Maggie Stack – What Gay Hockey Means to Me – 2021-2022 Essay

For me, joining the MGHA has been both a way to connect with a loved one’s memory and part of my
own journey of self-discovery.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I grew up in Minnesota, land of bait shops, Lutheran churches, and the North Stars. I actually never played hockey back then, but my little brother did, so our little sister and I got dragged to plenty of games and got a taste of what it means to be a hockey family.

Adam really liked hockey, but then we moved to Papua New Guinea and the equator isn’t really the place to find a flourishing hockey scene, so he switched to focusing on swimming instead and both he and my sister swam all the way through college.

As siblings, we stayed close through the years, and eventually a shift happened. The dynamic went from both of them looking up to me as the oldest, to my looking up to the two of them as just amazing humans in their own right. (There’s a point to all this, I swear. There’s also a twist that’s about to happen, so brace yourself.)

Anna and I both found careers in our respective fields (social work/case management for her, healthcare IT for me), while Adam ended up enlisting in the Army, where he became a Green Beret and had an incredible 8-year career (two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, too many awards to list). Then, in October 2016, he was killed in action, and my world ground to a halt.

Here’s the Facebook post I did the next day:

“My little brother Adam was killed in Afghanistan yesterday. He was kind and smart and funny and brave. He was 4 years younger, but he taught me to love the important things in life: dinosaurs and X-Men and Star Wars. He was the best brother anyone could ask for, and we’ll all feel his loss forever.”

Adam’s death was the worst thing that had ever happened to me, by a factor of millions. I simply couldn’t handle it, despite having an amazing support system. But – even in the middle of the darkest time of my life – it spurred me on a journey of my own, a super gay journey that ultimately led me to the MGHA (see? I didn’t forget what this essay is about!).

I wrote about that journey on Facebook on October 10th, 2019 (the day before National Coming Out Day because I just got too excited to wait to post it):

“I think most of my Facebook community knows that the last few years have been sort of…well, hectic. It’s been 3 years since my little brother Adam died. I posted about that. I almost killed myself because I felt really sad. I posted about that too. But believe it or not, there’s some stuff that the broader Facebook community maybe doesn’t know yet, and I’m hoping someone finds this useful. It took me until I was 35 years old to figure out that I was gay. No – strike that – it took a catastrophic life event to strip me down to the point where I was able to admit to myself that I was gay.

Three years ago, it was intensive therapy that saved my life. Therapy is hard emotional work. It sucks sometimes. And – like every sci-fi movie ever – sometimes you bring stuff up from the depths that you didn’t mean to. In my case, that meant my gayness. At one point, I was finally able to process my feelings about Adam, but my therapist said he felt like there was something I still wasn’t being honest with myself about. I don’t know if he just got a gay vibe from all the flannel I wear or if he didn’t even know what the thing was, but I went away and thought about it and finally – undoing many long years of lying to myself – realized that he was right.

My next therapy session, I couldn’t quite meet his eyes, but I did manage to blurt out “I’m questioning
my sexuality.” I didn’t even say the words “I’m gay” yet. And he just looked at me. I paused and there
was a long awkward moment, and then he said “You literally thought the world was going to end, didn’t
you?” And I said, “I literally did.” So that was the first time I ever said it out loud.

Now – this is not a “yay Maggie” story. I don’t think I’m brave or special or anything. If you’re wondering
why I even feel the need to “come out” publicly, I guess it’s a) informational for people in my life that I
don’t see every day who didn’t know this already, and b) a message for anyone who’s struggling with
similar issues that you can make your way out on the other end and survive. The reason it’s really not a
“yay Maggie” story is that obviously this has had a huge impact on my family.

My own parents happen to be super woke and I love them. When I first told them I was gay, they were
on speakerphone like all adorable parents are. My mom said “I love you and you’ll always be my little
girl.” And my dad said, “Well, that explains how you felt about the pink Power Ranger in 7th grade.”
(Yep, Dad, it sure does.) So I’m lucky. My family of origin was super cool with this. My sister Anna is amazing and supportive as always, and I know that Adam would have been super supportive and funny and probably made the best gay jokes.

But obviously, it’s my family of today that has been most affected by this. Steven is an amazing human and has helped dozens of LGBTQ teens throughout the years, so he’s been great about this whole situation. But divorce is hard, even a really amicable one like ours. He’s still my best friend and the best guy I’ve ever known. We’ve been reconfiguring our family for the last couple of years now, and it’s hard work. Sometimes it sucks, for the kids especially. Sometimes it sucks for Steven. It’s been hard on all of them, and I don’t want to minimize that. But if I hadn’t moved forward, I don’t know what would have happened. You have to live your truth, as the cliché goes.

Anyway. Again, I’m lucky. Amazingly lucky. My family, my friends, my coworkers – everyone I’ve told has been unbelievably supportive. (And to be honest, no one seems that surprised. I mean, it really is a LOT of flannel.) I even have an awesome girlfriend, Emily Hansel. So I guess now if you see me holding hands with some woman, you can be appropriately grossed out by our PDA but at least not be super shocked. She’s been on a journey of her own, and I don’t know if she really understands just how much she’s helping me with mine.

Anyway, that’s it. All the therapy, the gay stuff included, has really really helped me, to the point where I don’t think about killing myself all the time. So that’s a pretty big win for someone in my situation. (Side note: It’s weird because who I’m attracted to doesn’t seem like it should be such a big deal when you look at all the other things that make up a person. For example: I like Pop-Tarts better when they’re untoasted. I won’t use self-checkout because I’m afraid it will yell at me to put items in the bag that are already in the bag. My favorite animal is the majestic wombat. My biggest weakness is Tostitos with a Hint of Lime. I still love my kids more than anything and I still love Steven and I still think the pink Power Ranger was like the hottest person ever. Basically…I’m still me.)

So. If you’re curious, if you have questions like “how could she not know?” I would love to grab a coffee sometime and tell you all about the power of denial. Seriously. I’m happy to answer questions people have or whatever. And for sure, if you’re going through something similar, I’m always here to listen.”
<end incredibly long Facebook post>

Fast-forward to fall 2021. I’m super out and proud. I’m a 40-year-old woman with a 15-year career, two amazing kids, the same awesome girlfriend (Emily), and a sad lack of her own activities. I mostly shuttle the kids around and go to Emily’s sporting events to cheer her on. But I desperately wanted a thing, something to call my own.

Then one day, my next-door office neighbor Nick said “You should join the MGHA!” He’s been a member for a long time and has mentioned it from time to time, but I never thought about it seriously because how would I find the time? But for some reason, this time, I thought, “I should join the MGHA!” I asked him some questions, talked it over with my girlfriend (who was incredibly supportive), and decided to apply. I didn’t get in. The league was full.

Not gonna lie, I took it pretty hard. I remember ranting to Nick about how I just wanted something that was mine, and it sucks that I got my hopes up, and on and on. (He puts up with a lot.) I didn’t blame the MGHA, it made sense that the league was full, but I wasn’t too happy with the universe. Then there must have been a cancellation because I got an email offering me a spot! I was assigned a mentor, the incredible Ingrid, and she was the most patient person ever because I knew nothing. Ingrid very kindly met me at Play It Again Sports to help me find gear, and like a nerd I printed out the shopping list from the MGHA website and checked off items as we found them. I still to this day pack my hockey bag exactly like Ingrid taught me (one glove inside the helmet, shin guards inside the breezers to save room). I’ve only skated maybe once or twice per year since I was a kid, so I’m sure I looked like Bambi on the ice
that first time. But I tell you – the first time I hit a puck with my stick, I felt like I was home. It became pretty apparent, in those early skills clinics, practices, and scrimmages, that I was downright
terrible at hockey. I was routinely the slowest one out there, I could never skate backwards, and the first few times I tried to hit the puck I would overbalance and sometimes fall down. No one in the league – not a single person – ever made me feel bad about it. I have never been in a more supportive, encouraging, loving environment. And this is a sport known for knocking men’s teeth out!

I got assigned to a team, the yellow team, Team Caution! (The exclamation point is part of the name.) I was only slightly disappointed when my team name, Seven Deadly Suns, didn’t get chosen, but I came to embrace the theme and chose the name “Wrong Way” for my jersey. The team was wonderful. There wasn’t a single person who rubbed me the wrong way, and I would be happy to get a beer with any of them. (Seriously, Team Caution!, hit me up: Our captains, Trisha and Eric, helped set an atmosphere that was welcoming and encouraging and prioritized team play, like making good passes.

And my support system – ah, my support system! Emily came to every single game she could and always had words of encouragement for me. My sister came down and went to a game (and loved it). Lots of my friends rotated through coming to various games, and Emily’s parents even surprised us at the rink one night! But my favorite was when my younger daughter was able to come to games – seeing how proud she was meant the world to me.

I played left or right wing and gradually came to remember that we switched sides every period, so left and right were on new sides. I only went to the wrong side a couple of times (living up to my name, Wrong Way). And I got better! Emily said she could see a huge difference between my first game and my last. My last game was my best game. I still didn’t manage to score a goal all year, but I did get a couple of assists, which I’m really proud of. In that last game, there was one time I was playing right wing, racing down to our offensive zone with Meg at center and Zach at left wing. Zach passed it to Meg, who passed it to me, and I took the shot – but their goalie is amazing and she saved it.

Zach said “Good shot, Maggie!”

Meg said “Good shot, Maggie!”

And Gabby – their goalie – said “Good shot, Maggie!”

That moment captured the essence of the MGHA Way. Experienced players, even from the other team,
encouraging a new player who did her best.

Our captain Trisha gave each person a word at the end of the season, to capture how their season went. The word she chose for me was ‘Wonder’, and she wrote, “You enjoy the game and bring that joy to your teammates. Relearning the game alongside you boosts the morale of our team and refreshes our love of the game.”

So what does Madison gay hockey mean to me? It’s a chance to connect with and remember Adam. It’s a step on my own journey of self-discovery. It’s an opportunity to meet amazing people. And, perhaps most of all, it’s a way of life, of celebrating kindness, inclusion, and teamwork. I want to be someone who embodies the MGHA Way.

Thank you for reading! If anything in here resonated with you, feel free to email me at the email address above, or find me on Facebook as Maggie Claire.