The 24-year-old National Women's Hockey League vet explains why he decided to postpone his physical transition to keep playing the game he loves.
For hockey players, there's no happier moment than clambering over the boards, sprint-skating across the ice, and leaping into a scrum of delirious, overjoyed teammates celebrating a just-won championship. For Harrison Browne, a 24-year-old forward who played last season for the Buffalo Beauts of the National Women's Hockey League, though, this postgame revelry took on special significance. Browne, assigned female at birth, has been living as a man since 2016, which meant that the Beauts' upset 3-2 win over the Boston Pride in March made him the first openly transgender professional athlete in a team sport to claim a national title.
After the season, an emotional Browne announced his retirement on YouTube, explaining that he felt ready to begin his physical transition—top surgery first, followed by hormone therapy—and to sort out his post-hockey career, just like any other guy ready to hang up the skates. Over the summer, though, he changed his mind, signing a one-year deal with the Metropolitan Riveters, an NWHL franchise that plays its home games at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. In the months after he came out as trans before the 2016-17 season, Harrison says, "I heard from so many people who said that watching me be an active athlete—a trans man in this very binary world of sports—gave them hope. I felt like I had more to give." Now, as his undefeated Riveters squad emerges from the holiday break comfortably atop the league standings, we caught up with Harrison to hear more about how he came to embrace being a pioneer for the trans community in American sports—and why he decided to play the game he loves for a little bit longer.
GQ: How did the league handle your announcement last season?
Harrison Browne: The league was extremely open and welcoming. I really just sent an email to the commissioner, and he was like, "Okay, great! We're going to figure out how to do this. But we want you to feel comfortable." Initially, the only things I requested were that they change my name, and my pronouns on my team bio and on the league web site.
In the months after that, the league worked with its longtime partner You Can Play to draft what became the first trans policy in professional team sports. They allowed me to change my pronouns, sure, but after that, they needed guidelines in place to make sure that trans men wanting to come into the league, for example, couldn't be undergoing hormone therapy. As a trans man competing in a women's league, I have to have the testosterone levels of a natural-born female. And there are stipulations for trans women, too. If you're a trans woman and want to play in a women's league, you have to be taking hormone suppressors that keep your testosterone levels at those of a natural-born female.
I believe that if there's no physical advantage, it shouldn't matter what your background is, or whether you're transgender or not. I think people should take a step back when they think about trans athletes in sports. If hormone levels don't confer an advantage, there's no reason to bar anyone from participating.
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