By Roz Milner
It was a nice, quiet morning. I was sitting at my desk, sipping coffee and watching the morning news, wondering what the two hosts were trying to grill.
“Hrumph. Hrumph. Kate?”
I turned around - it was Ed Swartz, my editor.
“Kate,” he said, “Got any plans tonight?”
“Not really, why? What’s up?” I tried to crane around him to see what had caught fire.
He put two tickets on the pile of books I call my desk. “There’s a hockey game tonight, and that new kid who’s supposed to be a big deal is playing. I want you to cover it.” He sort of spun his hand around, resting it on a copy of Nevada. “Try to find, you know. The cultural, local angle to it. He’s from around here and when he goes to the pros next year, he’ll help put our city on the map.”
I nodded and kept an eye on the TV. One of the hosts was gesticulating wildly. “Yeah, sure thing, Ed. Hockey culture, got it.”
He looked at me, then moved to turn off to the set. “Seriously, Kate. You used to write this stuff back when you first started.” He sighed and turned to leave. “I want a draft on my desk tomorrow morning.”
Ed was right, though. When I was young, and first trying to catch a break in the media, I wrote about sports all the time, and it just about burned me out. Being young, closeted and trying to convince myself to be more of a guy was hard enough. Pretending to care about someone’s goals-against-average? I’d rather cover a wallpaper exhibition. I took another sip and examined the tickets. Good seats, right about mid-ice and halfway up. We could see pretty much everything from there, and since it was just a minor league team, there wasn’t likely to be too many bros who would hassle me or Meg. I decided to send her a message:
“Hey girlfriend! It’s me, girlfriend. Got any plans tonight? Because we do now. I’ll tell you over dinner.”
Better to spring it on her when she’s eating. It was her day to cook, and after a day of prepping food, she’s usually more pliable when she’s finally eating some.
“Hockey?! Oh wow, that’d be rad!”
Couldn’t say I expected that reaction from Meg. I shovelled another scoop of pad thai into my mouth.
“It’s been ages since I saw a hockey game, Kate. It’ll be fun! Think they’ll sell those big hot dogs there? You know the ones I mean.” She stretched her arms out. “Those things fuckin’ rule.” Her round face lit up in a smile.
“I mean, uh, maybe? It’s been years for me too,” I replied. “I don’t know what they sell at games now. Maybe fried quinoa, or like shrimp etoufee?”
“Don’t joke,” said Meg, pointing a fork. “Etoufee is serious business.”
We got to the game about midway through the first period. Even so, the place was pretty empty: big swaths of multi-coloured seat backs and the few people sitting were trying to keep warm under those big pipes arenas have in the rafters. A few moments, and I remembered why sportswriters used to joke and call this place The Barn. It was big, drafty and felt like a place where you expected to find hay around the corner.
I sat, shivered and sipped coffee while the players skated in circles and moved the puck around. Occasionally, there was a break in this rhythm and someone would shoot the puck at one of the nets. Once, it actually went in. We all stood and applauded, then went back to being cold. I looked at Meg. She was smiling, had her brown hair tucked up under a beanie and was half-way down a big sausage.
“Fried onions,” she said. “I always forget how good fried onions are on a sausage.” She took another bite and pointed to the scoreboard. “Look, Kate. Look at that guy’s face.”
I put on my glasses and looked up. On the video board, the camera had focused on a player, number 17. Dave Douglas, according to the game’s program. He was the guy who had scored earlier, and he had a grin as the other players slapped his back. I told Meg I didn’t see anything special about him, though.
“Look at the eyes, Kate. He’s smiling, but his eyes are so sad.” She frowned. “I bet he’s under a lot of pressure. He looks like he’s about to crack.”
I admit, I didn’t see it, but I’m not as good at reading people as Meg is. She has this knack, where she can see through what people project. I’ve learned to trust it. We looked at each other, and I wondered what she saw in me, what my eyes were telling her. She just smiled at me and took another bite.
I was having a cigarette and people-watching out in the parking lot after the game while Meg wandered through the gift shop. The crowd filed out at different paces: a young couple booked it past me, while two older men took their time and held hands. I was lighting my second dart when a short, rumpled-looking bald man with a chest covered in lanyards ran over, looking worried and sweating through his suit.
“Excuse me, ma’am? I noticed you have a media badge. Have you been talking to one of our players?” I shook my head. I’d gone straight outside for a dart. “Are you sure? We’re trying to figure out where one of them is. And uh, please don’t print that. I’m sure he’s here somewhere.” He dug into a pocket and handed me a crumpled business card. “If you hear anything, give me a call.” He looked around and scurried off.
I read his card while Inhaling the last of my smoke. “T.J. Heath, Media Relations.” I flicked my butt into a snowbank while I tried to make sense of what he’d so quickly told me. A missing player. How’d that manage to happen? I walked over towards the gift shop, pushing my way through people headed outside. I spied Meg looking at a rack of jerseys. She grinned. “They don’t have my colour.”
As we walked to the car, I explained what Heath told me. “Players just don’t run away,” I said. “I’ve never heard of this happening before.”
She shrugged. “Maybe he had a good reason.”
“I don’t know. Maybe he wanted to retire and become a pro bowler.” She stuck her tongue out. “I thought you were the sports ball expert.”
“That’s one way of putting it.” We got into the car and I leaned onto her shoulder. “It’s just weird. Think I should follow up on it?”
“It’s your column, Kate.” She started the car and we drove home.
Next morning, I grabbed a coffee and went to Ed’s office to talk about my idea. He was already ahead of me, though. “The police put out a missing person’s alert last night for Dave Douglas,” he said. “The team had to travel to their next game and couldn’t wait for him, but maybe the cops will find him before ice time.”
“I want to cover this, Ed,” I said between sips. “This whole thing is deeply weird, and it’s been on my mind all night. Some kid, 17 years old, on the lam from a hockey team.”
“It’s interesting, all right.” That was about as enthusiastic as Ed ever got. “Yeah, go for it. Just make sure you have something ready for when the next issue goes to bed.”
I went back to my desk and started the routine. Calls to the police only confirmed what I already knew: a player named Douglas was missing. I called Heath, but got his machine. Not surprised: he was probably slammed with calls. Emailed a local beat writer I knew, got some quotes about Douglas’ background. Slammed together a column and sent it off. Flipping on my desk TV, I leaned back and thought about him. Just 17 and out there alone somewhere. Scared? Lonely? It was deeply weird, and I couldn’t place my finger on why.
About then my phone started exploding.
“KATE! DID YOU HEAR WOMENNET DID NOW?”
“MY GOD WOMENNET”
“CAN YOU BELIEVE IT KATE”
I opened Twitter and all over my timeline was a post from WomenNet, one of those message boards where a bunch of bigots hang out and complain about trans women. They’d outed a minor league hockey player as trans, likely against their will. Details were sketchy: no names, only a vague statement that came from someone close to the team, it said, and they promised to share more in the future. Skimming the replies, nobody offered any proof who it was, or pictures or anything, but knowing that site they’d be coming. They’d ruined trans people’s lives before, and the 40-year-old moms who posted there found they had a taste for it. I went back over it, seeing if I’d missed anything. I had: the player was on the team I’d watched last night.
I called Heath again, left a message and left the office for the day.
Meg was cooking something when I let myself into the apartment. Without looking up she said “What a bunch of assholes, eh?” I grunted an affirmation. She continued to stir and spoke. “Coming out, that’s such a hard thing. I worried up and down, didn’t sleep for days and then left my parents a letter when I drove out to spend the night at a friend’s. It turned out they already knew, anyway.”
“I know. I mean, I let my life fall apart before I was ready to admit it to myself, even. To have someone do it against your wishes … what a mean trick to pull.”
Meg tasted her cooking and continued. “It’s just such a personal thing, you know? You want to make sure everything you say is perfect, all your dots are lined up. You want to do it on your own terms. And now she can’t.”
I got up and leaned over her shoulder, looking into the pot. Goulash.
“You know,” I said, “chances are we saw her last night at the game.”
She turned and grinned. “I think I knew that before you did.”
The next morning, there wasn’t anything new to report. Online, there was lots of speculation and rumour, but nothing more. Offline? Heath still hadn’t returned my call, and there wasn’t anything on the police blotter. A call to the police’s PR officer didn’t amount to much. “We’re treating this as a runaway, kid probably ran off to elope or something.” I hung up, grabbed my handbag, went back to the arena and jogged my memory.
Standing in the parking lot, the place looked like a big grey airplane hangar, one with a bunch of doors at one end. I walked around in a circle, examining the building. There were a few doors here and there, but they were all hooked up to the fire alarm - something would’ve gone off had Douglas used one of them. A big rolling door. The zamboni uses this when it comes outside and dumps piles of ice shavings. There’s a ramp where the bus comes in. I’d forgotten: players arrive on buses that ferry them to and from the hotel. Could he have snuck out here? Maybe, but someone would’ve seen him.
I circled the arena again, this time more slowly, thinking about how I’d try and get out. The easiest way would be by where the bus parked, but it’d be hard to get through unseen. The crowd of people exiting through the front would be easier to slip away through, but how would they get up there from the dressing room? I walked over to the pile of ice shavings and lit a cigarette while I thought.
Douglas snuck out of the game without being seen. From there, they got away … somewhere, and have been in hiding since. To accomplish the first, they could’ve done it themselves. But for the second one, they’d need some help. A driver, maybe a house to hide in. I paused. The police would be on this trail already, looking for a girlfriend, maybe a local relative. If they thought it was a big enough deal, maybe they’d even run through all the local hotels.
But it couldn’t be one of those. They cost money, and someone hiding out wouldn’t have it. I lit a cigarette and looked at the ice pile. A pink barrette looked back at me. I picked it up. I was no closer than when I started.
I had to find her. When I came out, it almost cost my career: the stress of everyone walking on eggshells around me, constantly slipping up, and the little reminders I was the token trans woman in the sports newsroom. It led to me drinking, and that led to me getting fired. I was lucky about Ed - when I got sober and started putting myself back together, he remembered I could write and didn’t care about my past. Not everyone was so lucky. I didn’t want Douglas to go through what I did, not with a chance to go to college on a scholarship or even turn pro. I had to find her and help her come out, be the kind of mentor I wish I’d had.
“It’s a mystery!” shouted Meg across the living room. Over dinner, I’d explained the outlines of what I knew to her, hoping she might have some insight into the situation. A fresh perspective, if you will. She leaned back on the couch and started thinking out loud.
“Okay, so she’s young, right? And it is she, right? They? Okay, so they’re young and on the lam. How’d they do it? Maybe that doesn’t matter. Probably not alone, right? Alright. They had help sneaking out of the arena, and probably did it in a way that didn’t arouse suspicion.” Her eyes lit up. “A disguise! So they definitely had help. But that’s over. You wanna know where she went? Find out who she, I mean they, find out who they were with.”
I paused and thought about what she’d said. It made a lot of sense, and I’d been thinking about it all wrong. I got up and sat beside her. “Meg, you’re a genius!” I leaned over to kiss her.
“Ugh no, not now! I’m eating!”
Next morning, back at the office, when I turned on my computer, I found a slew of emails about WomenNet. The story has been picked up by Rack ‘Em, a popular sports blog, and speculation was flying around. The latest updates had more detail. Her husband, one blogger wrote, had walked in on the player wearing a dress in a hotel room. He didn’t say anything to the player, but when he told his wife, he said he was worried it’d break up team unity. “What about me,” she said. The idea of a teenage boy in a dress made her sick, she wrote. The sports blog went further, using an app to gender-swap several players and asking their readers who was the hottest. I scrolled to the comments. When I read a post asking if the team’s bus needed a tranny flush, I logged off.
Something was bothering me about this. The timing was too weird, everything happened so fast. Who was the poster? And so close to a player vanishing. I mean, it had to be related, right?
I thought about what Meg said last night. I grabbed some paper and jotted down my thoughts.
“Player leaves arena. Has help, maybe disguised? Likely with help: alone, probably doesn’t have money for hotel. Staying with friends? Or maybe a safe house?”
That got me thinking, if it’s the same player, they’re probably hiding out somewhere safe. There probably has to be a couple of places here that runaway trans teens can hide out at. And I wouldn’t know where to find them. I’m sure they don’t run ads on Discord. But who would know? Leaning back in my chair, I started running through names in my mind. Coffee baristas, bookstore clerks, the guy who ran the support group I used to attend. One of them has to know.
But the timing. Why did they leave that night? It couldn’t be a coincidence, right? Did someone tip them off?
I grabbed the phone book, looked up the name Douglas. There’s a few, but I was sure the police and mainstream media, not to mention the bloggers, would’ve got to them by now. I went to my phone, and started scrolling through the contacts. After a few calls, I hit pay dirt.
The Drive Train is a bar and a bookstore located in the outskirts of town, an unassuming little place in a strip mall next to a nail salon and a tax return place. During the day, they mostly sell used books, and after the sun goes down and the strip is deserted, it becomes a gay bar. The bouncer is a non-binary friend of mine named Tanner; one time they showed how much they cared when I drank too much by depositing me in a dumpster until I sobered up. Today, Tanner was sitting behind a counter, absorbed in a novel.
“Heya Tan,” I said, walking up. “Whatcha reading?” They held the book out: Day of the Locust.
“It’s funny,” they said. “Reminds me of home.” They cracked their knuckles and stood up, letting me get a good look at their biceps through the ripped-off edges of a flannel shirt. “What brings you here? I thought you’d cleaned up?”
“I called earlier, I’m here to speak to Xan.” Xan is the buyer, bartender and general queer gossip queen for this part of town. “It’s for a story. I think they can help.” Tanner squinted their eyes and looked me over. “One sec,” they said, vanishing through the door. A moment later they peaked out again. “She’s back here in her office,” they said, motioning me through the door. “Last door on the right.”
Walking in through the door, and maneuvering around boxes and shelves, I walked up to Xan’s door and knocked. “Hey, it’s Kate. I called earlier, remember?”
“Yeah, yeah. Come on in, it’s open.”
I opened the door and found myself face-to-face with Xan and her cluttered office. Boxes of bottles were next to piles of books, dirty glasses and multiple dirty French presses. Her black hair hung down over her shoulders, and she looked out from behind her round, steel-framed glasses. “I’d offer you a drink,” she said, “but you know. We frown on that kind of behaviour here.” She grinned, her teeth dominating her face. “What can I do for you?”
Leaning against a chair in front of her desk, I reminded her of my call. “I said I was looking for a trans teen who’s gone missing and stirred up a bit of a storm. You said you might be able to help.”
She turned around in her office chair and grabbed one of the presses. “Yeah, that sounds like someone I helped out a few days ago,” she said while slowly pouring a coffee. “They were in a bad situation, and they didn’t know how to get out. Her girlfriend asked around, and someone told her I’d be able to help.”
“Helping someone in a situation like theirs isn’t easy, Kate,” she continued, sipping at her coffee. “There’s all sorts of things you have to think about. If their parents are the kind of people who’d call the cops and get their kid shipped back to them. If they’re running from one of those camps that make men out of eggy girls. There’s kidnapping laws, if the cops really want to make a stink.” She took another sip. “And you have to be able to trust them, too. God knows, some of the kids I’ve helped out … they helped themselves to whatever they wanted.”
“So what about this one,” I asked. “One of the good ones?”
“Depends who’s asking, I guess.” She grinned. “She seems alright by me, but I’ve done my homework. Her scouting report says she’s been known to throw an elbow or two.” She waved her arms in front of her. “Keep your head up and your stick on the ice, right?” She smirked, but then looked at me and turned deadly serious. “What makes you so interested in her, anyway?”
“I was at that game, Xan. Her story sort of fell into my lap, and I want to find her before the team does. Maybe I can help her.”
“I go on Twitter, Kate,” replied Xan. “Looks like she’s had a lot of help from an internet forum already. Maybe she doesn’t need any more attention.”
“All the more reason to find her, Xan. She can tell her side of the story. She can control her own narrative.” I paused, trying to think of what to say next. “She only gets to come out once. God knows, she shouldn’t let those trolls do it for her.”
Xan paused and took another sip, thinking about what I’d had to say. “You’ve got a point, but I don’t know if she’ll trust you. Especially now.” She looked at her watch and stood up, signaling to me that the meeting was over. “I’ll be in touch. Maybe I can be like an olive branch. Or something.” She walked me to the door, where Tanner was waiting to walk me out. As we walked past the bottles, through the door and past the tall shelves and stools, Tanner looked at me.
“What makes you so sure she wants to be found, anyway?”
That evening, Heath gave me a call. He wanted to know if I was going to the press conference tomorrow. What conference, I asked.
“There’s a woman named Alexandra, she says she’s going to give a public statement on Douglas.” He sighed. “Jeez, sometimes I wonder what I signed up for. A missing player, now they’re a transgender …”
“You can just say trans, buddy,” I interjected. “She’s a trans woman, that’s how you say it.” I took a breath. “Because she is. She’s trans.”
I asked Heath for details on the conference, and said bye. Meg looked over at me from her chair. With a grin she said:
“Kate, you know that’s the first time I’ve heard you say it. That she’s a woman.” She went back to her book, but added, “I think we’re getting closer.”
The Drive Train was a lot cleaner than it’d been the day before. Shelves were pushed back along the walls, and the chairs were all facing the bar, which had a curtain draped over it, covering the television and racks of bottles. It wasn’t crowded, but a handful of local media was there, alongside a few faces I didn’t recognize. A local TV sports guy, the hockey beat writer. A beard wearing glasses was tapping away at his laptop, a fish-lipped man was fidgeting with a camera. Some music was playing over the PA, something light. Vivaldi, maybe.
Xan burst into the room with a bang, the doors clattering shut behind her. Full of purpose, and savouring the attention, she strolled up to the podium. “I’d like to thank you all for coming today. Really, I really mean it. Thank. You.” She paused, looking over the room and making eye contact with someone in the back. I turned around - Tanner was leaning on the wall beside the door.
“I’d like to open with a question,” continued Xan, “A question about attention. When someone is trans, coming out is a hard decision, a tough one too. It’s not always a question of if they’re ready, but if they’re safe. If they’re comfortable. If they will be, in a word, accepted. Accepted for who they are.
“What I want to ask, is why. Why are you all here? Do you think someone coming out is worthy of a news story? Are you going to make an event out of someone’s personal life? Is this what the culture industry demands? Are you going to drag her through the mud?!”
The laptop guy spoke up. “Hey, listen lady, are you going to introduce him or what?
“I’m sorry, you are?” replied Xan. “Who is this man you’re talking about?”
“That tranny, Douglas whatever.”
“Hey!” I yelled without thinking, “you watch your fuckin’ mouth!”
He looked at me and smirked. “I know you. Don’t like that, you lush? That’s what he is, isn’t he?”
I got up and yelled at him, and everyone started yelling over each other. A TV cameraman swung his camera around to follow me as the anchor tried to get in the way. Pushing him aside, I lunged at him, ready to swing, when someone grabbed me from behind, hauling me to the floor. It was Tanner, who was immediately in the blogger’s face, grabbing him with one arm and dragging him to the wall.
“Everybody, calm down,” they growled, “this isn’t a rugby match!”
Getting up, l looked at my notes: covered in coffee, a mess. The room was, too. Tanner was escorting the blogger out with force, the news camera was scanning the room and the TV reporter looked overwhelmed. I didn’t know what came over me - it’d been ages since I spoke up like that. Since transitioning, I tried to blend into the wallpaper, tried not to make waves. After today, I wasn’t sure I could do that anymore.
I didn’t see the beat writer, but as I got up to leave, I caught a glimpse of Xan behind the bar, teeth bared in a grin.
Later that day, that news conference was on the blogs: radical trans abuse journalist, something like that. I skimmed the article, which ran my deadname and implied I still drank, had been doing so when I lost my temper at the cool, logical blogger. Rolling my eyes, I skipped the comments and closed my laptop. The TV on my desk showed clips from the event on the local 24 hour news channel: “Tempers Flare At Douglas Reveal,” the headline read, but thankfully it was on mute as I saw myself yell in anger. I slunk back in my chair; I was no closer than I had been the night Douglas disappeared, except now I was frustrated and on the news myself. My editor had left me several texts, and an email in all caps, but I ignored them. Meg sent me one saying she was proud of me, and had never seen me stand up for someone like that.
The phone rang, with a young woman on the other end.
“Hi, is this Kate Thompson? I saw you on the news and looked your number up on the internet.
“Uhm, this is hard for me to say, but you seem cool. I’m Betty, and I’m the girlfriend of the girl you’ve been looking for. I think we’re ready to talk to someone.”
I sputtered. Questions shot through my mind: how can I trust you? What took you so long? Why are you hiding? I took a moment and answered: “Where can I meet you?”
It was a house out in the residential area of the city, actually only a few minutes from the arena. The person at the door welcomed me in, and said to wait while they got the duo I’d been looking for. When they came up, my heart warmed. Douglas was there, wearing jeans and a shirt with cats on it, her hair freshly shaved down one side and some holographic highlighter accenting her cheekbones. Betty was there, too, in a long dress and with her hair tied up in a bun. I remembered when I first spoke to someone, and started the way they did back then:
“So, name and pronouns?”
She looked at me, and then at her partner, as if she needed reassurance.
“It’s Alexandra,” she said. “And it’s she and her.”
She didn’t wait for the next question. “I had to get away. Do you understand? I couldn’t pretend anymore. I needed to hide and figure some things out.” She turned and grabbed Betty’s hand. “I had to be myself.”
“Well,” I said, “I want to know how. I was there and nobody could figure it out.”
“It was easy,” said Betty. “She pretended she had leg cramps right before the game ended. Instead of going to the trainer’s room, she ducked into a bathroom where I’d been waiting. We got changed and she threw on a hoodie. We just walked out with the crowd while the team was celebrating a win.”
“Aren’t you worried about your future? I mean, you’re 17. You could go to college or try and turn pro.”
Alexandra shrugged. “I guess they have women’s teams too. And I don’t know if hockey’s my career, or was just a means to an end.” She tried to hide a nervous giggle with her elbow. “I really don’t know. I don’t want to be the first trans professional. I don’t want to be someone’s feel-good story. I just want to be me.”
Two days later, after my column ran and the blogs and WomenNet moved on to other stuff, after the local papers called Douglas brave and inspiring and all the other cliches, Xan called me up at work to congratulate me.
“Never thought you’d pull it off, Kate. Even I couldn’t find her, and I know every queer polycule in the city.”
“It’s just hard work, Xan.” I resisted taking a dig at her, she was probably still cleaning coffee off book spines. “Hard work and dogged reporting.” I took a sip of coffee. “So, you never had her, eh? Good thing I was at the conference, I would never have found her without it.”
“I’m a modest woman,” replied Xan. “I don’t like to toot my own horn, not since I went to Montreal.” I could almost see her smirk at her own joke. “But I guess if it wasn’t for me, you never would have found her, right? Guess that means I should get a cut of this story?”
“When I write the book, I’ll be sure to dedicate it to you.”
Roz Milner is a freelance writer and media critic. Her work has appeared in Exclaim Magazine, The Toronto Review of Books, Aquarium Drunkard, and many other places. She is working on her first book and lives just north of Toronto, Ontario.