I don’t usually cry after hockey.
It’s not unheard of - sometimes a bad game just really gets to you - but it’s not common.
So when I sat down, alone in a rink lobby in Boston and cried, it was weird for a few reasons. Notably, it was the first time I can ever remember crying happy tears after a game, and especially after giving up eight goals. I had just played my second game with a new-found family, a group of players I’d never dreamed of playing with until only a month earlier.
When I was in elementary school and my extended family all went to a UNH Wildcats game, I was introduced to the sport that would come to define my life.
At the start, I wanted to learn to skate so I could be Wild E. Cat, the team mascot. By the time I left elementary school, I was playing goalie and talking about joining a travel team the following year.
I always loved playing travel hockey, and it was nice to have friends from other towns I wouldn’t have met otherwise. My weekends were spent on the road, reading to my dad from the passenger seat, eating my goalie partner’s grape Skittles in the back seat behind our dads, and learning to swallow pills for the first time because I didn’t have my usual liquid ibuprofen in my bag to get rid of my headache minutes before a game.
There was one thing that was notable, to me, that I didn’t like about girls hockey. Every team had to have “lady” in its name. My first travel team was the Lady Monarchs. The second was the Lady Freeze. I played against the Lady Cyclones, whose jerseys had pink stripes in addition to the red and black worn by the boys’ Cyclones teams.
Something about that always rubbed me the wrong way, but I didn’t know why. I assumed maybe it was because I didn’t like us being put in a different category - and I didn’t. I love, for example, the Professional Hockey Federation’s new name, because they’re incredible athletes who happen to be women, not incredible women athletes.
But there was more there for me, specifically, that I didn’t realize.
I struggled a lot with body image issues in high school. It was a rough place to be as a “tomboy” who got asked if I was even wearing a bra at school, who hated the school rule “no hats on in the building” because I couldn’t hide my face under the brim. Even when I got to college, I had a panic attack and skipped class once because I couldn’t find my hat.
Somewhere along the way I realized what was up, but other than cutting my hair and sharing my truth with my then-boyfriend, I kept it to myself.
The catalyst for change came when I moved into my first apartment. My first morning there, I woke up to find my dad watching the news about the Pulse shooting that had happened the previous night. A month later, I came out.
And the world didn’t end. In fact, an entire new one had opened up right in front of me.
Three years later, post top surgery and on hormones I had a small social media presence, specifically on Instagram. And I mean small, a couple hundred, but I followed and was followed by other LGBTQ+ hockey players. One day a goalie followed me, followed by a DM asking if I had heard of Team Trans, a new team that was going to be playing in Boston a month later.
Team Trans is believed to be the first all-transgender hockey team, and the second such team of any sport in the world. We’d heard we would have some reporters there, even that one was from the New York Times, but I don’t think any of us really knew quite what was going to come of the weekend; We just wanted to play hockey with people like us.
Others had also felt the discomfort of a jersey with “lady” emblasoned across the chest, or quit hockey because of the anti-queer slurs that can be so commonplace in a hockey locker room. In the end, the splash we made was a great step forward for trans athletes, and it’s not hard to talk about.
What is hard to talk about is what was going through my mind on that bench in Boston after the game, sitting in a rink I’d only stepped in for the first time two days ago, that I suddenly didn’t ever want to leave.
Have you ever been to a live concert for your favorite band? And when you leave, you want to listen to their music, but some of the songs you just heard don’t sound as good while the live version is so fresh in your mind, and time has to dull the memory and emotion before you can jam out the same way you used to?
That was what Team Trans did to hockey, for me. I love my teammates back home and I always had a blast playing with them, but going back to that group and that ice was... disappointing. Lacking. Something was missing.
I was supposed to get my missing piece with another Team Trans game back in April of 2020, but we know how that turned out. So, two years and 11 days after I met my Team Trans teammates for the first time, I’ll finally be stepping back on the ice in my bright blue and pink jersey, surrounded by more of the same.
My blood relatives are family, and I love them dearly, but this “family reunion” has been far too long in the making. Only a handful of players from that 16-player Boston team will be in Madison, but we have more than 40 new players on our three-team roster, and I can’t wait for them to experience the thrill of this family, too.
I hope you’ll join us at the Capitol Ice Arena, Middleton, Wisc. The schedule:
Novice Game: 1:30pm
Intermediate Game: 2:45pm
Advanced Game: 4:30pm
Novice Game: 10:10am
Intermediate Game: 11:20am
Advanced Game: 12:30pm