Having once wanted to ‘fly under the radar’, Jessica Platt is now proud to be a visible trans role model, as she tells Jay Forster for his LGBT+ History Month series of hockey interviews…
In LGBT+ History Month 2021, freelance journalist Jay Forster is focusing on his sporting passion – ice hockey.
Having already spoken to San Jose Sharks winger and ally Kurtis Gabriel and also defenceman Zach Sullivan, who came out publicly as bi a year ago while playing for Manchester Storm, Jay’s third interview in his series is with Jessica Platt, who came out as a trans woman in January 2018 during a three-year spell with the Toronto Furies.
A few months before Jessica shared her story, Jay had come out as a trans man to his friends and hockey team-mates in Deeside on the Wales-England border, as detailed in an article on Sky Sports in January 2020.
Bringing empathy and understanding, he asked Jessica to reflect on her history-making journey…
Jessica Platt never planned to come out the way she did.
Growing up in the small city of Sarnia, Ontario, there wasn’t a lot of exposure to diverse people or ideas. “I probably should have realised sooner,” Platt says, laughing, when I ask her how long she’d known she was transgender.
Not only did she grow up in a small town, but when she started playing hockey, her world got even smaller. “I mostly hung out with other hockey players, so I had this sense of who I’m supposed to be, and I just kind of pushed all the other stuff down.”
A big part of my own trans journey and coming out was the fear that I couldn’t be trans and play hockey at the same time. Platt was playing high school boys’ hockey when she realised she was trans, but didn’t start transitioning until a couple of years later, after she had already stopped playing. “I just wanted to play hockey,” she says. “So I couldn’t let my true self out.”
“It was terrifying at first,” she admits, when asked about starting women’s hockey, eight years after first hanging up her skates. Being trans means being constantly worried that someone is going to know your ‘secret’, and Platt spent much of her early forays into women’s hockey just hoping that no one would be able to tell.
“But when I first started getting back into hockey, everyone was just so nice, so accepting. I felt at ease really, really quickly. So it kind of made it all easier.”
In 2016, four years after she started her transition journey, Platt was drafted by the Toronto Furies into the (now defunct) CWHL, at the time, the only semi-professional women’s hockey league in Canada. “I never planned to come out publicly,” she tells me. “I just wanted to fly under the radar, but I saw an opportunity.
“Chris Mosier (the US trans advocate and athlete) always says that you should be the person you needed when you were younger.” Platt talks about how if she had seen trans athletes growing up, then maybe she could have been able to come out sooner. Maybe she wouldn’t have had to stop playing the sport she loves for almost a decade.
Authentic on the ice
Platt was not the first professional hockey player to come out as trans. In October 2016, Harrison Browne, then of the NWHL’s Buffalo Beauts, now retired, came out as a trans man. Platt credits Browne’s bravery as one of the driving forces behind her own decision. “I saw how the women’s hockey community accepted him, and I was like, ‘I can do this too.'”
When Platt told her team-mates in January 2018, she stepped out of the room afterwards to give them some time to digest. “Almost immediately, I had teammates coming to find me and telling me they were proud of me, and making sure I knew it didn’t change anything.” It was everything she hoped for. “I just felt like I was playing unburdened.” Platt would go on to play with the Furies until the league folded in 2019. She now plays in the PWHPA for GTA West.
The NWHL and CWHL both have guidelines put in place for trans athletes. Platt and Browne have proved that there is a place for trans people in women’s hockey.
The NHL is another question, however. I asked Platt if she thought the NHL could do better in terms of promoting acceptance of trans people. “Definitely. They have ‘Hockey Is For Everyone’ nights, and those are a great first step, but they can do so much more [in terms of] engaging with their minority fans.”
She talks about hockey culture, and the language she heard growing up. Even in high school hockey, the teenagers there were quick to mock and bully anyone they felt was different. She heard a lot of homophobic, misogynistic, and transphobic language. “Hockey can do better,” she says.
She also touches on the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ aspect that seems prevalent in hockey. Players are unwilling to be seen as different, in fear of rocking the boat and going against the status quo. The more people talk about trans issues, the better it will get, and the less it will seem like something to make a big deal out of. When trans people in sports become the norm, then you hope there will be more willingness for hockey players to talk about them.
Platt teamed up with Browne in November of 2019 to play for Team Trans, believed to be the first all-transgender ice hockey team in North America. “It was special,” Platt says. “To be able to play with people who share similar experiences, to have a whole team of people who understand you, there was a sense of camaraderie there really quickly. It was really cool.”
Team Trans would end up being featured in the New York Times, making waves both in and out of the hockey community, and Platt talks about how she would get messages from trans people all over America talking about how they hadn’t played hockey for years but they were going to put their skates back on because of this.
So what advice does Platt have for young people questioning their gender identity? There’s a pause as she thinks. “There are always going to be people who think they can tell you who you should be, but at the end of the day, the only person who decides who you are is you.
“When you’re finally true to yourself, you’ll find more happiness than you can ever imagine.”
Follow Jay Forster on Twitter at @jaythegoalie.
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