TORONTO — Jessica Platt gave up hockey as a teenager a decade ago. At the time she didn't know where she fit into the game.
But the desire to play the sport never went away for the 28-year-old Toronto Furies defenceman, the first openly transgender athlete to compete in the Canadian Women's Hockey League.
"Hockey is incredibly important in my life, I take every opportunity I can to get on the ice and play," said Platt. "I feel at home, feel better on the ice."
Platt posted a message on Instagram on Wednesday announcing her decision to go public with her gender identity, thanking her friends, family and the CWHL for their support.
"It's been crazy, like a whirlwind," she said of the reaction. "Got all sorts of supportive messages from people on social media, text messages, phone calls. It's been great."
The Bright's Grove, Ont., native grew up playing sports on boy's teams and said she first questioned her gender identity in high school when she noticed "something was different."
"I guess looking back now you could say there was clear signs I should have known something was up (sooner), but high school was when I tried to start figuring everything out."
Platt took a break from hockey after her experience on the boy's high school team, saying she loved playing but felt "uncomfortable" within the culture. After graduating high school, she took some time and eventually decided on hormone replacement therapy to identify as female.
"I figured out first that I was transgender, then I went to university, decided that it was right for me to transition so I went about the process of finding the right doctor for hormone therapy and it all came with time."
Platt, with her family's support, began her medical transition in 2012. She graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University in 2014, and along the way took on a job as a skating instructor.
That's when she felt inspired to get back into hockey.
"I think teaching the younger generation how to do what I love kind of gave me a really strong desire to get out there and play again," she said.
Platt's journey to the CWHL began in an adult recreation league in Waterloo, Ont. She became curious about women's options and came across the now seven-team league originally established in 1997.
Platt said she changed her diet and training routine, dropping 60 pounds by working out six days a week. She put her focus on getting into hockey at the top level for women in Canada and entered herself in the 2016 CWHL Draft.
The five-foot-eight 155-pound blue-liner was selected with the 61st overall pick. She dressed in four games for the Furies last year as a call-up and was added on a full-time basis this season.
She scored the first goal of her career in December.
"It had always been my dream to play pro hockey so I took some time, thought about it and I was drafted," she said.
"I always had talent, just never nurtured it and when I started to find happiness in my life I decided to take better care of myself."
The CWHL was the first league to partner with the You Can Play Project in December 2012. In announcing the partnership at the time, You Can Play said it was meant to ensure "equality for all of the CWHL's athletes, coaches, staff, and fans, without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity."
Platt said she made her gender identity public with the hope that she can help other transgender athletes feel comfortable with who they are.
"I think my main goal is to help others," she said. "I know when I was growing up I didn't have a lot of people to look up to. I didn't know much about what it was to be transgender."
Platt doesn't expect everyone to be on board with her announcement, knowing some may wonder if she has any type of edge in women's sports.
I know when I was growing up I didn't have a lot of people to look up to. I didn't know much about what it was to be transgender.Jessica Platt
"I personally don't think I have an advantage," she said. "I think that's a misconception people get when they assume guys are better than girls at everything. But frankly I know a lot of women who are better than some men.
"I think within the hockey world, within the league, I don't expect anything to change (for me). I know there will be people out there that say negative things but I don't expect too much to change for me except to try and help people through tough times."
Platt said there was "100 per cent" anxiety when she posted the announcement. But the decision to do so was made easier with the changing of times and other transgender athletes reaching out to give her support.
She talked with American triathlete and transgender athlete advocate Chris Mosier beforehand and texted with hockey player Harrison Browne, a transgender athlete who plays in the National Women's Hockey League and identifies as male.
"I don't think it would have been as easy two years ago, not to say it's easy now," she said. "I think there's been a lot of conversation lately about trans rights and trans issues that make coming out with this information a little bit easier."
Platt, who works as a cashier at a software company in Waterloo, said she chose January to make her announcement because she wanted to start the new year on a positive note and "get a positive message out there."
"I think it's important to bring visibility to trans athletes and show people you can still follow your dreams and be who you are meant to be."
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