It’s Quiet on the Ice

Photos courtesy of Team Trans Twin Cities
Photos courtesy of Team Trans Twin Cities

“Everyone deserves to play hockey,” says Annie Bell. A few moments later they explain how hockey arenas often feel toxic or dangerous to queer communities, underscoring the importance of the league of which they are the president: Team Trans Twin Cities. “We’re queer and we’re here and we’re playing hockey and we’re having fun,” they grin, “You can join us.”  

Team Trans Twin Cities, which is the first affiliate team of Team Trans, turned one year old this year. Team Trans Twin Cities operates under the same rules and code of conduct espoused by the original Team Trans, which is based in Boston but is an international league. Team Trans is open to all trans and non-binary hockey lovers – regardless of where they live. The Twin Cities team is an experiment in affiliate teams and has been incredibly successful so far, gaining over one hundred players in the last year. The numbers alone are impressive but the success of Team Trans runs deeper than that.

“Everyone on this team has two things in common,” says Maki, “We all like playing hockey and we’re all trans.” The former shared characteristic is key. Players only need to like to play hockey –  in fact, they can join with no experience. “We have players who were Division 1 all the way to people who are just starting out,” says Bell. Team Trans navigates skill differences by splitting into “Master Skate” and a second group that Maki coaches. Maki explains: “A lot of our players have the passion to learn and I love coaching. It’s a lot of fun to see people learning the game I grew up on.”

There are more than 100 players on the team roster and somewhere between thirty to forty of those people consistently show up to practice and play. “Others want to participate but don’t play very often. It comes down to schedule and other things,” says Bell.

Team Trans Twin Cities plays a lot of intramural games in addition to occasionally traveling out of state for tournaments or playing other leagues in town. “We started to bring in the Women’s Hockey Association of Minnesota,” says Bell, “There are a few other groups we feel safe enough to play against and we are trying to get some kind of competitive season…it’s fun to play against your friends but it can get boring.”

The impact of Team Trans has been wide-ranging. “You can see people change along the way: personal growth, hockey growth, career growth,” says Bell, “It’s been really meaningful for everyone.” They pause for a moment and then continue: “Suicide rates have decreased on our team. The team provides purpose and intent and commitment where people show up for their teammates and themselves.”

“Team Trans has been life-saving in more ways than one,” says Maki, “It’s more than just being able to get back to play hockey. It’s great to have the support and community as well.” Both Bell and Maki have witnessed the strength of the relationships built within Team Trans. “There’s this intangible quality to being able to show up and not having to say many words,” says Bell, “We are forging deep and meaningful relationships.”

Maki has seen the impact of Team Trans extend to allies who support the team as well. “My brother-in-law and his two partners helped organize and run things,” he says, “My spouse’s family didn’t know anything about the trans community until they came to a game – it gave them the ability to learn more about us.”

Maki has hit on something powerful here: giving people the opportunity to share a passion with an unfamiliar community can help bridge divides. Team Trans welcomes these moments, but trans safety and comfort always come first. “We exist in a space we’re comfortable in,” says Bell, “We have boundaries…People can respect that or not. If they don’t, they won’t be in our space or our circles.”

Happily, most people are inclined to opt for respect if not outright enthusiasm. “We had 500 people show up at our Pride skate. It was the event to go to,” says Bell, “The Pride game pushed us into the limelight.” In addition to that, Team Trans has built partnerships and sponsorships within the NHL and Team Trans Twin Cities has done the same with the Minnesota Wild.

That is not to say there are no issues – a recent spate of bad faith journalism outed and doxxed a member of the team and there have been instances where even other queer people have made members of the team feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Team Trans emerges seeking one thing above all else: “The biggest thing is to celebrate trans joy,” says Maki, “We’re a group of people doing something they love and enjoy.”

“Exactly,” says Bell, “We’re not trying to politicize it. It’s quiet on the ice for us.”

They both pause for a moment and then start laughing.

“It’s not that quiet,” says Maki.

“There’s a lot of trash-talking, actually,” says Bell.

Of course, Bell was referring to a different kind of quiet. It is the quiet that comes from focusing so hard on the game that everything else melts away.

When they are not savoring the quiet of the ice, Bell is working on a set of ambitious goals for the future of the league. Many of these goals are in motion, including an upcoming trip to the Carnegie Initiative, where they will advocate for trans inclusivity in hockey alongside one of the co-founders of Team Trans.

“We’re going to continue to grow,” Bell says, “We want more public-facing games and to build a primary winter season,” they say, “but we [need] the support of our queer communities.”

There are plenty of ways to support Team Trans, from buying merch from the link below to donating money or gear to attending their upcoming showcase at the Xcel Energy Center on January 31st from 7:30-8:30. Admission is free with a suggested $10 donation. “It’s not very often that we get invited to skate – especially at a venue like this one,” says Bell, “We’re excited to showcase some trans joy.”

The opportunities to help extend past the game. “We are looking for people who want to advocate and support us in other ways – people who want to run the clocks or run events. We could also use exterior support – sponsoring skate clinics that will help grow and develop our team.”

Team Trans is doing something quietly revolutionary. It is giving trans and non-binary people a safe space to be athletes. It is giving trans and non-binary people the chance to play and build relationships and find joy with people who implicitly understand what they are going through. “There’s more to this than standard support groups,” says Maki, “We understand where you’re coming from. We’ve all been there.” Bell nods, “We’re doing something that makes us happy and human.”

Team Trans continues to build a community of trans and non-binary hockey players. As we closed our call Maki extended the invite to all our trans and non-binary readers: “If you want to do something physically active, if you grew up in Minnesota, if you love hockey – come find your community.”

Email: [email protected]

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