Being from Canada, hockey has always been an inescapable part of my life. Whether it was playing it in school, cheering on my local team, or watching NHL on TV, it has always been an activity I was constantly exposed to. Over the years I began to notice that, unlike the name of the song “Good Ol’ Hockey Game” implies, hockey has not always been good to all those who attempt to play it. It is widely known that the NHL consists of approximately 93% white players (Thrashers Top NHL With Highest Percentage Of Black Players, 2011). Female hockey players in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League can earn up to $1000, and only if they win, which is significantly less than their male counterparts (Mack, 2014). Homophobia is not unique to hockey, but it still manifest there through derogatory marks and “locker room fears”, making it harder for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning) individuals to enter the sport (Toronto Gay Hockey Association, Xtra Promo, 2016). When these identities begin to pile up on one another, it can create more difficulty for an individual to find a place in a sport like hockey.
Intersectionality is the term used to describe the layering of these different forms of oppression, such as gender, race, sexuality, and even more (Crenshaw, 1989). When a person experiences more than one types of oppression, or identifies, as a minority is multiple different ways, it can change their lived experiences. In this specific case, the experiences of women in hockey and queer men in hockey, is going to be vastly different than what queer women and trans individuals’ experience. Hockey has never been the most inviting sport for women or queer people, so it is not surprising that the combination of both can be even more destructive. With negative stereotypes against women piling up with negative views on queerness, the lack of recognition and visibility of queer women in sports is extremely high.
In the case of LGBTQ representation in sports, gay males can seem to come at the rough end of most homophobia. This stems from ideas that queerness and femininity are intertwined, making it so that being a gay male seems to contradicts with their ability to perform in a masculine athletic sport (Billings, Moscowitz, Rae & Brown-Devlin, 2015). When it comes to lesbians, they are stereotyped as being more masculine, so it’s more likely people would assume that homophobia doesn’t affect them “as bad” (Billings, Moscowitz, Rae, & Brown-Devlin, 2015). On the contrary, that assumption is far from the truth. Stereotypes that females in sport are typically masculine and gay males are feminine originate from gender roles and heteronormative ideals. Heteronormativity is the idea that there are two different genders (male and female) that are naturally sexually compatible, and that heterosexuality is the accepted norm (Warner, 1993). It also includes connotations around the gender roles that must be played in order to be perceived as a “normal, heterosexual member of society”. By deviating from these norms (like playing a female playing a masculine sport), women and LGBTQ athletes are subjected to stereotypes that question their femininity, masculinity, and sexuality.
Women’s hockey is also faced with many barriers that come with just being a female athlete. Since hockey is intricately connected to masculinity, it can lead to a lack of resources for female players, men is positions of power over female teams, thoughts that women’s hockey should mirror men’s leagues (rather than see women’s leagues as being ideal), and pressuring women to portray themselves in a specific feminine way (Theberge, 2000). Added on to all of these other issues, there are also stereotypes that in organized female sports, the majority (if not all) the players are queer (Billins, Moscowitz, Rae & Brown-Devlin, 2015). This stereotype exists because of beliefs that sports in general are masculine, so therefore women playing in sports is seen as going against what it “means to be feminine” (Roper & Halloran, 2007). However, the stereotype itself has almost helped manifest the homophobia within women’s hockey, with women having their sexuality constantly disputed. Nora Cothren, a female hockey player, explains how her teammates used to express their hatred for that stereotype by stating, “My teammates hated that stereotype, and they made it very clear. ‘Why are there so many lesbians on that team? I hate it! Everyone thinks I am a lesbian’” (Cothren, 2014). These tensions continue to grow and reflect in how women interact within the hockey realm.
For example, women’s bodies, especially in sports, are often faced with an ideological struggle. On one hand, athletic female bodies are celebrated and something to be proud of. On the other hand, the celebrated athletic body typically falls under a certain “acceptable” range of muscular. Female athletes are allowed to have muscles, but if the muscles begin to appear too “large” or “manly”, then they are seen as less desirable (Couture, 2016). This desire for athletic female bodies to still remain feminine to some extent plays into this heteronormative idea that not only is heterosexuality the desired norm, but females and males are predominately different by nature (Couture, 2016). This fear of being viewed as “too masculine” creates tension for female sexuality, because many stereotypes around lesbians base around their expressed “manliness”.
As Nora Cothren accounts for her experience as a lesbian in hockey, she pointed out that many female athletes would paint their nails, do their makeup, wear pink equipment, and more in an attempt to appear more feminine on the ice (Cothren, 2014). Many of these girls don’t want to be lumped in with the gay female stereotypes, which are usually “short hair, muscular, deeper voice — those are all qualities that society deems ‘masculine’” (Cothren, 2014). In order to push against being seen as queer, these women can end up alienating their own players by making it apparent that being queer is something inherently wrong, whether that is the intention or not. The struggles that women face trying to be accepted in sports, ends up attempting to be resolved with actions that harm their LGBTQ teammates. As Cothren explains, “The presence of homophobia in women’s sports is different than that in men’s sports. There is a fear among female athletes that if they speak up about gay issues, they will be automatically lumped into the stereotype of gay female athlete” (Cothren, 2014).
When it comes to transgender individuals, their body and gender is constantly put into question. Transgender is a term for people whose gender identity or expression is different from their assigned sex (Szto, LGBTQ+, 2016). Often transgender people have their gender be disputed, due to beliefs that gender is two unchangeable sexes (Cohen & Semerjian, 2008). Whether it comes from official policies that make it impossible for trans athletes to compete, or from the fear of being called out by other players, there is a constant struggle over gender identity they must face. In one trans athlete’s experience, “The social repercussions of sex policing led to [her] increased uncertainty of her place as female, and more so as a female athlete.” (Cohen & Semerjian, 2008).
The locker room is also a place where a lot of homophobia manifests for lesbians and trans individuals. Change rooms, or locker rooms, have always been seen as an exclusive space, starting with female sports journalists not being able to enter them for interviews (Szto, Issues of Journalism, 2016). The locker room has always been seen as this “special area” in which masculinity and heteronormativity can thrive. Once someone going against those ideals is introduced into the space, it can become an uncomfortable and hostile environment. Caroline Fusco interviewed several lesbian athletes about their struggles with locker rooms, and discovered:
“Lesbian athletes were often physically avoided when in close quarters, hotels, or locker rooms with other team members. One athlete remembered that “people were really reluctant to be in the same room alone with [her]” when they heard that she was a lesbian. She labeled this “the locker room effect.” Disassociation from lesbians was exhibited by both heterosexual and lesbian individuals” (Fusco, 1995).
This can especially be a difficult boundary to cross for transgender individuals. For one transgender hockey player, researchers Jodi Cohen and Tamar Semerjian found that, “The locker room [became] the biggest obstacle to Angela’s hockey participation. Yet, this is not because of changing clothes in the locker room; instead, it feels so strongly like male or, more specifically, men’s space, that she does not feel like she fits there or that there is space for her when she is not prepared to identify as a man” (Cohen & Semerjian, 2008). It can also be more difficult for trans female athletes to enter female sports, rather than their trans male counterparts, because of the belief that males are biologically better at sports over females (Cohen & Semerjian, 2008). All of these problems surrounding queer female athletes and trans athletes are intricately connected to the idea that femininity is undesirable, weak, and heteronormative.
However, not all hope is lost for queer women and trans individuals in sports. Campaigns like the You Can Play Project have been created to help promote visibility and safe sport environments for LBGTQ athletes. More lesbian hockey players are coming out and discussing their personal lives as normal, such as Canadian hockey player Jayna Hefford talking to journalists about having a baby with her female partner, and Canadian goaltender Charline Labonte writing her journey as a queer hockey player (Proteau, 2014). Ontario changed it’s policy around transgender rights in locker rooms this year, and Harrison Browne became the first openly transgender athlete in the National Women’s Hockey League (Spencer, 2016 and Reddekopp, 2016). Despite the harassment, homophobia, and degradation that LGBTQ athletes can face, they continue to thrive and “to resist patriarchal and heterosexual gender relations in sport and to use sport as a means of empowerment” (Fusco, 1995). Doors are slowly beginning to open for queer women and transgender hockey players, and as long as these discussions continue, more change is likely to occur. Just as they always have, lesbian and transgender athletes will continue to fight for their opportunity to participate in a sport that they know and love: the good ol’ hockey game.
Billings, A.C., Moscowitz, L.M., Rae, C. & Brown-Devlin, N. (2015). The Art of Coming Out: Traditional and social media frames surrounding the NBA’s Jason Collins. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 92(1), 142-160.
[Charline Labonte Pumping Iron]. (2016, November 23). Retrieved December 2, 2016, from http://rocketsportdryer.com/latest-rocket-girl-pix/
Cohen, J. H., & Semerjian, T. Z. (2008). The Collision of Trans-Experience and the Politics of Women’s Ice Hockey. International Journal Of Transgenderism, 10(3/4), 133-145.
Cothren, N. (2014, February 13). As a Lesbian Athlete, I Am More Than a Stereotype. Retrieved October 28, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nora-cothren/as-a-lesbian-athlete-i-am-more-than-a-stereotype_b_4781983.html
Couture, J. (2016). Triathlon Magazine Canada and the (re)construction of female sporting bodies. Sociology of Sport Journal, 33(2), 124-134.
Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. U. Chi. Legal F., 139-167.
Fusco, C. (1995). Lesbians and locker rooms: challenging lesbophobia. Canadian Woman Studies, 15(4), 67-70.
[Harrison Browne with Teammates]. (2016, October 7). Retrieved December 2, 2016, from http://www.outsports.com/2016/10/7/13203336/harrison-browne-hockey-transgender-beauts
[Jayna Hefford Skating]. (2010, February 14). Retrieved December 2, 2016, from http://www.zimbio.com/pictures/SBx1x3DCZ0s/Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics UBC Thunderbird/qLVG0hBodJT/Jayna Hefford
Mack, C. (2014, December 10). CWHL: Top female hockey players go unpaid | Canadian Living. Retrieved December 02, 2016, from http://www.canadianliving.com/life-and-relationships/money-and-career/article/cwhl-top-female-hockey-players-go-unpaid
Proteau, A. (2014, June 12). Gay female Olympic hockey players are increasingly comfortable coming out – and that’s great | The Hockey News. Retrieved December 02, 2016, from http://www.thehockeynews.com/news/article/gay-female-olympic-hockey-players-are-increasingly-comfortable-coming-out-and-thats-great
Reddekopp, L. (2016, October 24). What it’s like being the 1st openly transgender player in National Women’s Hockey League. Retrieved October 28, 2016, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/transgender-player-1.3814705
Roper, E. A., & Halloran, E. (2007). Attitudes Toward Gay Men and Lesbians Among Heterosexual Male and Female Student-Athletes. Sex Roles, 57(11/12), 919-928.
Spencer, D. (2016, September 07). Transgender policies for Ontario hockey dressing rooms launch this season | Metro News. Retrieved December 02, 2016, from http://www.metronews.ca/news/canada/2016/09/07/transgender-policies-for-ontario-hockey-dressing-rooms-launch-this-season.html
Szto, C. (2016). Issues in Journalism: Traditional Print to Web 2.0. Week 5 Lecture.
Szto, C. (2016). LGBTQ+. Week 10 Lecture.
Theberge, N. (2000). Higher goals: Women’s ice hockey and the politics of gender. SUNY Press.
Thrashers Top NHL With Highest Percentage Of Black Players. (2011, January 03). Retrieved December 01, 2016, from http://www.wsbtv.com/news/thrashers-top-nhl-with-highest-percentage-of-black/241852512
Toronto Gay Hockey Association, Xtra Promo. (2016, October 06). LGBT hockey players open up about homophobia in youth sports. Retrieved October 28, 2016, from http://www.dailyxtra.com/toronto/arts-and-entertainment/lgbt-hockey-players-open-homophobia-in-youth-sports-207881
Warner, M. (Ed.). (1993). Fear of a queer planet: Queer politics and social theory (Vol. 6). U of Minnesota Press.