Jay Filali – 2013-2014 Essay

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (well, by long I mean five years, and I guess you could consider Mequon “far, far away”) I was a freshman in high school playing on an all-boys lacrosse team. At the time, I was hoping to join an athletic community where I would be able to develop as a person and be able to figure out who I was…sadly, I wasn’t able to find that on my high school lacrosse team.

The boys I sweated, suffered, and played alongside hated me. I was encroaching on their space, and since I’m biologically female, they wanted nothing to do with me on the field. I gave lacrosse my all only to be met with continual abuse. This kept on for a solid two years, and by the time I was forced to quit the team, I had committed social suicide and was isolated from the community I so desperately wanted to join. Additionally, I had no idea who I was because of it.

A couple years later, I graduated and headed to UW-Madison to pursue a degree in [fill in the blank here]. I moved into a small apartment, and for first time ever, I was alone.

Now anyone who’s ever spent about five minutes with me is acutely aware that I talk a lot and I need human contact. Between living alone in a new city and going to a school as big as Madison, it took a while for me to find friends, and for those first couple months I was stuck in my own head.

That doesn’t seem like the worst thing, eh? For the most part, my thought process tends to rotate among school, hockey, and Canada, so spending a lot of time in my own head doesn’t seem like too much of a problem, right? Wrong.

For the first time, I started to synthesize and actually realize everything I went through in high school and how it was affecting me now.

Even though the team was made up of butt-nuggets, I can say I learned a few things from them. How to be tough.How to stand up for what you want.How to believe in yourself when no one else has your back. Not bad, right? But even though my time on the boys’ lacrosse team was able to teach me that, it was never able to provide me with a sense of community or a safe environment in which to figure out my identity.

When it came to my identity, circa the beginning of last year, I was lost and confused. As far as gender goes, my gender was flipping between male and female so much I was getting gender whiplash. On the sexuality front I was…as I so eloquently explained it to a good friend, “hella confused on a good day.” Growing up in a very conservative and bigoted community my entire life added to the general confusion and stress.

Now, cue the uplifting music. The turning point in the film, the chance encounter, the miraculous discovery.For me, it came in the form of meeting someone at the Shell.

It was like any other day, really, dragging a couple of friends to the UW-Madison Shell so I could get my daily ice-skating fix. At this point, hockey was something I was hoping I’d get to play in the next three to five years, if I practiced skating enough. Never in a million years did I imagine I’d be gearing up for my first game a little less than six months later.

I think I was in the painful process of figuring out backward crossovers for the first time when a lady came up to me. Her name was Dana, and she asked me if I played (I said no), if I wanted to play (I may have screamed yes), and that if I was interested (another yes), there was a gay hockey league in Madison that was looking for players for the next season.

After I expressed my interest, we parted ways, exchanging contact information. I was completely over the moon, and for the next six months I would rant and rave to anyone who would listen about this hockey league I’d be joining next season.

Now, right before the season started I had a brutal thought. Hockey and lacrosse had always been very linked in my head. The style of game play, culture, and mentality were incredibly similar. What if this league was just going to be round two of what happened a couple years back?

Turns out, I was worried for no reason. I managed to stumble upon a league that values the comfort of the individual. One that values the creation of a supportive community that allows people a safe place to figure out their own identities.

For the first time ever, I wasn’t nervous about being judged for my level of play while in a sport. After meeting with my mentor, Suzanne, I knew this league was going to be a great experience. I mean, let’s be honest, when you can make a “breaking the ice” joke to another hockey player and have them laugh along with you, you know that friendship is destined for great things!

Suzanne and all the other wonderful people I’ve met in the MGHA have taught me that this is a supporting and caring community. Identity-wise, I still haven’t totally figured myself out, but for once I’m not worried about it. I know the people I’ve met through the MGHA will have my back no matter what. All the fantastic friends I’ve made in my first year here have allowed me to be myself, all my weird almost-Canadian quirks included, and have made my first year playing hockey truly amazing.