On this team we’re all just getting used to each other. I’m still the newcomer. The other 10 or so players have been playing together for between 1 and 5 years and they all gel as a team already. They have their shared experiences, shared history, private jokes and camaraderie that have all developed over time. I’m new to them and they are new to me and we’re all just getting to know one another. I’m not trying to rush it. I’m simply acknowledging and noticing. Sometimes it’s awkward, I find myself quietly sneaking out of the locker room more quickly than I probably should after games. I’m not good at small talk or inserting myself into group chatter and banter. I haven’t been invited out for after game drinks or appetizers yet, even though I know they have their favorite *watering holes* as it were. Not that I’d probably join so soon anyway.
There is no question of *belonging* on the men’s teams I play on. I don’t. I’m not sure there is any one specific reason, as there are actually a million reasons. And I’m just coming to accept that for what it is. Whatever modicum of connection I do find there is lovely, but I’m not tearing myself apart grasping for it. More on that another time though.
I think my issues with belonging are different (not better, worse or harder, just different) than other people. Most people begin life already belonging in some ways. To begin with, babies belong to their own body. Whatever trauma, transition, experience birth and babyhood are, children encounter life in the presence and comfort of their physical being. This isn’t necessarily the case for trans-people. At least it wasn’t for me. I never felt like I belonged to or in my own body. From as early as I can remember my body felt wrong, too tight, clenching, irritating, uncomfortable. I felt like two separate beings somehow – a body and a being. And my being felt claustrophobically crammed inside my ill-fitting body. That discordance from the very beginning was always part of me and my experience, an emptiness, a yearning, an aphoristic discomfort and disconnection. As it turns out, I have always looked outside myself to fill this vacuity. Now though, as I become more aware and aligned with who I actually am, I am beginning to coalesce with an integrity that is more self-sustaining. It isn’t that I necessarily feel connected with, like or identify with my body now, I just seem to feel more congruent. There doesn’t seem to be the constant chafing. That recipe is definitely part acknowledgement, part acceptance and part testosterone. And while it still may not be pretty, easy or smooth, I am glorying in this newfound peace.
When last I wrote about the women’s hockey team I had just told my two teammate acquaintances that I am transgender. Though they had no qualms about having me on the team, and they didn’t think other members of the team would have any issues with me being on the team, they hesitantly asked if I planned on setting out that admission as my entry to the team. When I said I wasn’t planning on it, they both seemed to sigh with relief and admitted they thought it was probably a better idea to keep my gender status under wraps for now. One of them offered to anonymously call the league offices and ask if there was an actual policy, and if so, what it is, for clarification sake.
She reported back to me that there is no definitive or written policy for the league and that the person in charge she spoke with suggested, rather off-handedly, “self-identification” as a measure of belonging in the league. If I identify as a woman, I could play. Or something along those lines. I mean, not to put too fine a point on it, it is called a Women’s League. I get that, but at the same time I found myself feeling a bit let down. I think what disappointed me was the lack of thought put into the non-answer and the ready acceptance of it. I guess I’m just used to women and women’s sports being a bit more capacious, thoughtful and inclusive when it comes to addressing and processing new and unusual situations. I was hoping also that the criteria might be a bit more expansive. Not that the rule is actually a rule or that it is enforced in any way. It’s all very theoretical and esoteric. Not unlike my gender identity as it turns out. I’m not sure what to do with the fact that I now know I don’t actually meet the supposed criteria for participation. I suppose I’ll keep playing and see how things feel.
And participation notwithstanding, I do feel a small sense of beginning belonging on this team. At the very least and on the very concrete surface level; we share similar hockey-playing skills (ie: we are not very good), are of similar physical stature (not big enough to take a hit from someone over 5’7″), are similar ages (read that: OLD), came to the sport at similar times in our lives (not to be repetitive, but to reiterate: OLD) and all of us have a similar passion (bordering on obsession) for the game. It’s a good start.