‘Be yourself, change the world’

The Province, BC, Canada

Cory Oskam was born a girl but knew from an early age he ‘didn’ t want
to grow into a woman’s body.’ The 16-year-old transgender hockey
player hopes that by sharing his story, he can help promote acceptance
in locker rooms and minds alike

By Gord Mclntyre, The Province

June 2, 2013 1:04 AM

The words are inspirational and written on the inside of Cory Oskam’s
goalie pads, a simple motto: “Be yourself, change the world.”

It’s a take on a Mahatma Gandhi saying, “Change yourself, change the
world,” adopted by self-help gurus and personal-growth teachers the
world over.

For Oskam, a 16-year-old Vancouver high school student, the words he
wrote on the pads he wears in goal for his hockey team mean the world
to him.

“I think that saying applies to hockey,” he said. “I think by being
myself I’ve helped, a little anyway, change the culture in the
locker-room.

“Hockey culture and queer culture combining. That’s so rare. I don’t
know anyone in (men’s) hockey as openly out as I am.”

Cory, you see, wasn’t the name he was born with. He was christened
Anneke by his dad, Ben, and mom, Nicole Seguin.

His birth certificate said he was a little girl, but his parents
realized early there was no love of sugar, spice and everything nice.

“From a very early age I didn’t conform to any gender,” Cory said,
sitting in a common room at the East Van housing co-op he lives in
with his 11-year-old sister and parents.

“I definitely wasn’t female. I liked trucks, the colour blue over
pink, that kind of thing. My parents realized even before I could
talk.”

By nine years of age, Cory started taking hormone suppressants and, at
14, started taking testosterone. That’s when he decided his name
should be Cory, after his hero Cory Schneider, the starting goaltender
of the Vancouver Canucks.

Moving the goalposts

Cory came out a year-and-a-half ago, just before Christmas 2011.

He stayed away from his school, Britannia Secondary, for a couple of
days while fellow students received some education about gender
identity and transitioning.

It helped that one of the teachers at Britannia has transitioned,
giving Cory a role model.

For the most part, everyone – students, teachers, Cory’s fellow
players at the Britannia Hockey Academy and teammates on his midget
hockey team- has been supportive, Cory said.

“I hit the pause button before I grew into female puberty,” he said.

“It gave me time to decide if I was trans or not. But I knew I didn’t
want to grow into a female body.”

He’s articulate and nuanced. He can sound 26, not 16. He loves that he
has to shave facial hair. He loves that he has a deep, manly voice.

And overall he is accepted by a dressing-room culture that finds it
all too easy to fall back on homophobic jokes and misogyny, let alone
deal with the transgender issue.

Cory’s teammates on the Ridge Meadows C1 midget boys team – about half
of them, anyway – found out that he was trans through a canucks.com
article written about him, after Cory stood beside Cory Schneider for
O Canada at a Canucks game on Jan. 23, his 16th birthday.

The teen met the Canucks goalie after the game, when Schneider signed
a pair of his old pads that Cory had purchased.

Two days after the story appeared on the Canucks website, the coach of
Cory’s midget team had a surprise in the offing.

“I was starting in net that game,” Cory said. “We’ re getting ready and
the coach comes in and talks. Half the guys had read the canucks.com
article, but half of them hadn’t.

“In my head, I’m getting prepared to play. I’m just sitting there
getting ready and coach says, ‘Cory, is there anything you want to
say?’

“For me to stand up and talk to my team was something I’d never done
before. I was just the quiet, crazy goalie in the corner.

“I’ d probably not had a conversation with half these guys in my life.
So I stand up and I’m like, ‘Oh, yeah, so maybe some of you know or
don’t know, but there’s a Canucks article about me,’ and I told them
I’m transgender.

“I played really well and the team played really well. The running
joke next game was a teammate posted a comment on the canucks.com
article saying to the team: ‘OK boys, last game we had a really good
game, does anyone else want to come out?'”

Cory’s midget hockey coach John Moffat said he did not have the
slightest clue that Cory was transgender until his son told him to
look at the Canucks website before the game.

“I thought, ‘Oh, well, as long as Cory keeps playing well, I don’t
give a s—,'” Moffat said. “I’ m proud of the players.”

The news took long moments to sink in, Moffat said. It explained why
Cory showed up in the dressing room already wearing his gear other
than leg pads, skates and caged helmet.

“What Cory did took a lot of courage and his teammates totally
respected him for it,” said Moffat.

Wearing big boy clothes

Boy or girl?

“Simply put, it’s not a choice, really,” said Jim Oulton, president of
the Canadian Professional Association for Transgender Health.

Gender variance has been occurring across cultures and history since
the dawn of humankind, Oulton said, but it wasn’t until 100 years ago
that it got medicalized and was seen as a mental health issue to cure.

“We’ re moving away from that now,” Oulton said.

Dr. Dan Metzger, the pediatric endocrinologist at B.C.’s Children’ s
Hospital who works with Cory, put it this way: Gender identity is like
being left-or right-handed.

“It’ s the way your brain works and you really can’t change that fact,”
Metzger said.

When Cory was a toddler his parents bought him a doll house; he’d
launch trucks off it.

They bought him a dress for the family-day photo shoot at the Y
daycare; Cory tried to tear it off, crying, “Why can’t I wear a suit
and tie?”

At four, Cory wanted to know why he had to wear a two-piece bathing
suit. Why couldn’t he wear trunks “like the other boys?”

“Any time we put girls’ clothes on him he’d look like we’d done a
terrible wrong and try to rip it off,” said his mom Nicole, a midwife.

“I’ m easygoing and don’t shock easi-, but I was like, ‘Oh!’ I was shocked.

“I told him, when he was four or five, that sometimes people think
there’s a big mistake about their bodies.

“He said, ‘Momma, I think there’s been a big mistake.’

Estimates of how many kids are gen-er-confused vary.

“That&# 39;s a really good question and no one really knows the right
answer,” Metzger said. “One in 5,000-ish is the vague answer,
depending on how you define transgender. ”

Some British stats suggest it may be as high as one to three per cent
of children, although only a fraction of those ever transition.

The science

It’s not a simple process, of course, but prior to puberty is the best
time to start with hormone blockers

It all starts with a supportive family, which Cory has in spades.

“There&# 39;s a mental health professional, first and foremost, after the
family themselves,” Dr. Metzger said. “The mental health professional
deems the problem to be the real deal, that puberty change is causing
distress, which is usually the case.

“The appropriate time (to prescribe blockers) is when the kid is about
to go into puberty.”

Cory was a tad on the young side to go on the blockers at nine, but
the blockers are completely reversible.

Spokesman and advocate

Cory is a trans advocate and was the keynote speaker at the ninth
annual International Day Against Homophobia breakfast sponsored by the
B.C. Queer Resource Centre (QMUNITY) in May.

Next up, he’s slated to attend the second Nike LGBT sports summit in
Portland June 12-15.

The initials stand for lesbian, gay, bi, trans (Q is often added for
queer) and, in many ways, it’s the trans that’s the last taboo.

“Society has more work to do,” said 33-year-old Ryan Jarber-Furher, a
Vancouver musician and photographer who transitioned from female to
male in his mid-20s.

“It’ s better than it used to be, but generally with strangers you
don’t exactly feel a need to scream from the rooftop.

“I’ m not ashamed. It depends on the situation. And Cory is young
enough that he hasn’t been in the wrong body all this time.

“The more people know, the less likely they are to judge.”

It also makes it easier going through a transition in Vancouver than,
say, in some remote small town.

The Vancouver School Board, for example, has an expert whose job is to
deal with gender identification and phobias.

“There&# 39;s nothing easy about gender for anyone, certainly not for trans
people,” said Mary Bryson, director of the institute of gender, race,
sexuality and social justice at UBC.

“Culturally, there’s more competent care in Vancouver than in most
places. And in Canada generally.”

Yes, there is work to be done in Canadian society as a whole and in
locker-rooms and other potential Petri dishes of ignorance,
intolerance and fear.

It’s hard enough feeling that you don’t fit in with peer groups as a
teen. Imagine not fitting into your own body.

But the more Corys there are out there, the safer people may feel
about announcing who they are instead of pretending they’re someone
they’re not, going stealth as it were, living a lie in fear, doubt and
shame – perhaps even considering suicide.

“On some level, this is about saving lives,” Bryson said.

The saying on Cory’s pads – “Be yourself, change the world” – has
really stuck with him. By being himself and playing boys hockey, maybe
he can help make the world of male jockdom become more welcoming, more
tolerant, less phobic.

What did Cory tell his teammates that late January night, minutes
before they went out and played one of their best games of the season?

“I told them, ‘Yes, I was a female and this is my second year playing
boys hockey, but I’m the same person.’ ”

© Copyright (c) The Province

 

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