Growing up in an ultraconservative area of Michigan taught me to hide who I was; never admit, not even to the closest of friends or yourself, who you truly are. So, for 21 years, I learned to hate being gay, because where I was from, if you were gay, you should be non existent.
I spent so many years in life doing what I was supposed to do, playing sports, dating, going to church and was even going to marry the guy I was supposed to.
In 2000, I was faced with a choice to accept myself and embrace the person I had been trying to deny for so long and lose those I love, or remain locked away. I would love to say I had open and accepting parents, and that someday they came around. I really wish it was not a story filled with so much grief and heartache, like so many others. I heard things like “it would be better if you were dead” and “if we would have known we would not have picked you” (I was adopted at a young age). I have forgiven my parents for their words, ones I hoped were spoken out of fear and shock, but I cannot forget them. That day was the last day I really had a family. Sure we still talk, but it is more like strangers discussing the weather. But, the weight that was lifted from my shoulders that day tells me that ultimately it was all meant to be this way.
It did not come as a shock to me that I was shunned by my family, which drove me here to Madison with only a couple of acquaintances, no job, and hopelessly depressed. I still do not know how I survived those first few months in Wisconsin, sleeping on floors, couches, and in my car at various parking lots around town. Some days it almost seemed that somehow I was a mistake, that there was something wrong with me, and perhaps it would be better if I was dead. But something in me would not give up, I did survive. Slowly, I began to emerge from my own shell to discover my life had so much potential, I could do something worthwhile, and there were more people like me. And, although I no longer have much of a relationship with my family members, I have made a new family, one of choice, with great people that truly care about and support me.
In the early days community was more about going out to the club but that was not a place I could find substantial relationships. Until, while on the Act 5 ride, I heard about MGHA. I was intrigued by the idea of playing hockey, and I was enticed by the passion and energy I could feel from these women, all for this hockey team! Before I could comprehend how to play, or what I would need, I was signed up and set up with my mentor.
I remember being quite nervous when we went to pick out gear, I had no idea so many pieces of equipment were under those jerseys! I think I had asked at one point if someone would make a step by step list so I knew what was supposed to go on in what order. Being new to the sport and a rookie to the team, I was unsure how people would react to my incessant questions. My teammates and other hockey players were so helpful, always willing to show you something new at open skate or talk you through the rules. It was not about being the best on the ice, but having a good time and a supportive environment.
That first game was probably the most terrified I have been in a long time. Having been athletic most of my life, I was not scared about a new athletic sport; I just knew something would change when I went on the ice that night. My knees were literally shaking as I waited to take the ice, but when it was time to leave, I could not wait for more! That is how my weeks go now… how many days until hockey, and how soon can we get back out there. I look forward to Sunday nights more than I thought I could. It’s about walking in and looking into the eyes of people that care about you. Getting hugs, sharing some hot cocoa, enjoying a few laughs and being who you truly are.
Gay hockey to me means family, a family of choice. One that laughs together, encourages one another, and supports each member. Gay hockey is a community of love and support that I can’t imagine my life without.