My first season playing ice hockey has had so many other firsts built into it. The Madison Gay Hockey Association is truly the first group I’ve been a part of that states explicitly: ask, appreciate, and learn from each other. From my first day in a room of excited, nervous new players, I heard, “don’t make assumptions.” Don’t assume what people know, how fast they are, what they like or what they don’t, what they want to be called, or whether or not they’re hurt. The MGHA is the first space I’ve been in where getting to know new people doesn’t require coming out through long-winded definitions or explanations, and where any configuration or structure or type of relationship is just that: a relationship. The MGHA was the first place where I’ve really been out about dating another woman, the first group where I’ve really felt valued as a beginner at a new sport, and the first time I’ve seen such tangible progress from week to week among players with such a wide range of experiences and skills. In every interaction, on the ice and off, on the hard days and the good ones, there is a genuine invitation to come as you are.
One of my favorite things about gay hockey isn’t actually on the ice at all, but in the stands. The amount of love and support from people who notice and appreciate each other’s improvement and wellbeing is unlike anything I have ever experienced. People I had never had a conversation with before would tell me how well my team played or how much my game had improved since the previous week. The stands are full of people who are eager to make each other feel welcome, ready at a moment’s notice to explain the game to hockey-illiterate friends or confused partners, and excited to support both their teammates and their competitors. I love the willingness to share stories, questions, compliments, and beers while watching the games, and love seeing those same familiar faces tucked underneath helmets and mouth guards on the ice.
Gay hockey, for me, means celebrating each other’s success. It means patience and progress, falling down (a lot), and getting stronger. It also means, it turns out, that I finally feel like an athlete.