Trans ice hockey: 'Out on the ice your gender means nothing'

Team Trans Image copyright Mark Sommerfeld

"Once you're out on the ice and everyone's got the gear on - the padding and protection - your gender or sexuality means nothing at all."

Last month, this ice hockey team lost both the games they played in an LGBT tournament in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

But for the players on Team Trans, it was a victory.

They are believed to be the first ever ice hockey team to have all its members be transgender.

At the time, the New York Times suggested they could be the first entirely trans sports team in the US. An all-trans football team already exists in Brazil.

The place of transgender people in sport has been the subject of debate in recent years, with some people saying that allowing trans women to compete against other women could make certain sports unfair.

But for the players on Team Trans, the games they lost were an empowering experience, free from this conversation.

"It was probably the most fun I've ever had playing hockey," 28-year-old Heather Lynn tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

"We're all just people out there on the ice."

'One thing that connected us all'

The team was made up of players from all over America who were playing together for the first time at the Boston Pride Hockey event. They played against mixed teams of men and women.

"It didn't matter that we'd met that day. We were a team because we had that one thing connecting us all," says Alex Febvre, 25.

"I felt there was an understanding of each other," says 26-year-old Harrison Brown, who played women's ice hockey professionally before transitioning.

Heather, Alex and Harrison say their ice hockey experiences have been nothing but positive.

Heather plays for an LGBT team in Chicago, but says she's "pretty confident" she'd be welcome on any other team in her city.

And Alex says he's welcomed questions from his LGBT teammates in New York about having a trans player on their team and what they do or don't say to a transgender person.

"My biggest issues were really before I came out and just wasn't comfortable because I felt like I was hiding something," he says.

"I sounded very female and just wasn't super comfortable in female locker rooms because I didn't feel like I belonged."

'Training is often better for young male athletes'

The conversation around transgender people in sport hasn't focused on ice hockey.

In fact, in America, ice hockey has been praised for its inclusive attitudes towards transgender players.

But it's a debate the players in Team Trans are passionate about.

Former British swimmer Sharron Davies has said there's a need to "protect women's sport" from transgender people who may have a "male advantage."

She's concerned that physical differences - such as increased strength or speed - in transgender women could see them beating their rivals.

There are already rules in place regarding the levels of testosterone in transgender women competing in athletics.

Alex thinks any advantage a transgender woman may have doesn't have much to do with biology or hormones.

"As far as training goes, the quality is often better for young male athletes than for young female athletes," he says.

"I feel like if you're a trans woman, any advantage you have is because you had that advantage as a child."

Harrison says concern that transgender women will "dominate" cis-gender sportswomen and athletes comes from "ignorance".

"The majority of the arguments I hear is that they're bigger or they're taller, which is not always the case.

"Just because someone was born male does not necessarily mean they will excel at sport."

Harrison believes people like swimmer Michael Phelps, who has large feet and hands and double-jointed ankles, or 6'9" ice hockey player Zdeno Chara mean that in some cases sport is "not inherently fair" due to some people's "God-given abilities" that help them excel.

But Heather disagrees. She says that transgender women may sometimes have an advantage in sport.

"I don't think too many people are denying that we could potentially have an advantage," she says.

"If you're born male, you might have some advantages, we're going to be a little bit bigger, probably a little bit stronger."

'I can't miss another game with Team Trans'

Here in the UK, ice hockey clubs have been advised that trans people should "be welcomed and included without discrimination".

Winter sports have a positive track record for LGBT representation, with openly gay athletes competing for the USA in 2018.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionGus Kenworthy won silver for Team USA in Sochi

Geography means that Team Trans can't play together regularly, but Heather, Harrison and Alex are keen to reunite for more games in 2020.

"We're looking to do about two or maybe three events a year, which would be awesome," says Alex. "There are a lot of LGBT tournaments that we would like to play in."

Having retired from professional games, Harrison's games with Team Trans were only the third time he'd been on the ice in 2019. He hopes he can persuade the team to play a tournament on his "home turf" in Canada next year.

"It was really special and I'm happy that I was able to be part of that," he says.

And Heather says she'll join whenever the team plays next.

"I don't think I can miss another one," she says. "I feel so close to these people only having known them for a weekend."

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