Jessica Platt, a defenceman for the Toronto Furies, came out as the first openly transgender player in the Canadian Women's Hockey League in January.
In my life, I've found that finding what makes you happy is extremely important. It breeds positivity, motivation, and purpose. When I played hockey as a child, I was good. I've always thought of myself as a good player with a high hockey IQ. What I lacked, though, was the motivation to push myself to my full potential and really excel. I was unhappy. I didn't know what to do with my life and honestly didn't see much of a future for myself, so I didn't push it. I just slid through not doing anything overly special to separate myself from the pack.
Things eventually changed as I grew older, but I first must explain how they did and what allowed me to find happiness. While a medical transition isn't a part of everyone's journey, that's where it started for me.
As a woman who is transgender, there are a lot of misconceptions about me. People think that when a transgender woman plays sports, especially in the elite leagues, she is just there to excel. They have a preconceived notion that men are better than women at physical challenges and that because of how this woman was born genetically, she inherently has this advantage. They assume that how one identifies is the lone qualifier to playing in women's sports, which is incorrect. Before playing, a transgender woman has to undergo hormone replacement therapy for an extended period of time. For me, hormone replacement therapy meant taking medications to block testosterone production and raise estrogen levels. It brings my hormone levels to the range of people born female. This essentially evens the playing field. I didn't quite realize how much things would change for me until they did.
At the time of my transition the only sport I was playing was ultimate frisbee. I was one of the quicker players in the league the year before, and only eight months later I couldn't keep up with people I would have completely run away from before. That was eye-opening. As an athlete, it was very hard. In order to be happy with myself and my life, I had to give up much of my speed and strength. To give that up is something very difficult to understand. Imagine being able to previously run faster, shoot harder, and jump higher. Now imagine your body not being able to perform to these standards anymore. For a competitive athlete, it's devastating.
Trans athletes have so much to overcome to be able to succeed. I run, bike, go to the gym, practice or have games almost every day. I work harder than I've ever worked before in my life, yet there are still cisgender women (women who identify as the gender assigned at birth) who are so much better than me. The idea that trans women have an inherent advantage completely discounts the countless hours of hard work put in by the athlete to get where she is. And, in my experience, what separates elite athletes from others is their work ethic, drive, and motivation—not their genetics.
At this point in my life—when I began my transition—I had given up hockey. I had reached the point where a decision was to be made and it was made easier by my discomfort in the male hockey culture. There was an overwhelming feeling that I had to be tough, show no weakness, and go along with the misogynistic things I was hearing other people say. Once I no longer had to pretend to be who I thought I needed to be, it allowed me to start the learning process into who I am and what I needed to do to be happy. I went to university and met some great people, but I learned that I couldn't fight who I am anymore.
One of the happiest days of my life was the day I started my medical transition. I felt as if I was finally able to live. I was going to experience life how I had always dreamed. Although it was everything I wanted and needed to do, it was definitely not easy. I faced a lot of discrimination early on and can't count the number of horrible things that were said to me. But I was determined. I had tasted happiness in life and I wanted it all. Over time, things got easier. With this came happiness, and I actually thought about taking care of myself and my body, which I had never cared much about before. I started running and working out, I played recreational sports, and everything was better.
When I finally felt comfortable in locker rooms again, a space which is notoriously difficult for trans people to traverse, I decided to give hockey another try. It was always my passion, and I was literally dreaming about playing again. Rec-league hockey went well and I had found a motivation and drive I never had before. I put my efforts into another gear and ran, biked, went to the gym or found a pickup hockey game pretty much every day. This motivation to be the best I could be is what fueled my desire to play professionally. I'm now a member of the Toronto Furies of the Canadian Women's Hockey League.
I'm lucky in that I live in a time where transgender and non-binary people (those who don't identify exclusively as male or female) are more accepted, but we still have a long way to go. There is still so much negativity out there toward people perceived as "different." I've been lucky to be in a sport where everyone is incredibly open and accepting. Women's hockey players have gone through so much adversity simply by navigating a typically male sport their whole lives. I think this is part of what makes them so understanding and open to others who might be different. They've been put through it as an "outsider."
While I've been shown a lot of positive support since coming out, I've still had people saying some pretty terrible things about me, too. But I'm now in a place in life where I am equipped to deal with the negativity, though I know from my past experiences that these comments can be extremely upsetting and dangerous to trans and non-binary people.
Words have so much power that they should really be thought about thoroughly before being used to disparage another human. Devaluing someone's identity is something some people take much more lightly than they should. After all, at the end of the day, we're all human and deserve at least basic levels of respect and decency. We have come so far, but there is still so much to be learned about trans women in sports. We aren't to be feared, and we just want to compete fairly, equally, and to the best of our abilities.
I'll never know what my hockey playing potential was pre-transition. Like I said, I was good, but I was unhappy and unmotivated so I was unable to tap into my full potential at the time. I lacked the work ethic to excel. What makes a difference now is that I have the drive and desire to be the best I can be. I have found happiness in my life, and now have the ability to see and plan a future for myself. I am going to keep working as hard as I can to be the best player and person I can be. I worked for this. I earned this. Nobody can tell me that hard work doesn't pay off—I'm living proof that it does.