So you think the NHL is inclusive? You think the team you cheer for is accepting? You think You Can Play has solved the NHL’s homophobia and transphobia problem?
This is a massive discussion and I want to focus on one small part of it: what it’s like to walk into an NHL arena and get to your seat if you are not cis.
Not everybody starts their trip to the rink by remembering to bring the tickets before getting into their car. If you’re trans, there are other considerations. If you’re trans, you’re not trans in isolation but live at the intersection of race, illness, disability, and sexual identity among other things. If you are trans (or if you’re someone dealing with mental illness) you’re probably checking out the arena if you’ve never been there before. Googling images of the parking lot, exterior, concourse, and seats helps people dealing with anxiety or other mental illnesses get to the game. Knowing what you’re walking into helps. You might check out the rink’s website hoping they’ll have specific information that’s necessary for a game day visit. It likely won’t and teams that own the facility they play in are doubly at fault here. If teams were welcoming to all genders/agender people, washroom policies would be clearly articulated online. Security policies would be clearly and specifically articulated beyond acceptable bag size. But this information is rarely, if ever, available.
If you’re going to a game how you dress is important. Maybe you have a lucky ball cap or specific jersey you have to wear. Maybe you dress only in team colours. Whatever you’re look, fans think about presentation when headed to the arena or stadium. Trans people think about how they present too. Some of these concerns are the same: what jersey do I wear? Do I wear red or black? But trans people also have to navigate another side of presentation: balancing presenting in ways to ensure safety with presenting in ways that express who you are. I don’t have knowledge of all trans experience. Each trans person’s identity, expression, and experience are their own. Unlike some trans people, I have passing privilege: I’m tall and broad and often pass. But I’m still concerned if things like wearing shorts to a ball game will be worth the hassle. Should I dress in layers to better hide my breasts? Things many trans people do for their well-being and happiness like wearing makeup, packing, binding, tucking, breast forms, and wigs (google it if you don’t know), to name just a few, become things to reconsider for some when attending games.
Lots of us think about who to attend games with. For a lot of cis people this means monetary, transportation, and enjoyment consideration. For some cis people, attending a game with your partner is made more difficult if you don’t fit heteronormative ideals. These things enter into it for trans people, but there are other issues as well. A group from work is going to the game but you’re not out at the office or store? Friends ask you to a game but you’re not sure how they’ll handle it if your gender identity becomes a problem at the arena? These are things that cause you to hesitate.
Many trans people don’t have a lot of money. Trans people exist on the margins of society and that includes employment. If you’re trans and lucky enough to afford a trip to see the Sens play, there’s a good chance you’re taking the bus. The OC Transpo ride to Kanata is a challenge at the best of times, but if you’re trans, the bus is not safe. This problem is made worse by the overcrowding. Think you’re better off taking a shuttle bus from one of the many downtown bars and restaurants providing this service? Not really, you’re at the mercy of the other riders. Sometimes it’s fine and sometimes you’re verbally harassed and physically assaulted. Best case? It’s an anxiety-producing ride that leaves you mentally exhausted by the time you get to CTC.
Following the bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon, the NHL, MLB and other pro sports leagues heightened security at entrances to arenas and stadiums. While security has value, without critical examination of other issues which threaten fan security on a far more regular basis (mainly the sale and consumption of alcohol at sporting events), these security measures serve to add accessibility barriers to those already marginalized and at times are just plain harassment. Bag size might not matter to you if you’re a dude going to the game with your buddy, but it targets people who aren’t valued by teams and the NHL. Women carry purses for many valid and vital reasons. These new measures make it harder on the father who brings his chronically-ill child to the game and has to carry medication/equipment at all times. Yes, after some explanation that man could probably get an exemption and bring his bag in, but he’s had to disclose and justify a serious illness. Metal detectors are a frustrating and upsetting experience for the woman who needs to wear a knee brace and pass through security. You want to go to a Sens game wearing medically necessary braces or equipment? Well, it’s winter so you’re likely wearing long pants and layers. It’s a process that irritates the people behind you in line but makes the individual experiencing it feel unwelcome. If you’re dealing with mental health issues, the security screening process often exacerbates what you’re feeling. If you’re someone who has experienced sexual assault or harassment, the screening process can be incredibly triggering. Trans people deal with all of these things in addition to their trans identities.
At some point in the recent past, teams/leagues/security companies realized having predominately male security personnel check, wand, and at times frisk everyone was a huge liability in addition to being incredibly invasive to people. Security lines are often divided into male and female. You want to know what that process feels like if you don’t fit the traditional gender binary? Fucking awful. You can’t tell someone’s gender identity by looking at them, but it doesn’t seem like anyone’s told this to security personnel. If you’re a woman and don’t present in traditionally feminine ways or if you’re a man who doesn’t present in typically masculine ways, security is more difficult. If you’re trans and don’t pass as either male or female, you have to make a choice in that moment to be either male or female. That in itself can really mess with your head. But you might also encounter a situation where you have to “prove” your gender identity. This can go smoothly (some very insistent statements on your part, a flustered security person who eventually lets you through, and some serious emotional fallout afterwards) or degrees of worse. Many trans people don’t have access to proper identification that can “prove” things to security’s satisfaction (ditto to trying to get a beer in an attempt to enjoy yourself after getting harassed at the door).
Training could actually help this process. Training about mental illness, sexual assault, and LGBTQ acceptance could make the process easier for both ticket holder and security personnel. Less triggering, less mentally draining, and more compassionate are actually good things for everyone.
If you make it through security, you’re confronted with washrooms that don’t have stated, inclusive gender policies visible on signage outside the washrooms. Why is this important? So trans people know what kind of environment they’re walking into and that it’s inclusive. What a clear, written policy that’s visible in stadium also does is inform cis people that there’s no place for their intolerance. You want to really pull out all the stops? Have all gender facilities as well. This type of washroom builds on family washrooms you sometimes see at malls or amusement parks. It’s necessary for parents to take their kids of any gender to the washroom and it’s necessary for trans people to feel safe and welcome in a washroom.
Say you’re with some cis friends who wanted to go to the new 19+ (or 18+, 21+ depending on location) bar that are all the rage in ballparks and rinks these days. If you’re a trans person who looks younger or if everyone is being carded to get in, it’s a no-go for a lot of trans people. If you’re cis, you think “they’ll just check my license for my age”. If you’re trans you have to worry not about age, but if they glance at your gender and your name. If your id doesn’t match your identity, there’s further interrogation. Hopefully you’re friends aren’t assholes (but no guarantee, a lot of allies are all talk when it comes to support but fail miserably on the follow through) and are ok with just finding your seats. Having to out yourself to gain access to spaces that are allegedly welcoming is unacceptable and in many cases (such as an amped up, possibly intoxicated, sports crowd complete with dude bros) is simply not safe.
You’re in your seat now, but the challenge has just started.