It may seem unusual for a professional hockey player to pursue acting. But for trailblazing trans athlete Harrison Browne, it is the perfect fit.
Browne hung up his skates in April 2018 after winning his second straight championship in the National Women’s Hockey League. Browne first announced his retirement and plans to complete his transition the previous year, but decided to return for one more season, playing for the Metropolitan Riveters.
As the first out transgender man in professional team sports, Browne’s final season was about more than hockey. He decided to dive head-first into all aspects of advocacy, participating in Pride parades and attending LGBTQ conferences. In other words, Browne was telling his story, which is the essence of acting.
“I do a lot of storytelling,” Browne told Outsports in a recent phone conversation. “I do a lot of storytelling on my social media. I do my pubic speaking endeavors. Any interview I do is basically storytelling. So I thought that would align with acting. I memorize my lines for my speeches, so I thought, ‘Why don’t I just give acting a chance, because I have a lot of things that are parallel with it?’ So I enrolled in an acting class after that, and the rest is history.”
Browne moved back to Toronto, his hometown, shortly after his playing days had ended. He took his first acting class last April and starting performing full-time in August. At the end of this month, Browne will star in an LGBTQ-themed play, “A Nice Day In The Park,” where he plays a young transgender man who works for an AIDS service organization. Browne’s character, “Tester,” falls for the founder of the organization, an older cisgender gay man. The play examines the complex social dynamics between trans and cis men.
Growing up, Browne says he wasn’t even aware of the term “transgender” until he was 14 years old. While openly gay characters were commonplace on television in the mid-aughts, it was rare to see any acknowledgment of the trans experience in mainstream pop culture. That’s beginning to change, with shows like “Pose” and trans actors such as Elliot Fletcher, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Browne says he wants to bring the full trans experience onto the stage with him, in order to show other young trans kids it is possible to live a complete life.
“When I heard the term ‘transgender,’ I instantly felt less alone,” Browne said. “I think now, transgender people, and the term ‘transgender,’ are in the media more than ever. But it’s important that the stories are told genuinely. A little while ago, maybe five or 10 years ago, all of the characters that were transgender, (their stories) mostly centered around the fact they were transgender, and showed them as people going through hormones, or going through surgery. It didn’t really go into detail about their lives. You didn’t really see them as people. You saw them more as caricatures
“So I think now, and in the future — I see it happening, and it’s great — to see characters and to see transgender people as just people who happen to be transgender. They have a story arc, they have relationships, they’re very complex, they’re more 3D. That’s definitely what I want to see in the future.”
As someone who’s lived the trans experience himself, Browne understands the importance of representation. That’s why he’s very public about his transition, posting regular updates on his highly popular YouTube channel and Twitter account.
He wants trans kids to feel less alone.
Life update: I cut myself shaving for the first time and I’m actually very happy about it lol. Feels like a sort of rite of passage for me.— Harrison Browne (@Hbrowne24) February 10, 2020
But also if anyone has tips for taming those scraggly jawline hairs... help a brother out. pic.twitter.com/xObWG3v6Ui
“For me, it was important to see what a future would look like,” he said. “When I was 14 years old and I was just figured out what the term ‘transgender’ was, I didn’t know what that future looked like. I used to research on the Internet. Instagram wasn’t there, but YouTube was there, and I would find trans men who talked about their journey, and they would talk about what their bodies would look like or what they were going through mentally and physically. That was really impactful for me and really great for me. You could actually see it. So for me, sharing things about my transition physically and mentally is a way to give back to that, and to have any kid looking and wondering what a future of theirs could look like.”
As an actor, of course, you must be prepared to take on all different kinds of roles. In a Canadian film due out next month, Browne plays a closeted teenage cisgender gay boy who gets relentlessly bullied at school and harassed by his religious father. The movie, “Peter and the Rabbit,” focuses on mental health and the importance of sharing your struggle with others. It’s Browne’s first feature film.
Though Browne appreciates the importance of playing trans characters, he says it’s validating to be selected for cis roles.
“‘Passing’ is not the be-all and end-all, but for me, to be able to pass in society is reassuring to me to know I am going out for these roles, I am landing these roles as a cisperson, and there are no questions asked,” Browne said. “So that’s pretty validating for me. I like telling different types of stories.”