The Icebreaker

by | Jan 1, 2022 | 0 comments

On a chilly Friday afternoon in late November, hockey players began arriving at a quiet suburban house on the west side of Madison. They trickled in at first, greeted by piles of jerseys, rainbow tape, and a handful of people in matching t-shirts. The evening had first-day-of-college vibes as more players appeared, and were greeted with questions of, “What size T-shirt do you wear?” and “How was your drive?” Soon, players sat on every available surface in the kitchen and living room, chatter and laughter filling the house as if the event were a reunion rather than a check-in.

In a way, it was a reunion—a long-awaited one. After the first Friendship Series with Boston Pride Hockey in November of 2019, Team Trans was eager to take the ice with one another again. Thwarted by COVID in 2020, the team settled on November 2021 for a Friendship Series with the Madison Gay Hockey Association (MGHA). What started with 16 players in Boston who gathered for a hockey experience unlike any they’d ever had exploded to three teams worth of players converging in Madison.

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Madison may seem like a strange choice for the second Team Trans event—the Midwest isn’t always the most queer-friendly place. But Madison is home to the largest queer hockey association in the world. With nearly 200 players, including several from the inaugural Team Trans Friendship Series in Boston, and a strong community backing, Madison made sense as the next destination for Team Trans. The size of the league meant more opponents for Team Trans, which allowed for space for three teams of trans players at three different levels of ability. 

Months of spreadsheets, fundraising, and emails culminated in a weekend of trans joy, laughter, and love. The excitement was palpable as the weekend neared. News outlets reached out for interviews: podcasts, news segments, and stories. The NHL sent several cases of Pride Tape along with a donation and a video where a handful of players introduced themselves with their names and pronouns and wished Team Trans luck in our series. Scripted or not, hearing straight, cisgender NHL players say “my pronouns are…” was not something we were prepared to hear, and tears threatened as the team watched the video for the first time at Friday’s practice. The NHL knows who we are.

Breaking Barriers in Sport, Offering Support

Hockey is an overwhemingly white, straight, cisgender sport. Many trans hockey players hide who they are, struggle to find a place in the sport, or even leave the game in order to live authentically. Team Trans’ founders were tired of that. They wanted to create a space where people could play hockey without fearing their gender identities wouldn’t be welcome. What resulted was a team that has roots in gay hockey, but takes it a step further. Most queer hockey leagues around the world are inclusive leagues, centering LGBTQ players but welcoming almost anyone seeking to play inclusive hockey while working to further opportunities in the game for LGBTQ players. This environment is important and necessary for so many, but it can still make for an isolating situation for trans players.

Transgender people are so often othered in everyday life—in jobs, in sports, at home. Even in queer hockey leagues, they might be the only trans individual on a team, a situation that is starkly othering. Transphobia is not absent from the queer community, and even if the team is accepting, correct pronouns are often forgotten, and the locker room remains a daunting space.

Team Trans gives transgender hockey players a team to play with where every team member understands something about where others are coming from, and can relate intimately to their struggles and successes. Walking into the Team Trans locker room is like shedding a cloak players might not even realize they were bearing. Here, no one stared or snuck second glances at others’ bodies. Topics meandered through casual to personal with fluidity and candor. An ease settled over the players that translated into exceptional performance on the ice. Passes found sticks like these players had been skating with one another for seasons, not a single practice. Players leapt with joy when their teammates found the back of the net and the post-game hugs rivaled any championship celebration.

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The Madison Friendship Series was a weekend of joy and smiles, camaraderie and friendship. Never before have that many trans hockey players been together like that. Guards lowered and people were just able to exist as hockey players. No one questioned their gender or their right to take the ice. Pictures from the weekend show benches full of players confident in themselves and intent on the game. And it showed. All three teams skated away with victories: Six Team Trans wins in six competitive games.

Hockey is the backdrop, but the players are the lifeblood. Team Trans came together to play the sport we love, but we left with so much more than a handful of wins and sore muscles. We left with memories we’ll treasure forever, dozens of teammates we’re proud to call friends, and a drive to share this space with as many trans hockey players as we’re able to. Every hockey player deserves a home on the ice, and for so many, Team Trans laid that foundation in a way no hockey has before.


Reflections on the Team Trans Friendship Series

by Kriona Hagen

I have never experienced chemistry like this before. I met many of these humans for the first time that weekend, and we immediately became fast friends. How can you not when you’re talking with someone who understands and can relate to a huge part of your lived experience? There is a lot of social maneuvering and positioning that comes with being trans. There is a lot you need to do to make sure you’re safe—even in basic interactions, like at the grocery store. I don’t think a lot of cis people realize this. This weekend, I was in a locker room filled ENTIRELY with trans people, and all that maneuvering faded away. My teammates understand who I am. They understand the decades-long struggle I’ve had with my gender, because many of them have had the same (or similar) struggle. I didn’t need to explain it to them. I felt Seen—and if you know anything about me, you know that “being seen” is one of the things I crave most in this world.

My first year at WisCon 2019 came very close to this experience for me, especially with Charlie Jane Anders giving the footnote. But there is something about the environment of shared adversity that comes with playing hockey that made this weekend different.

I had never skated with this many trans people before. I had never seen this many trans people in one space before. For several years, I was the only trans woman in the MGHA. Growing up, I had no trans role models. When I came out, I knew no one like me. I didn’t know a single trans person. It was a very lonely experience. But this weekend, I was surrounded by people like me.

And you know what made this experience even more magical? That our off-the-ice connection translated into an on-ice chemistry that I’ve only ever gotten through years of playing with teammates before. It was immediate: first-game, first-period, and it was like we’d been teammates for years. Somebody asked how long we’d been playing together. Our response, “Uh, since yesterday,” was not the answer they were expecting.

We swept the series. Team Trans won all six games against the MGHA. And to do so over the Transgender Day of Remembrance is something I’m going to treasure for the rest of my life.

You hear a lot about how it’s awful to be a trans person. I follow the the Human Rights Campaign on social media, and I get regular notifications about people murdering people like me. TDOR is a solemn thing, it’s not a celebration. If you hear about a trans person doing well in sports, it’s probably because people are big mad about it. It’s not often that you get to witness—or be a part of—trans excellence.

I didn’t want this to end. And I realized, neither did my teammates. We loitered in the locker room long after our last game had ended, because we knew that leaving that locker room meant that we were leaving the magic behind. I want it back. I want to play in games like this every weekend. Instead, I’ll have to settle for the next friendship series, hopefully in a year; hopefully in Toronto. Fingers crossed.


Christian Swomley

I’ve spent time in locker rooms since I was two years old, that’s 34 years of my life, but who’s counting? I’ve been in every type of locker room imaginable, from the warming house where I learned how to skate, to community centers, youth sports facilities, highschool P.E. classes in three different high schools, ice rinks all over the country, intercollegiate sports venues, college campus ice rinks…the list goes on. They have been youth co-ed, women-only, men-only, adult co-ed, and all-gender, adult queer-friendly locker rooms. It wasn’t until this particular weekend that I ever experienced a trans-only locker room space. As I took in the moments of the weekend I realized why this experience felt so different. There was no judgment, there was only love, respect, and admiration for the unique journeys we each had been on. It felt safe. And I then realized that this was the first time that I had ever fully changed in any locker room setting, and I did it without needing to grab my pile of clothes and sneakily run to a stall. I felt safe.

Kells Martino

It was incredible to experience so much trans joy in one place. I’ve never felt anything like that before. The hockey was great, but the people made it unforgettable. I can’t wait to help Team Trans grow so more people can have this experience. 

Mason LeFebvre

I keep meeting people that I’ve barely spoken to or haven’t spoken to directly, and I feel like I already know them in a way, just because of the shared experiences that we’ve had in hockey spaces.

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