Harrison Browne is sending a mixed message by playing women’s hockey

I must confess that I’m conflicted about Harrison Browne.

I’m delighted for him, because he’s begun to live his truth, but I’m mildly disappointed in him because he’s sending mixed signals by living only a portion of his truth.

For those of you who haven’t been formally introduced, Browne is a transgender male on the roster of the Metropolitan Riveters of the National Women’s Hockey League. Yes, he plays with the girls. Still. That’s why the question he most oft fields is this: If you identify as a man, why are you still playing women’s hockey?

“It’s either I continue playing a sport that I love, and be a professional athlete, or I start living as myself to everyone and start being who I am on the inside reflecting in the mirror,” he explains in the well-done TSN feature The Shift. “Both of those outcomes are so enticing to me, but I have to choose.”

He has chosen women’s hockey over testosterone hormone therapy and surgery.

“Hockey is everything to me,” he says.

“I feel that my message is more important now than ever and I feel that it’s more powerful as an active athlete. You might be thinking, ‘Will he ever physically transition?’ Yes, but not until I’m done spreading as much awareness as I can as an active athlete and as a pre-transition trans man.”

Therein lies my conflict.

Exactly what message is Browne sending about transgender individuals? That we’re confused? That we’re so messed up mentally that we don’t know who we are? I mean, he’s asking us to call him Harrison, not his birth name (or, to use a transgender term, his ‘dead’ name) Hailey, and he’s asking us to use male pronouns when referencing him. I get that. It’s hugely significant. It’s vital to most transgender people.

Harrison Browne

Two years ago, for example, one of my dearest friends asked if she could call me by my ‘dead’ name.

“Would you take offence?” she asked. “In no way would it be disrespectful.”

“Yes,” I told her, “I’m afraid I would be very offended. I would also be hurt.”

I haven’t seen or heard from her since, but losing friends and/or family is not uncommon for transgender individuals. It’s a price we sometimes pay, like it or not.

Anyway, Harrison is Harrison, and to call him anything else is a rejection, offensive and, depending on the person, the circumstance and the intent, it can be cruel and crippling. Trust me. Been there, had it done to me. It can hurt like hell.

Having said that, I have difficulty with Browne’s message because, by playing in the NWHL, he’s contradicting himself. He presents as a 24-year-old man (he looks like a teenage boy) in his everyday, walkabout life, but he chooses not to begin his physical transition. Taking testosterone would render him ineligible to play women’s hockey. Such an inconvenience. So, here’s how some might read his message: He wants to have it both ways.

Which invites criticism, cynicism and confusion from beyond the transgender sphere.

I’m going to play devil’s advocate here. Browne says once he takes his first shot of testosterone, hockey, which is his “everything,” is over. Well, no, it isn’t. Women’s hockey would be over, but there’s this thing called men’s leagues. I know, I know. He’s only 5-feet-4 and 120 pounds. So what? I was 5-feet-5, 128 pounds when I played in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, and I was only an inch taller and still 128 pounds when I participated in the Winnipeg Jets’ inaugural National Hockey League rookie camp. I was a sprig.

But, as I said, that’s the devil’s advocate in me saying those things.

I will emphasize this: There is no road map for transitioning. We all do it on our own clock and on our own terms. The last thing Harrison needs is for dozens of people, myself included, telling him how and when it’s supposed to be done. That’s why I’d never suggest that Browne is betraying some perceived transgender cause. It’s his call.

Still, he’s sending a very mixed message, and I’m not convinced that’s helpful in our cynical and skeptical world.

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