Vancouver Canucks welcome trans hockey goalie
Cory Oskam took the ice with his favorite player, Cory Schneider
Like many young athletes, my child found themselves through sport. As an elite-level couch potato the idea of becoming a hockey mom was low on my wish list, but there was no doubt that my child had crazy skill and a passion for hockey that was undeniable.
Cory began playing hockey at age 4, as a girl. Identified at birth as female, Cory was able to find himself and totally be himself hidden under hockey gear, moving up the ranks of girl's hockey to a high level. We knew from a young age that Cory was not like other girls, even at the butch end of the spectrum Cory identified as more male than female and it was clear that Cory was transgender/genderqueer and would be happiest if he transitioned to male. Luckily Cory has been on hormone blockers since age 10 so he didn't go through female puberty and didn't have to deal with the challenges that would impose.
In our inevitable exploration of what transitioning to male would entail, Cory shared with us his ‘deal breaker.'
"I won't do it if I can't play hockey," he told us. "Hockey is my life."
As a parent, particularly the parent of a queer or transgender kid, you want nothing more than for you kid to be happy and safe. So signing up for boy's hockey did not exactly fit that criterion.
Like most superheroes who need to adopt a new identity, we registered for boy's hockey in a city just outside ours, about a 30-minute drive, where no one knew Cory. A Trans 101 class was needed for the minor hockey association's leaders and coaches. Integral to our plan was that Cory be considered male and treated like any other boy in the locker room and on the ice. With the incredible help of Gender Spectrum, Helen Carol from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and our amazing endocrinology team at BC Children's Hospital, I put on my "don't mess with me" mom-armor and convinced the hockey association to accept Cory on the team and keep his transgender status private with the exception of one coach and the association president.
Sending your then 14 year old transgender son into a locker room of 15-18 year old boys with minimal adult supervision is not for the faint of heart. Cory had not yet started hormones, and in many ways I still saw him as my daughter. Protecting him from testosterone-riddled competitive boys was one thing, but keeping his trans status private became another challenge. Girl's hockey in our neck of the woods, especially when you are good, is a tight community. I frequently had to shuffle Cory out of the building before one of his former girls teams saw him and ‘outed' him in front of his team.
His year of going stealth was a huge success. He played like a star, loved by his team, and knew he could transition to male and still play the sport he loved. In the next two years he was even drafted onto a rep team and gained confidence, maturity and serious hockey smarts.
Needless to say, I feel like I spent much of that first year holding my breath and bracing myself for catastrophe. In my networking with other parents of trans and gender non-conforming kids, this feeling is not uncommon. But it does explain why so many parents of trans kids don't register for organized sports. It's too nerve-wracking.
Cory's coming out story was the thing of Hollywood stories. After the NHL lockout a few years ago, on his 16th birthday, I got him tickets to the Vancouver Canucks game. At most games the pregame skate involves young players from local hockey associations, usually aged 6-12. Taking a chance I called the Canucks and asked if Cory could skate that night with the Canucks, if that had not yet chosen the young player. I left a longwinded message about how much Cory loved hockey and how he has chosen his new name after his favorite player, then-Canucks goaltender Cory Schneider. It worked. And the Canucks wrote about the trans kid on the ice with the Canucks.
No more "stealth" for Cory.
The next year Cory got a tattoo on his calf with a huge trans symbol and a rainbow flag. Go big or go home. Out, queer, trans, proud, and a damn good hockey player changing the game.
So this year when Cory was drafted by the same coaches that started with him that first year, with many of his old teammates returning too, it was a signal that I could exhale. Not only was Cory accepted, he was embraced...and drafted.
The icing on the cake was at Monday night's game. A 1-0 loss for his team, Cory stood on his head and kept them in it, making important save after important save. His teammates awarded him the MVP award, applauding him in the dressing room, thanking him for keeping them in the game.
They awarded him the MVP award for their team...a Superman cape. The MVP must wear the cape out of the arena that game and into the arena at the next game. I embarrassed him thoroughly by taking pictures as he loaded his bag into the car.
I can't explain how deeply tickled I am by the Superman cape. Perhaps it's because I've spent countless Halloweens outfitting my then-daughter in Batman, Harry Potter and Hulk costumes. It's like the ultimate acceptance of my amazing son.
True acceptance from his team, embraced by his sport.