It had been 20 years since Andrea Sand laced up her skates. She assumed skating would be like getting back on a bike – the instincts just kick in, right? – but that wasn’t the case.
In the first 40 minutes she took some spills. She said she felt like a colt on the ice stumbling around. But soon enough, she regained her footing and she was back, but there was a difference. She wasn’t in the peewee leagues anymore. This time, she was playing for Team Trans.
Team Trans Twin Cities is the only ice hockey team in Minnesota made up solely of transgender and nonbinary players. Team Trans is an international organization but after so much interest in the Midwest, they landed on Minnesota to test out their first state league.
“How would you like to make 90 new trans friends?”
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Sand said that’s the line that hooked her. There are 40 active players on the Team Trans Twin Cities roster, and another 40 with the group who are more casual skaters. Players are rated on a scale from newbies to pro so all scrimmages are fair.
They have a board, but not coaches. They’re self-sufficient and often play against each other, other members of Team Trans International, and leagues they feel safe with. On Tuesday night, the team played a scrimmage at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
“Go Big Dog! Go Big Dog! Go Big Dog!” shouted the loudest fan of the evening, 9-year-old Naz. It was Naz’s first time seeing Team Trans and “Big Dog” in action, aka Sand. He shared he really has no interest in hockey, but met Sand at a protest over the weekend. He begged his moms to let him attend the game.
When the game ended, Sand yelled for Naz to come down to the ice and she gave him her stick, which is covered in different LGBTQ+ pride flags. He said it was “the best day” of his life.
Naz said that as a young transgender person, it’s important to him to see transgender adults happy and thriving.
“Big Dog said they were so glad I have people who really understand me but sometimes it also sucks. I have to advocate for myself a lot,” he said.
Naz is certain this won’t be his last game – he said he is now Team Trans’ number one fan, as well as Sand’s.
Annie "Doomrider" Bell is the president of Team Trans Twin Cities. They’ve played hockey for most of their life but said there’s nothing like Team Trans. Some players are simply there to be in a queer space and have zero experience with hockey. Others had traumatizing experiences in mainstream hockey spaces as transgender people and needed a change.
“It’s really saving folks,” Bell said, adding that many people who are now on the team were in a bad place before finding the community that is the team.
“It gives people a sense of purpose that they can authentically show up and be who they are. There is such a deep sense of connection, you get to exist without feeling fear,” they said.
Word of mouth has worked well as advertising for Team Trans, as well as a booth at the annual Twin Cities Pride Festival last summer in Loring Park. Bell said she noticed people observing the booth, some coming back and doing a double take to make sure they were reading things right.
That was the case for Nicole Anderson. She’s played hockey on and off her whole life and now her two kids do too. When she saw the booth at Pride, she knew she had to join. Anderson is 48 and said she came out as transgender almost two years ago. For her, the team provides a sense of community she was struggling to find elsewhere.
“I’ve got a lot of mentorship from the team and members who are younger than me who are navigating the world in an unapologetic way. They’re good role models. They’re exactly who I want to be,” she said.
The age of people on the team ranges from 18 to early 50s. You must be 18 or older to join, but no one is turned away for lack of funds or experience. Sand said that’s her favorite part of Team Trans, the feeling of acceptance between teammates. She said she feels safe and completely at ease on the ice; it’s an experience she never had in youth hockey.
“They make you feel invaluable and priceless. We are a support group that is not a support group. We are all there for each other off the ice and on the ice, you can hear a pin drop in our heads. It’s our quiet happy time.”
Sand struggles with what to call her teammates. “Friends” doesn’t feel good enough, and she said “family” brings back poor experiences she had with her own family accepting her gender identity, so she's landed on “matching socks.”
It’s like this: you dump your laundry out of the basket and you’re holding one sock. You can’t find the match. You turn the room upside down looking for the match and it’s missing. And then, maybe you find it at a Pride Festival, or a friend sends you an email about joining Team Trans and you finally find your other sock.
Brooke Nelson is another one of those socks. They said they came out as gay in their youth and never felt fully comfortable in the sports world, especially locker rooms.
“This is the first time I have felt safe and comfortable and 100 percent welcomed by everybody on the team. It’s huge. It’s the biggest reason that I am playing on the team - to have a sense of community,” they said.
Nelson said the representation is affirming in ways they never thought possible and said the hope is that it will be for any transgender or nonbinary person in Minnesota ready to make 90 new friends.