Breanne Cyr – What Gay Hockey Means to Me – 2021-2022 Essay

My story is long, but it’s been a long and winding road. (Or perhaps a wet and slushy ice rink?!) This, my friends, is my journey to playing gay hockey and how it has helped me with “becoming a human again” as I like to say. Not that I was ever actually not human, but you don’t always feel human when you don’t feel like you fit in society, and you can’t trust your own body. Let me explain…

Period 1: Old and Gay
Once upon a time, back when I was 10 years old, I decided I wanted to play hockey. However, the options for joining a team were limited. As a girl, I could join the girls’ team along with the girls who’d been skating since they could walk (umm…yikes!), or I could join a lower level “co-ed” team of all boys. Great, as a sensitive pre-teen girl, joining a team of boys sounded like a recipe for disaster and was most definitely out of the question. Thus, I concluded at the ripe age of 10, that I was definitely too old to start playing hockey.

Instead, I joined a sport that was more acceptable and accessible to pre-teen girls: basketball. And I hated it. I was the only one who had never played before, and my confusion showed. In my professional photo, I had my jersey on backward, and that alone tells you about how well I did on the court. I felt stupid and deficient. To this day, I have a sour spot for basketball. The desire to play hockey remained in the back of my mind as I grew up. I considered it again in high school, but I then became aware of the stigma that “girls who play hockey are gay.” In a time when I just wanted to fit in and be “normal,” there was no way I’d risk people calling me “gay.” Hell no, I wasn’t gay.

In reality, I’d never even considered the fact that I could be gay because growing up, we never learned that relationships were anything other than a male and a female. I didn’t know anyone who was actually gay and not just the derogatory “gay” that kids labeled each other around the turn of the century. I wasn’t really into boys, and I wasn’t into make-up and other stereotypical teenage girl things, but I thought I was just weird and broken. After all, it was better to be secretly immensely ashamed of being weird and broken than to be gay, right?!

Toward the end of high school, one of my friends rekindled my desire to play hockey. She had found a women’s rec league in town. Cool, we could join together and I wouldn’t look so “gay.” To our despair, we then learned we had to be 18 (or 21?) and we were under the age limit – with no exceptions. Ok, so now I was too young to play hockey!

Period 2: Betrayal by my body
My chance to play hockey in college (and the years thereafter) dwindled once again when I developed debilitating health symptoms and all my life’s plans changed significantly. l often felt on the verge of passing out, and I blacked out on my way to class a few times. My heart would race as if I were in the 3rd period of a championship hockey game – just from standing up or sitting upright for too long. I had constant dizziness, migraines, fatigue, nausea, sensory sensitivities, etc. My symptoms were countless and all over the place. I was later diagnosed with an autoimmune neurological disease and dysautonomia, a dysfunction of the body’s autonomic nervous system. Basically, my body was attacking itself and cheating by making up its own rules instead of doing the normal body/organ functions. And such cheating was not at all conducive to playing hockey.

My health declined further in the years following graduation. I was eventually mostly stuck at home. I had trouble walking without assistance, I lived off tube feeding to my intestines, and I had IV lines in my arms and chest. I spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital for several years. Needless to say, things were not good. I was much too sick to play hockey!

Period 3: Anxiety Takes the Reins
On top of the health fiasco, I was also becoming more and more isolated socially which also led to depression. As an introvert with some level of social anxiety already, the isolation only solidified my feelings of awkwardness and not knowing how to socialize like a human being. My friends eventually moved away or fell out of contact with me because I was too sick to ever do anything or because they feared what would happen to me. The ever-increasing isolation coupled with the fear that I could no longer relate to anyone my age added up to some wicked social terror. It also led to some serious internal debates about whether I had a place or purpose in society or whether I was just a burden taking up resources. I was too anxious, depressed, and sick to play hockey!

But humans, like monkeys, are social animals. (I work with monkeys, hence the reference!). I was so lonely and I longed for friendships, acquaintances, and connection. As my health improved, thanks to finally finding the right (albeit expensive!) treatments, I ventured out into the world a bit. In all honestly, I partly did it just enough to appease my therapist and let her know that I tried doing the whole social thing and it sucked…and my first experiences did suck. As an academic, I just wanted there to be a manual on “How to be a Human 101” that I could memorize so I could avoid all the awkward and craptastic experiences. I couldn’t even socialize with others. I was clearly too awkward to play hockey!

Celebrating the Win – ie What Gay Hockey Means to Me:
With ongoing professional encouragement and because I’m a good student (even in therapy!), I finally took the big leap and signed up to play hockey with MGHA. I paid the dues before my anxiety could change my mind and tell me to back out. Then this really cool thing happened – I went to my first few weeks of hockey, and each time, although I was physically drained, I felt energized and excited instead of dejected and rejected. I didn’t want to wait another week before going back!

I’d never met such a welcoming, inclusive group of people before joining gay hockey. Upon meeting the folks of MGHA, I felt an instant connection or sense of belonging that I haven’t felt in a long time – likely since before I was that 10-year-old girl afraid to play hockey with the boys, concerned that I wasn’t feminine enough or that I didn’t like boys enough. I truly believe this is because I finally feel safe and comfortable being 100% me without having to hide part of myself or act the way I think I should act in order to fit in.

Society tends to say tell us things like “Be yourself” and “Embrace your differences.” They tell us that “Love is love,” and “Disabilities are just different abilities.” However, those words are rarely backed up by action or genuine feelings of it being safe to believe it or celebrate it without being judged or othered to some degree. Often, it feels like society says one thing, but means another. In MGHA, the actions and sentiments are backed up with the genuine feeling of being accepted just as you are, however you are, regardless of sexuality, disability, etc.

There is something special about being able to show up and feeling like you fit in, without that voice in the back of your head wondering what people are really thinking and stressing about what you need to do to appear “normal.” I don’t have to be the feminine female that society says (or means) I should be. I don’t have to have a husband or a traditional lucrative career and fancy home to feel like I fit in. And unlike so many sports, I don’t feel like I have to be a skilled and super athletic player to feel like I deserve a spot on the team. I can be awkward, fumble my words, or do something stupid, and they don’t look at me funny and cast me aside – they embrace my awkward and keep talking to me as I relearn how to be human.

Through MGHA hockey, I’ve learned to push myself and recondition my body beyond what I ever thought I’d be able to do again. Importantly, I’ve also to play within my limits; in other words, I don’t have to stay on the ice until I am on the brink of passing out in order to please the team. MGHA has taught me to push myself in all the right ways (even if that means holding back or taking a break) by giving me a safe and supportive environment to do so. My teammates cheer me on and give me positive feedback, even when I struggle, rather than reject me.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have ongoing health struggles and medical hardware installed. I was (and probably still am) hella awkward…but my MGHA people do not seem to mind. I’ve built acquaintances and friendships. Heck, I even ended up unexpectedly finding a relationship through all my 1200 layers of awkward!

So what does gay hockey mean to me? Well, to put it in a more succinct fashion, it has helped me become a human again, in both a physical and social sense. It’s shown me that “Embrace your differences” and “It’s ok to be gay” are real sentiments, not words that may or may not be true. It’s helped me venture back out into the world by providing a truly safe space and by empowering me to feel confident in who I am as myself, not as who I think society wants me to be.

I could say that I’m sad that I didn’t start playing hockey way back at 10 years old when I first decided that I wanted to play. Indeed, there is a part of me that’s sad that I’ve missed so many years of this great sport, but the truth is, I don’t think I’d have had nearly as positive of an experience as I have with MGHA. Like my one year playing basketball, I’d have probably felt stressed and deficient, decided I didn’t like the sport, and then quit forever. I like this ending much better – the one where I can say “I am too worth it NOT to be playing hockey!”