Chemo had completely worn my body down: I could only last a single, one-minute shift during each three-period game before the muscles in my legs began to feel as if they were pushing through my skin. But during those brief few minutes of playing time, I felt free, whole — as if my troubles did not exist.
After graduating from college, I moved from my parents’ home to an apartment on the outskirts of Boston. I had the support of my amazing family and a small group of friends. But I still felt isolated and sad, as if I were climbing an insurmountably steep mountain, alone.
Hockey took on even greater meaning in my life after I began my male-to-female gender transition over a decade ago. After I started transitioning, a large number of my childhood friends rejected me. The first couple of years during my transition were tough: During one particularly rough three-month period, I posed as a man at work while living my true identity outside it.
Throughout my transition, I remained active in my sport. I tried playing adult men’s “beer league” hockey at first, but I didn’t feel safe physically, since I was playing against large bodies as my own body was rapidly changing and losing muscle mass.
And playing in that league only added to my anxiety, since I didn’t feel comfortable expressing my true identity in front of my teammates. I was certain that my male teammates wouldn’t accept my transition. I felt like a complete outsider, as if I had something to hide every time I stepped in the locker room — whether I was covering up the physical changes I was experiencing because of transitioning, or lying about my life off the ice.
Two years after starting hormones, I joined a local adult women’s hockey team in the Boston area. That’s when everything started to change for me — emotionally and socially.
My teammates, with whom I shared a love of our sport, became a core part of my new social circle. Most of them knew that I was trans, but didn’t care. They accepted me as one of their own. For whatever reason — perhaps because our connection was not anchored in superficial ideals of masculinity — they loved me for me.
Through the recreational women’s hockey league that I competed in, I was able to build a new support system. That includes some of my best friends and my amazing partner of three years.
Over the years, I’ve gone to teammates’ weddings and baby showers and supported them through some of the hardest moments of their lives. Our sports connection has provided me with community and a social support system. But it’s also given me much more: Women’s hockey has allowed me to escape my anxieties and let out my frustrations.
Transitioning is one of the hardest things I’ve ever faced in my life. The outlet of women’s hockey saved me.
In my experience, the anxieties that the vast majority of trans people feel are not based on regret, but rather on whether they will ever be accepted in their true identities. They also experience discrimination, harassment, poverty and challenges accessing transition-related medical treatment, as well as lacking a sense of affirmation. Today’s politics, in which our very identities are being targeted by malicious discourse and discriminatory legislation, have only made things worse.
“Four kids who aren’t dominating or winning trophies or taking scholarships. Four kids who are just trying to find some friends and feel like they are a part of something. Four kids trying to get through each day. Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few,” Cox said in his remarks last month. “I don’t understand what they are going through or why they feel the way they do. But I want them to live.”
People who oppose allowing trans girls and women to play on women and girls’ teams offer no realistic alternative. During the times I’ve competed against men since transitioning, I’ve been physically dominated in front of the net, and even tore my knee during one fight for the puck. And critics also leave out the fact that a lot of cisgender women are really, really good at sports: I’ve been playing hockey since I was 4 — it’s a huge part of my life. Yet, there are a number of players on my team who are larger and stronger than I am. I often have trouble keeping up with the much faster and more skilled women’s hockey talent I’ve played with and against.
I and other trans women would like to be the best we could be at the top levels of the sports we’ve spent our entire lives training for — that means competing with and against other dedicated women athletes. No athlete should be subjected to abuse from politicians, online trolls and international news outlets for competing in the sport they love. They should not have to feel as though they are letting down their community or being placed in a fishbowl of hate when they achieve a level of success.
The anti-trans invective against Thomas is offered as evidence that she, a person trying to battle gender dysphoria, is less than woman. This disgusting hate could send trans athletes down a dark emotional road that way too many have gone down in the past — a path of dejection and despair. I pray that this “debate” is only a flashpoint in time and that opportunities for trans athletes to find peace through sports — in the face of sometimes grueling life experiences — is not taken away.
More than anything, I want trans kids to be able — as I have — to find love and support through sports, even after their friends and family support dissolve off the field, court, pool or ice. I know that some trans people are staying in the closet and possibly contemplating suicide because of terrible, unfair laws being passed around the country. I pray they continue to live, and that things will one day get better.
If you are experiencing a suicidal crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741 to get help.
Opinion: I’m a transgender player in a women’s hockey league. And that’s exactly where I belong