Harrison Browne has been the first person to do a lot of things in his hockey career. Last season he became the first openly transgender athlete to play professional team sports with the Buffalo Beauts. This season he became the first NWHL player to score a goal in an NHL rink and the first NWHL player to score a shorthanded goal in three consecutive seasons.
In the past year Browne has publicly come out as transgender, he’s won an Isobel Cup with the Beauts, he has retired, (and then come out of retirement), and he’s signed with the Metropolitan Riveters. And for the past 13 months Browne has shared chapters from his unique and inspiring journey on his YouTube channel.
For Browne, YouTube is a lot more than a place to watch cat videos, hockey highlights, and movie trailers. When he needed it most, YouTube was a place where Browne could find voices that were sharing stories similar to his own story.
“I did a lot of researching when I was trying to figure out what I was, what my feelings were, and if anybody else had similar experiences,” Browne told The Ice Garden. “YouTube was a big window for me to hear other trans guys talk about their experience ... It was really eye-opening for me to see other people who were like me.
“I wanted to give back to that community,” Browne continued. “YouTube gave me so much comfort and a sense of community. I thought now that I’m open and I have this platform, it would be a really good opportunity for me to give back and share my experiences with other people.”
Browne’s YouTube channel currently has 1,800 subscribers. But he doesn’t like to call the people who watch his videos fans. That label is likely too impersonal, especially for the content that his channel provides. For Browne, YouTube is a way to connect with people and, hopefully, to help them by sharing his story in his own way.
Expressing himself with his own words is important to the Riveters winger. Even if you don’t follow women’s hockey, you’ve likely heard the name Harrison Browne. Last year Browne was the subject of numerous articles and videos on major publications including ESPNW, Sportsnet and the New York Times. But Browne feels that sometimes something gets lost in his message when it passes through the filter of a journalist. His YouTube channel is a way for him to tell his story himself.
“I know that there was really never any malicious intent in any of the articles about me,” Browne explained. “Every reporter has treated me with respect and has made sure to tell my story in the best way [they could]. But I felt that there were a few articles that kind of misconstrued my story, or misinterpreted an emotion that I had and blew it up in an article.
“That really taught me a lesson,” Browne continued. “No matter how clear I think I say something, or how clearly I think I convey a message, it can always be interpreted in another way. But if I’m just talking to a camera and editing my own videos, my own words, I can make that message exactly what I want to make it. I think that’s the beauty of my YouTube channel. It’s completely me.”
Browne sometimes includes goofy outtakes at the beginning of his videos. He has also broken down in videos when talking about how hard it is when friends and family don’t accept him for who he is. He’s shared his feelings about top surgery. He’s discussed his relationship with his girlfriend, Carly. On his channel there’s no show going on; there’s no YouTube character. This is Harrison Browne.
Many of the ideas for his videos come from questions asked by people on his tumblr account. That's part of the reason why Browne’s videos cover a wide range of topics, including making a long-distance relationship work, where trans men can find clothes that fit them, pet care for ferrets and offseason hockey training. But most of his videos cover topics that are relevant to his life as a trans man; topics that he hopes will help others who may be going through similar experiences.
“In my earlier videos I just had rants about my day and stuff like that,” Browne explained. “But then I thought that I could taper it down - focus on the idea that I’m going through something and I think a lot of other people are going through it. If I find something that I went through and I think someone could benefit from hearing my experience, then I’ll talk about it.”
Recently we have seen a lot of debate in the media about professional athletes voicing their opinions on and off the playing field. There’s a vocal group of fans who want athletes to “stick to sports” and keep any discussion that is even remotely political off of their twitter, Facebook and instagram feeds. But that hasn’t stopped Browne from using his platform to share his opinion.
“I don’t think that [the stick to sports narrative] is valid,” Browne said. “I don’t see any athletes coming out and saying, ‘I’m a professional politician.’ Or, ‘I’m a professional doctor; you need to listen to me.’ They’re just people with opinions. Everybody has the right to an opinion. Everyone has the right to voice their opinion. Just because they’re an athlete doesn’t mean they can’t have a say in what’s going on in the world ... I definitely feel that we shouldn’t just stick to sports. If you have something to say you should be able to say it, whether or not you’re athlete.”
Browne feels that if he’s not being criticized then he’s not living his life the way that he wants to. He knows that there are people who will have a negative reaction to his story and his lifestyle.
“When I made the decision to come out publicly by coming out in the media and having my own YouTube channel I opened myself up to criticism,” Browne shared. “I opened myself up to be disagreed with in certain ways, including my lifestyle ... I never even considered what other people would think of my decision or what other people would say when they heard my story. It didn’t matter to me.”
The videos on Browne’s channel are engaging regardless of your gender identity because they are remarkably candid and undisguised. In many ways the videos capture who Harrison Browne is as a person: sometimes goofy, sometimes serious, but always genuine.