Imagine being trans– despised, disbelieved, disrespected, denied certain basic rights, rendered unemployable in many states and many fields. Got it? Great. Now imagine being trans in sports. A field completely focused on (and obsessed with) the body and in all its gendered specificity. Imagine realizing that all you wanted to do was be on the field, moving your body, being part of a team. Then imagine being hit with the same (probably even earlier) realization that to do make this dream come true, you’ll have to deny a huge part of who you are.
In a word: Oh shit.
This was the Caitlyn Jenner conundrum, as discussed by her in her first interview with Diane Sawyer in 2015. She talked about being divided by a need to compete, be accepted and celebrated as a world class athlete, and needing to express another, forbidden part of herself. Today, another groundbreaking athlete finds himself in the same position. Harrison Browne, a professional hockey player for the Buffalo Beauts, announced his impending retirement. As part of the women’s hockey team, he felt stifled and dissociative. Browne first came out this past October. When he retires after the season ends, he will begin hormone therapy.
The details are murky, since under the current NWHL rules, undergoing transition makes you ineligible to compete. Perhaps Browne’s decision is a comment on this rule, or perhaps born out of a desire to have some time off in which to peacefully transition. We don’t know yet. What we do know is that the first professional American athlete to come out as trans has decided to retire from the field only a few months after coming out. He’s going to do his part to help American sports culture become less binarized by serving on the NWHL inclusion board, and that’s something to celebrate. Overall, it’s a lot to chew on. We’re just hoping Browne can finally have some time to himself, not feeling torn between two worlds anymore. At 23, he’s looking at a long, interesting future ahead of him. He deserves to face that future with confidence and strength.