Beau Lynn-Miller – What Gay Hockey Means to Me – 2023-2024 Essay

To say I love to skate would be an understatement. To say I live to skate would be closer to the truth. I grew up near Lake Monona and it’s possible that I could skate before I could walk; I don’t really remember learning to do either. My dad enrolled me in youth hockey but I had long hair and was on the young and small end of my cohort so all the boys made fun of me. I quit when I was in mini-mites.

But I never lost my love of skating. In the summers I’d rollerblade all over town. In the winters I’d just go skate at Tenny or Olbrich – or the lakes on the rare days and magical nights when they were smooth as glass and not covered in snow. But I never played in the rinks, even at the parks – they were too scary.

When I was around 20 I actually met someone in the MGHA and told him that I always wanted to play hockey but was too afraid of all the boys. He encouraged me, but still I was intimidated. When I was 24 I bought a one-way ticket to Indonesia and spent the better part of the next 2 years drifting through Asia and the Middle East, hitchhiking a great deal of the way and pushing my boundaries and limits a little more every day. I left on that trip as a boy and came back as a man; far less scared of anything.

A couple years later when a co-worker in Seattle asked me if I would take an adult-learn-to-play hockey class with him, it sounded like a good idea. I wasn’t sure I even knew all the rules of hockey, and I certainly didn’t know any of the strategy or how to use the boards or shoot on a goalie. The class was friendly and we entered the lowest division together. I fell in love with it like nothing in the previous 10 years. My skating ability kept me safe from the goons and I couldn’t wait to get back out every night.

5 years later I had risen 13 divisions and I was surrounded by guys who played travel hockey as kids, or just finished playing college. They could skate as well as me and they played a much rougher sport. It was technically a non-checking league but the refs seemed to look the other way in the higher divisions, and games routinely ended in fights. What started as a love that I just couldn’t get enough of turned into a dread that left me wondering if I’d go back out every night. I counted the game as a huge success if I wasn’t too injured to play the following week. 

At my very last game in Seattle I was skating with my head down because I still hadn’t learned to control the puck, and some guy intentionally hit me so hard I lost feeling in my right arm for a week. When that subsided the migraines set in. I had symptoms so bad a neurologist told me to get an MRI immediately. The refs never even stopped the game. Fortunately I’m okay.

I think most people have a good idea what it means to play hockey, but it’s not so clear what it means to be gay. Both gender and sexuality, like good hockey strategy, can be fluid, and the terms aren’t always clear (I wish I knew what “flow” and “lettuce” were when I was younger). When I was in high school I thought I might be gay, so I tried that on for size but it didn’t quite seem to fit. I played with gender a bit as well and never found an answer there, but these days I feel comfortable as a man. I’ve identified as queer since before the Q got added to LGBT, and before it was an option on dating apps. I’m not OG, but I’ve also never felt entirely “straight”.

I wasn’t surprised that people in gay hockey were more likely to help me than to hurt me. If this league was just way more safe than any other, that would be enough. But the complexity inherent in gay hockey requires more thought, and this league bleeds thoughtfulness. The organization, consideration, and care in the MGHA also makes it stand out above the rest. If it was only that, it would be enough. And yet still, gay hockey is more than the sum of its parts. The community that the MGHA cultivates is truly a model for our day. It’s easy to accept someone into your group when they look like you or have a similar story. I presented to the MGHA as a straight guy who wasn’t scared to play in the top division, and they still welcomed me with open arms, hearts, and minds. That’s what gay hockey means to me.