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

patti dawn swansson

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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Captain Canada (Caroline Ouellette), Captain America (Julie Chu) and baby Liv makes it a forward line

First of all, the birth of Liv Chu-Ouellette is a beautiful story that should be celebrated.

Little Liv, who arrived on Nov. 5, is healthy and her parents are full of joy. Nothing else should really matter.

Except, in this case, there’s a delightful sidebar. Like, Liv has two moms, and they’re both very good at hockey. One, Caroline Ouellette, captained Canada during its gold-medal crusade at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, and her other mom, Julie Chu, is a former captain of the United States national women’s team who was wearing the Stars ‘n’ Stripes in Russia.

Julie Chu, left, Caroline Ouellette and baby Liv.

That’s right, little Liv’s moms are Captain Canada and Captain America.

Although they’ve butted heads for many years on the international stage—one getting the upper hand at the Olympics and the other at the world championships—both moms are teammates with Les Canadiennes de Montreal in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (Ouellette was preggers with Liv when they won the Clarkson Cup last spring) and both coach the Stingers at Concordia University.

Let us not, however, think of this strictly as a feel-good sports story. It’s a life story, first and foremost, with a hockey backdrop.

The fact we’re discussing and celebrating the birth of a daughter to a same-sex couple is another noteworthy testament to the progress the LGBT collective has made and, even though many people (mainly gospel sharks) pooh-pooh the notion that same-sex parents can raise children properly, evidence from numerous studies endorsed by the American Psychological Association suggest that kids of lesbian couples are as well-adjusted in most critical social areas as their heterosexual peers. Eve and Eve works just as well as Adam and Eve.

Among other things, here’s what the APA has stated:

  • There is no scientific basis for concluding that lesbian mothers or gay fathers are unfit parents on the basis of their sexual orientation (Armest, 2002; Patterson, 2000; Tasker & Golombok, 1997); On the contrary, results of research suggest that lesbian and gay parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide supportive and healthy environments for their children.
  • Overall, results of research suggest that the development, adjustment, and well-being of children with lesbian and gay parents do not differ markedly from that of children with heterosexual parents.
  • Research has shown that the adjustment, development, and psychological well-being of children is unrelated to parental sexual orientation and that the children of lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those of heterosexual parents to flourish (Patterson, 2004; Perrin, 2002; Stacey & Biblarz, 2001).

So there’s that.

This is also another example of the deep chasm that exists between women’s and men’s sports vis-a-vis gays. While any gay male skating in the National Hockey League today remains deeply closeted, two of the world’s premier gay female players are out, proud and having babies, happily presenting daughter Liv to followers on an Instagram account.

I think we know what would happen if the respective captains of the Canadian and American men’s entries at the Sochi Olympics—Sidney Crosby and Zach Parise—posted a pic of themselves with their new-born on Instagram or Twitter. That’s right, the Internet would break. And all the king’s horses and all the king’s men and not even Donald Trump could put it back together again.

At a time when horror stories of sexual harassment and the ongoing hissing contest between two men with nuclear weapons are prevalent, feel-good tales with happily-ever-after endings seem scarce. Caroline Ouellette, Julie Chu and baby Liv have given us one.

Bless them.


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Robbie Rogers was no Pied Piper for gay male athletes, so what now?

Under ordinary circumstances, the retirement of a physically broken-down defender who never set foot or wonky ankle on the pitch this season would be filed under ho-hum.

The thing is, Robbie Rogers wasn’t your ordinary soccer player.

Robbie Rogers

He was gay, out and proud, the sole openly gay man among the approximately 4,350 athletes listed on the 145 rosters that represent five major men’s professional sports organizations in North America. One in 4,350. So, yes, Rogers’ retreat from the LA Galaxy and Major League Soccer this week warranted more than a line or two among the transactions noted on the agate page of a newspaper’s sports section.

But what did we learn from Rogers’ time as an out athlete in MLS, and what does his departure mean in the grand scheme of things? What does it tell us?

Well, on the positive side of the ledger, Rogers’ tour of duty in Los Angeles became a myth-busting exercise, in that the notion that a professional men’s team could not achieve success with a gay man in the lineup was laid bare as a misguided and completely false narrative. The Galaxy, with Rogers an every-day contributor, won the MLS Cup in 2014.

But we also know that Rogers was no Pied Piper.

Since he came out in 2013, only two other openly gay men have surfaced—Michael Sam and Jason Collins. Neither lasted much longer than a hiccup. Sam was on the field for the grand sum of 12 plays with Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, while Collins finished the dog-eared days of a 13-season NBA career with the Brooklyn Nets.

At its basic, most-simplistic level, Rogers’ retirement means there are now zero openly gay men among the approximately 4,350 performing in the National Hockey League, National Football League, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and MLS. Zero.

There are, no doubt, gay men in all five leagues, but they remain closeted. And that’s what Rogers’ retirement confirms for us—homosexuality in professional sports remains strictly a male issue.

Women don’t have that gay hangup.

Amanda Clifton and Elena Delle Donne: I do.

You’ll find open lesbians in the Women’s National Basketball Association (Elena Delle Donne of the Washington Mystics married Amanda Clifton last week); in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League; in the National Women’s Hockey League; in the National Women’s Soccer League (Megan Rapinoe of the Seattle Storm is dating WNBA veteran Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm); and at the Olympic Games. And it extends beyond team sports. There are out lesbians on the pro golf and tennis tours. There have been for decades, dating back to Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova and beyond.

Here’s what LPGA tour pro Christina Kim says about lesbians in her 2010 book Swinging From My Heels:

“Because there’s never been an honest, open discussion about lesbianism on tour, it has become a source of fascination among many golf fans and especially male reporters who have only heard various rumors and innuendo. Contrary to what many people think, we are not the Lesbians Playing Golf Association. By my count there are no more than two dozen gay women playing the tour right now. Considering there are 230 active members, you’re only talking about 10 per cent of the players, which from everything I’ve read is in line with the population as a whole.

“To every player I know, the issue is just not that big a deal. There are no super-freaky homophobes out here or militant man-haters. At most, a player’s sexuality may be an occasional practice-round conversation piece: ‘Hey, did you hear that so-and-so likes girls?’ ‘Really? Huh. So, did you hit an 8-iron or a 9?’ ”

Men’s sports, with their culture of machismo and misogyny, can’t get to where the women have been for more than 40 years. Often, the male jock’s go-to taunt for an opponent is a gay slur. Still. In 2017.

“My only regret in my 11-year career are the years I spent in the closet,” Rogers said in his parting comments on Instagram. “I wish I could have found the courage that so many young individuals have shared with me in the past five years to live honestly and openly as a gay person.

“To all the women and men who are still frightened to share their truth with the world, I’d encourage you to come out.”

Should we care if athletes in the five major men’s team sports leagues come out in numbers? Absolutely. We should all feel comfortable in our own skin, and it shouldn’t matter with whom we share our bedrooms.

The playing fields of North America (male division) remain anti-gay, despite Robbie Rogers’ and the LA Galaxy’s best intentions, and that’s not only wrong, it’s shameful.


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Two dozen reasons to give thanks on Thanksgiving Day

Am I thankful on this Canadian Thanksgiving Day? Absolutely, and let me count two dozen ways…

  • I’m thankful that I’m not a roasted turkey on a dinner table with someone holding a large knife standing over me.

  • Speaking of turkeys, I’m thankful that the folks down south have Donald Trump and we don’t.

  • Thich Nhat Hanh

    I’m thankful that Thich Nhat Hanh has written so many wonderful books.

  • I’m thankful that I’ve heard Alison Krauss’s voice.

  • I’m thankful for the mountains that greet me each morning when I raise my window blinds.

  • I’m thankful that it’s safe for two women in love to stroll down the street in my city, hand in hand or arm in arm, and it’s perfectly acceptable.

  • I’ll be even more thankful when the day arrives that my gay male friends can do the same thing.

  • I’m thankful that someone thought it would be a swell idea to put pineapple on pizza, because I want a medium Hawaiian with extra cheese to be my last meal.

  • I’m thankful for subsidized housing for seniors, otherwise I might be on the street.

  • I’m thankful for management and staff at Bart’s Pub and the Taphouse on Yates, because they have always treated me with kindness, warmth and respect.

  • I’m thankful for Mike the cabbie and John for the giggles they give me each time they sit with me at Bart’s.

  • I’m thankful for Ashley, an unexpected and precious gift of a young lady who came into my life late and brought a special joy.

  • Wilma Rudolph

    I’m thankful that I got to watch Rafael Nadal and Bjorn Borg play tennis, Wilma Rudolph run, Secretariat run, Gale Sayers run with a football, Sandy Koufax throw a baseball, Bobby Orr play hockey and Tiger Woods strike a golf ball.

  • I’m thankful for my dearest friends in Victoria, especially Cullen, Terry, Lucy, Brian, Sean and Bruce, who have always been there, and Beverley and Davey in Winnipeg.

  • I’m thankful for my squadron of doctors, who keep an eye on my wonky kidneys.

  • I’m thankful for Jane and Mariola, whose warm smiles and continued kindness make my fear of needles disappear whenever I visit their lab.

  • I’m thankful for the angel who visits me and keeps me safe.

  • I’ll be more thankful when she tells me that my niece Darcia is safe.

  • I’m thankful that my brother Mick came back into my life.

  • The Beatles

    I’m thankful that John, Paul, George and Ringo decided to make music together.

  • I’m thankful that there’s a roof over my head, clothing on my back and food in my fridge.

  • I’m thankful I don’t drive a car anymore. It’s dangerous out there.

  • I’m thankful for Terry, Helina and Attila at Paparazzi Nightclub in Victoria for hiring me when no one else would.

  • I’m thankful that the good in life still outweighs the evil, even though you wouldn’t think it by reading and watching the news some days.


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About the Curling Whisperer, Moosie Turnbull…mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa from Cam Newton and Jourdan Rodrigue…letting women-beaters into the CFL…and Kitty Cait is sorry, too…

Random thoughts before the candle goes out and the sun comes up…

Canada didn’t invent curling. That’s down to the wee Scots. But we acted as if the game was ours, winning 12 of the first 14 men’s world championships.

Then Ray Turnbull had to go and stick his long, thin nose into other people’s business.

Moosie Turnbull

Our Moosie couldn’t leave well enough alone. No sir. He just had to take his Manitoba tuck delivery and show it off for all the world to see. Next thing you know, the Swedes, Swiss, Norwegians and Americans were kicking our hoser butts. Most years they still do on the women’s side.

And that’s the legacy Turnbull leaves behind. He was the Curling Whisperer.

Moosie, who surrendered to cancer at age 78 on Friday, has a resume that few, if any, can parallel. Yet it isn’t his Brier title and silver medal at the worlds in 1965, nor his tutorials to curling-curious nations around the globe, nor his 25 years beside Vic Rauter and Linda Moore in the TSN broadcast booth that I’ll remember most about Turnbull. It’s the person. He was a big, lovely man, full of enthusiasm.

Whenever I saw Moosie at the Brier, the Scotties, a women’s or men’s world tournament, or his home hangout, the Granite Curling Club at One Granite Way in Winnipeg, he was always quick with a warm greeting, a smile and a story. Moosie talked curling like Donald Trump talks about himself. All. The. Time. But it never got boring.

I last saw Moosie at a Brier in Calgary. I was writing for the Tankard Times and we had occasion to chat after one of the bleary-eyed, early-morning draws. Among other things, we discussed his ’65 Brier win with Bronco Braunstein’s outfit, which included the legendary Don Duguid and Ron Braunstein.

Unfortunately,” said Moosie, who threw lead stones, “we fell short at the world championships that year. We lost to Bud Somerville and his U.S. team in Perth, Scotland. I guess that’s the one regret.”

A single regret. I’d say that’s a curling life well lived. So long, Moosie.

Cam Newton

Apologies, which we’ve all been required to make, are wonderful when not forced or scripted, and most mea culpas you hear from professional athletes are exactly that—forced and scripted. Which, of course, lends itself to skepticism re sincerity. Cam Newton certainly sounded sincere when he delivered a mea culpa to women the world over for his dumb-ass remark about how damn “funny” it is to hear a “female” discuss receiver routes in football. “Don’t be like me, be better than me,” he said, scant hours after Dannon had advised the Carolina Panthers quarterback that he wouldn’t be pitching their Oikos yogurt anymore. Okay, Cam is sorry. Except that doesn’t put his genie back in the bottle. He said what he said about women. Just a bunch of airheads. Can’t scrub that stain away.

On the matter of ugly stains, it turns out that the target of Newton’s objectionable conduct, Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer, is, if not a raging racist, a big fan of racism. She sent out some truly disgusting tweets while in college, one of which was a salute to her dad for being “super racist as we pass through Navajo land.” Someone else, perhaps her dad, was “the best. Racist jokes the whole drive home.” And there was something about fast car driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. being a “bitch nigga.” Naturally, Rodrigue is “deeply sorry.” Probably not as sorry as she will be when the Observer hauls her tush off the football beat. I mean, the newspaper has no choice, right? It cannot possibly keep her on the Panthers beat when the great majority of the people she interacts with are black men. Her cred is totally shot.

Since apologies seem to be vogue, I’d like to take this opportunity to say “I’m sorry” for everything I’ve ever written.

Johnny Manziel

I take no issue with jock journalists sprinkling their copy with political commentary, but some scribes absolutely should stick to sports. Take Steve Simmons of Postmedia as an e.g. Last October, he wrote this: “Ray Rice lost his career to domestic violence. Shouldn’t (New York) Giants kicker Josh Brown have lost his already for similar reasons without video?” Yet here was Simmons just last month, writing about Johnny Manziel coming to the Canadian Football League: “Personally, I think the CFL is stronger, maybe more fun, possibly more fan-appealing, with Manziel playing or trying to play the Canadian game.” So, there should be no room in the game for men like Rice and Brown, both of whom have physically abused women, but let’s all open our arms to Manziel because it’ll be so much “more fun” having a woman-beater on a CFL roster. Earth to Simmons! Manziel twice beat up his former girlfriend and landed in court because of it. He threatened to kill her. She was granted a protection order that remains in effect. Manziel is cut from the same bolt of cloth as Rice and Brown. If they don’t belong (and they surely do not), neither does he.

Well, look who’s having herself a hissy fit. Why, it’s none other than Caitlyn Jenner, who, once upon a time, starred in a reality TV show that was a self-homage and a transgender train wreck. A very dense Kitty Cait, much to the astonishment and dismay or her hand-picked, paid trans posse, used her I Am Cait platform to assure us that Donald Trump, if elected president of the United States, would be very good for women and the LGBT community. So she voted for him. And now? Anti-trans Trump and his anti-trans sidekick, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, are “a disgrace.” Kitty Cait is absolutely shocked that the Transphobe-in-Chief continues to roll out an anti-transgender agenda. Like, helloooo. Anybody home, Cait? You really didn’t see this coming? Total ditz.

Kitty Cait cruising in her Austin-Healey and Trump cap.

Kitty Cait spent part of her summer sucking up to the transgender community. Seems she had a wardrobe malfunction, whereby she mistakenly (as if) wore a Trump Make America Great Again cap on a coffee run and, somewhere between Starbucks and the Malibu mansion, the paparazzi spotted her cruising in her Austin-Healey convertible (do all trans women drive those?). Click went the cameras. Not a good optic when the president and cronies are attacking the T in LGBT. She’s made a vow to never again leave home wearing her MAGA ball cap. Never, never, never. She even threatened to toss the thing into the dust bin. She has not, however, promised to do the same thing with Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

While reading about Kitty Cait’s great ball cap flap, I recalled her once telling a reporter that “the hardest part about being a woman is figuring out what to wear.” Ya, it must be such a hassle deciding between a Trump hat and something that might have a touch of class.

Just wondering: Has anyone on CNN ever said something positive about Donald Trump? I’m not a Trumpite. I think he’s quite the buffoon. A dangerous buffoon. But, really, the constant trashing can be overbearing. I suppose that’s why we have buttons on our remotes, though.

Brief review of the season’s second episode of Will & Grace: Not as good as the premiere. Not even close. I must make a point of asking my gay male friends if they find the show humorous.