Kevin Colelli – 2016-2017 Essay

I fell in love with hockey in college. I was in the marching band for a university that has no football team. Hockey is our biggest sport, and we take it seriously. The upperclassmen taught the rookies all the traditions. What songs we played, what cheers we did, what all the rules meant.

Finally our home opener came. It was electric, and I was hooked right away. The fast pace, the skill, the athleticism, I soaked it all in. Per tradition, the first song the band plays is a bullfighter’s theme. After the final note, the entire band and student section yells “Olé!” Much to my surprise, the student section continued yelling:

“Perricone, you’re gay!”

What? I didn’t really process what had happened. I asked the senior next to me to confirm what I thought I heard. He confirmed, with a chuckle and a grin, that we call the other team’s goalie gay to try to throw him off his game. This took me completely by surprise. The fans of the sport that I love were using homosexuality to make fun of the opposing goalie. And I, a closeted gay eighteen year old, stood there and listened to them do it. Every home game. I could count on one hand the number of people that knew I was gay, and my courage to expand that number vanished.

As quickly as I had learned to love hockey, I learned that the world of men’s hockey is not a welcoming one for people like me. Luckily for me, my college also has a top-tier women’s hockey program. Here the homophobic cheers were nowhere to be found, and the lack of fighting and machismo meant that I got to see more of what I really love, fast-paced and skilled hockey.

I started covering professional women’s hockey for sports websites, and have been working with a lot of amazing folks to grow the women’s game. But as a cisgender man, I know that this space isn’t one that is directly for me, and I’m always careful to not overstep my bounds. I didn’t feel comfortable in the realm of men’s hockey, but don’t belong in the foreground of women’s hockey.

Before the MGHA, being part of any LGBTQIA+ community was not something I’d ever experienced. I had many supportive friends in college, even a few gay friends, but I was never proud of being gay. I felt that if I wanted to live a normal life — be a successful engineer, love hockey – being gay would have to be a secondary part of my identity at most.

After graduation, I moved to Madison and eventually ended a long-term relationship. It was a pretty low time for me. I lost interest in everything I had once loved. Even hockey was becoming tedious. When NHL players get suspended for using homophobic slurs, you find yourself wondering why such a huge piece of your heart belongs to a sport that at best is indifferent to you, and at worst hates you. It became increasingly difficult to reconcile my passion for hockey with my identity as a gay man.

Then I joined the MGHA. It was amazing to be around so many people who were proud to be queer and proud to love hockey. It was the first time I could be in a locker room and not fear that I was unwelcome. The first time I could play a competitive sport without worrying I wasn’t acting masculine enough. It was something I didn’t know how badly I needed until I found it.

The MGHA helped me finally accept myself, all of myself, and realize that I can be one whole person instead of two halves constantly at odds. Most importantly, the MGHA gave me friends. Friends who I can be my whole self around with no fear of judgment. Friends who invited me to Thanksgiving dinner. Friends who road-tripped with me to Michigan to watch the IIHF Women’s World Championship.  Transgender NWHL player, Harrison Browne, said it best, “You have to be your authentic self to be happy.” I honestly do not know where I would be today if I was not able to find a community of people to help me realize that my passions can live hand in hand with my identity. Thanks to the MGHA I can say, for the first time in my life, I am being my authentic self. I am happy.