Chris H – 2013-2014 Essay

“Eat the frog.” Throughout the first half of our season, this phrase was on mental repeat and volume eleven. Over and over again, as I entered the arena and stepped onto the ice, this mantra helped me keep going, kept me pushing forward, kept me coming back. You see, I’m what I call a chronic worrier. The medical establishment has some different words for this, but they all end in “disorder,” and I’d like to think that I’m anything but dis-ordered—at least, not in that sense. I mean, I’d be slightly concerned if somebody found his or her life in all ways and at all times to be ordered. It’s right there in the physics of life, right—that whole entropy thing? But when doctors start talking about disorders, they mean something different, something bad, something stigmatized and dis-eased. I’m just a worrier.

And besides, we all know what worry is; we’ve all experienced it and, fortunately, most people can ignore it. For me, however, my worries tend to be a bit much. I get obsessive over little things, I sometimes avoid people and things I shouldn’t, and when that doesn’t work, my guard goes up, often leaving me unable to do seemingly routine and everyday things. As it turns out, though, the fix is, well, to just do it, to do what freaks you out—to eat the frog. “Eating the frog,” however, didn’t look quite right on the new-player interest form. So, instead, I wrote about wanting a break from my dissertation, wanting to engage with the broader Madison LGBT community, and wanting to get a little exercise. And all of these reasons were true, of course, but the main purpose for joining the Madison Gay Hockey Association was to do something that, well, freaked me the hell out.

Oddly, perhaps, I don’t think my sexuality has much to do with all this worry, at least not anymore. I’m lucky and privileged enough—not to mention old enough (a sort of privilege in its own right)—that being completely out as a gay man feels like a done deal. On the other hand, I’ve read enough Freud in my seemingly endless years as a student (as I explain it to my four-year-old niece, I’m in the 27th grade) that I can easily tread into the dangerous world of self-analysis. Surely—to name but one frog that needed to be chewed on this year—my obsessive and irrational fear of exercising and sweating in front of other people was at least partially shaped by the mental and physical violence I, like so many other kids, queer or otherwise, experienced in the merciless gladiatorial arena that is junior high gym class. (Seriously, though, junior high is some sadistic shit.) But thanks to the MGHA, if the hockey gear on the back porch grossing out the neighbors is any indication, that’s one devoured frog.

In an ironic twist, however, it was ultimately the junior high, male-bodied social imperative to “butch it up, or else,” that got me interested in hockey in a way I never was before. Growing up in Minnesota, the sport was, of course, ever-present. I went to many of my cousins’ high school games, but can’t remember actually ever seeing a play. I may have been too short, but really, I think I was just disinterested. And in the age of rabbit-eared televisions I can vaguely recall seeing, through the static, Northstars’ games on TV. But even then, the 1991 Stanley Cup loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins was tragic for me not because the team lost, but because my pet newt died minutes before we left to watch the game at my grandparents’ house. His name was Newton; may he rest (which was pretty much all he did) in peace.

But then came junior high and the start of my ongoing love affair with Saint Cloud State University hockey, my hometown team. It’s fair to say I became a little obsessed, in a total fan-girl way. I had the jerseys and the programs; I saved my ticket stubs; I begged my parents to take us on road trips; I even amassed an impressive collection of VHS recordings of games aired on television. I was into it. It was fun, but it was also a way for me to “prove” my masculinity and shun my queerness. I became a student of the game—learning the rules and the strategy and all the minor details needed to talk to the talk. But I never walked the walk. By junior high I was too old to start when my peers had begun skating at three or four. And I didn’t really want to. I’ve never much liked playing sports with the guys. Too much worry. And, as you all already know, I completely lack any natural athletic ability. In two years of little league, for example, as a denizen of right field, I managed to catch the ball just twice—on two consecutive pop flies…in practice.

Still, somewhere along the line I had fallen in love with hockey, and when I moved to Madison four years ago for graduate school, that love meant that I actually knew about the MGHA soon after my arrival. My chronic worrying, however, kept me from joining. Would I be able to skate well enough? Would people accept my comical lack of athletic skill? Would it be like junior high gym class all over again? Would I just fold under the pressure? But sometime last summer I finally decided to join—to finally feast on the frog. And after two, or three, or eight glasses of wine, I hit the submit button on the interest form.

As it turns out, of course, I had nothing to worry about. I still did worry—a lot, in fact—but the emphasis of the league on community and player development, and the friendliness and camaraderie that fosters, meant that those worries subsided relatively quickly. Now my biggest worry is when and where to find more ice time.

So, what is gay hockey to me? For starters, it’s the antithesis of junior high gym class. It’s an alleviation of worry. It’s finally being able to play the game I oddly fell in love with. It’s a welcome break from school and my dissertation, and a bit of exercise—even if those calories are quickly replaced after the game. But most importantly, gay hockey is community and camaraderie and new friends. And in the end, it’s me, eating one giant frog*—and it’s delicious.

*No actual frogs were harmed during the duration of the season. I prefer chicken strips.