By Kieran Heffernan
Daxton Rhead was a successful cross-country runner at OFSAA during his Grade 9 year, placing 5th individually and 2nd with the Glebe Collegiate midget girls team. At the end of that school year, he came out as transgender.
He had realized he was a boy earlier than this, but didn’t come out right away.
“Honestly, part of that was because of sports. Not all of it. But part of it was,” he said. He thought to himself, ‘How is this going to affect things? Am I going to be able to continue to play the sports I love?’”
Rhead also played in the Ottawa East Minor Hockey Association boys house league for his whole childhood, and played competitive girls box lacrosse for some time as well. Sports were incredibly important to him.
“It was my outlet. I would go for a run to clear my head. I ran a lot, and it was my coping mechanism. It was the way I dealt with difficult emotions and feelings and stuff. So, in fact, when I figured out I was trans, I went for a run right away.”
Being trans didn’t end up being too much of a problem, at least in terms of still being able to participate in sport. With hockey, Rhead’s parents just emailed one of the coaches and got his name and gender marker changed.
“A lot of the time I have my parents come out for me, because like, I’m dealing with enough other stuff,” he laughed.
It helped that he was playing with guys he’d known for years, although it was still a bit strange, as it often is whenever he comes out to new people.
“It’s just awkward and uncomfortable, and feels sometimes unnecessarily personal. But at the same time, if I don’t tell people I’m trans, then people maybe don’t realize that they know someone who’s trans or that trans people exist and are around and are doing things in your community,” he said.
He did stop playing lacrosse, since he had been playing on the girls team and wasn’t sure that it would be an accepting environment. But coming out at school was a similar process to hockey.
“It wasn’t too big of a deal, which was really nice, because I was kind of expecting that it might be,” Rhead said. The OCDSB allows students to change their name and gender marker in the school’s database without having to change them legally. Rhead was able to do this, albeit with a few administrative hiccups.
“I do remember that my name was wrong on the list of what first class to go to, but the teacher that was in the class knew me, knew I was trans, so it wasn’t said out loud in the class. But it was a very stressful start to a very stressful day.”
Changing from the girls division to the boys was not a problem either, although it was a little hard knowing he wasn’t going to place as well as he had the year before.
“But I guess it got to a point where it’s like, I can’t hide this anymore, and even if it feels good to do well, that good feeling is not at all equivalent to the feeling of actually being who you are,” he said.
“(Competing in the girls division) was fun, because I love to run, but it was also painful because I knew that this was the wrong decision. The idea that people were perceiving me as a girl really hurt.”
Rhead placed 82nd at the NCSSAA championships in Grade 10, but injuries prevented him from continuing to run. He instead volunteered with the team at Glebe.
More recently, he’d just gotten back into hockey before the start of the pandemic, playing a few games in an pickup league specifically for LGBTQ+ players.
Although Rhead has had almost entirely positive experiences being a trans athlete, he knows this isn’t the case for many others. He also knows the impact sport can have.
“I think it’s really too bad when people who are LGBTQ don’t play sports or stop playing their sports because they aren’t accepted, or are afraid they won’t be accepted,” he said.
“Obviously, inclusion in all aspects of life is important, but because sports can be such an outlet and such a positive experience for people, I think that’s something that everyone should get to experience.”