Harrison Browne playing for the Metropolitan Riveters in 2017. Browne was the first openly transgender male athlete to play for a professional hockey sports team.
Photo Credit: BDZ Sports

It takes a lot of courage to be one’s authentic self, and even more so when in the public eye. Harrison Browne, a two-time winner of the Isobel Cup Championship and the first openly transgender male athlete to play for a professional hockey team, has laid a strong foundation for LGBT acceptance in sports. In a letter to the readers and staff of The Ice Garden, Browne said, “I’m making official what has been part of my life for years now. I’m Harrison. I’m a ‘he.’ As in ‘Harrison Browne made a good pass for the primary assist on that goal by the Beauts.’ Or ‘He really lost his check on that one,’ haha.” Browne played for the Buffalo Beauts of the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) at the time of his coming out. He later moved on to play for the Metropolitan Riveters in the Centerman position before retiring to medically transition. “I am interested in coming out in the league as transgender. I will not be legally changing my name or beginning a physical transition until after I conclude my career in the NWHL. I will be playing in the exact condition that I did last season, just under a new name while using male pronouns. I would feel most comfortable being addressed via the media, roster, during games, and any PR as Harrison Browne versus Hailey Browne along with using all male pronouns versus female pronouns,” he said.

When Browne came out, he seemed almost apologetic as he reassured his fans that, “I’m still the same player, I’m still playing in the body that I did last year, I’m still the same exact person. I’m just a different name and different pronouns, that’s it. I’m still Brownie [referring to a nickname],” he told ESPNW.Browne announced his retirement from professional hockey on April 30, 2018. “I didn’t retire [earlier] because I was done with the sport, my body still had a lot more to give. But I was more interested in physically transitioning at that time in my life, so I thought that I had to say goodbye to the sport and leave that behind,” Browne told IN Magazine, a Canadian publication. Though retired, Browne remains an icon for the LGBT community, NWHL, and women’s hockey.

Chris Mosier is a triathlete, duathlete, and the first transgender male athlete to compete for the USA, qualifying for the World Duathlon Championships in 2016 at the Aviles, Spain Olympics. Mosier was restricted on many fronts during his transition. From inaccessible locker rooms to restrooms that were blocked due to the HB2 Law, a North Carolina law passed in March 2016 as an amendment to forestall any anti-discriminatory measures passed by locals which suggests that public facilities and schools with gender binary restrooms are only allowed to be used by people who identify with the corresponding biological sexes. “Triathlon is a body-conscious sport,” Mosier told the Rolling Stone, “… I was upset with breasts. I worked so hard to have my body look and compete the way I wanted it to. But I didn’t have the flat chest and a six-pack that I thought I would. My body didn’t betray me—but my body did disappoint me.”

Mosier began his transition in 2010. He started testosterone treatments, altering his legal documents and participating in the men’s division in competitions. “It wasn’t easy, but it finally felt right,” he said. Mosier’s transition was a catalyst for local change, including the rule created by the International Olympic Commission (IOC) that allowed transgender athletes who had undergone hormone therapy for one year and were able to pass Therapeutic Use Exemption tests (TUE) to compete unbarred.

For some, gender can be difficult to define and discuss. The Oregon High Schools Activities Association (OSAA) Handbook outlines a clear definition of key terms when discussing gender inclusivity and identity. According to OSAA, “transgender refers to an individual whose gender identity does not match his or her [their] assigned [sex at birth]. Gender identity refers to one’s deeply felt inner concept of self as male or female. Transition refers to the process by which a transgender person lives consistently with his, her, [or their] gender identity.” However, these definitions reflect an outdated definition of what gender actually means, i.e. gender indicates a range of identities that do not necessarily correspond with the binary of male and female. The OSAA aims to provide fair, inclusive competition for all people, while also eradicating the advantages and disadvantages for all divisions of athletics.

The OSAA policy on female-to-male transgender student participation is fairly succinct. A student who is not receiving hormone treatment is allowed to play for male and female teams, while a student who is receiving prescribed testosterone, which is often used as a performance enhancer, may only play on a male sports team.

The policy on male‐to‐female transgender student participation is as follows: “a male‐to‐female transgender student who is not taking hormone treatment related to gender transition may participate only on a boys’ team, unless the Executive Director and OSAA Chief Medical Advisor determine that treatment is unnecessary in order to create a fair, safe, and competitive environment for students in that sport or activity. A male‐to‐female  transgender  student  who  is  taking  medically‐prescribed  hormone  treatment  for  the  purposes of gender transition may participate on a boys’ team at any time, but must complete one year of hormone treatment related to gender  transition before competing on a girls’ team, unless the Executive Director and OSAA Chief Medical Advisor determine that the treatment is unnecessary in order to create a fair, safe, and competitive environment for students in that sport or activity.”

The OSAA also includes a guideline forcing all transgender students into the division of their choice for the length of their high school career, and ensure that “all discussions among involved parties and required written supporting documentation shall be kept confidential, and the proceedings will be sealed, unless the student and family authorize release.”

Because of these guidelines, being a trans-student-athlete can be trying at times, but an anonymous private school student offers positive light following their transition. “Coming out this year has been great, because [I]’m no longer spending so much time and energy thinking, and worrying about this specific piece of my identity without anybody knowing. While I still think and worry about it a lot, it’s no longer as internal and I have people around me who know and can support me without the concern of other people finding out. It’s just taken a huge weight off my mind,” he said. Many trans athletes are able to find allies and necessary support from their team and administration. “My teammates were all wonderful in using the right name and pronouns immediately, and being completely open and accepting of my continuing to be on the team after coming out. The administrators and teachers at my school have also been incredible in supporting me through everything, changing my name in the systems, and generally being welcoming and open with anything and everything.”

A common question posed toward trans-student-athletes is their future position on their school’s sports teams. “I think a lot of people at school were confused as to why I would want to keep playing soccer in the girls’ team since I’m a trans guy. It was for a variety of reasons, but it’s all due to the fact that my teacher showed the article about Harrison Browne’s coming out in class during my sophomore year that I even felt like it was a possibility to be an out trans person, and play the sport that I loved with the people that I loved at the same time,” he said.

The main challenge posed to this student revolved around locker assignments. “I didn’t have a locker room or bathroom in the gym to be able to change or keep my stuff in since I didn’t feel comfortable in either the boys’ or girls’ locker rooms and there are no all-gender spaces in the building, and… playing with the girls meant everybody who wasn’t from my school or who didn’t know I was trans would just continue to see me as a girl. It was for this reason that I ended up quitting club soccer and just finished out my senior year high school season before ending my run as a competitive player.”

However, when confronted with prejudice, this student takes it with a grain of salt. “When I was younger I was always a ‘tomboy,’ and followed everything my brother did. [I] took my shirt off when I was playing outside in the summer, and generally wore ‘boys’ clothes almost all the time. There was one girl who was in my friend group in elementary school who was really mean to me and essentially bullied me in a variety of ways but especially used to tease me about what I wore and how I acted. Sometimes she would just say: ‘You’re a boy. You’re not a girl, you’re a boy,’ in a mean tone of voice. Joke’s on her, [because] I came out as one 7 or 8 years later.”