Paul Weisensel – 2014-2015 Essay

My name is Paul Weisensel. I recently completed my first season with the Madison Gay Hockey Association (MGHA). I want to tell you what the MGHA means to me. To do that, I first need to tell you a little bit about my childhood. I grew up in a very conservative Catholic family. Like all kids I went through puberty, starting at age five or six, and ending in my late teens. In that aspect I had a similar childhood to my peers.

However, I grew up as a gay youth trapped in an extremely bigoted world. I was constantly surrounded by hateful sermons and stereotypes. Homophobic slurs were often used by kids my age and older, especially on the playground. I can’t for the life of me remember an occasion when a kid I knew was chastised for using a homophobic slur, and yet sexist and racist slurs were not allowed and kids were punished for using them. It didn’t help that many adults used those same slurs. Being gay on television or in the movies or in classic novels was portrayed as being: a complete and utter disappointment to his or her parents, going to hell, psychologically unhinged, a perverted deviant, suicidal, and most definitely as someone who led a miserable existence.  I tell my friends that I survived growing up Gay and Catholic…if barely.

From a very young age, I had heard stories of gay youth and men getting beaten up in locker rooms, or even killed. One story that resonates with me to this day is when a U.S. Marine stationed in Texas had Come Out to some of his fellow Marines. They had pretended to be all right with it, but had actually conspired to take him out to some bars, get him drunk enough that they could attack him, tied him up with chains, and dragged him behind a pickup truck at high speeds until he died. They were all prosecuted for the crime. However, what stuck with me was that I had heard that the U.S. Marines were the closest brotherhood anywhere. If it could happen there, what was going to happen to me? I’m not sure all heterosexual people realize the amount of anxiety and fear LGTBQA youth deal with on a daily basis.

Participating in sports was something I first shied away from and later refused to engage in. I could not risk getting a boner in the showers or locker room and being found out. When I was old enough to dress myself and later when I could pick out my own clothes, I consistently chose dark clothing. I kept my head down a lot. I avoided people when ever possible. I didn’t realize then that I was suffering from depression. I refer to this as my ‘gray period’, which lasted through high school. I had no positive openly gay role models and no one to tell me that I was unique and wonderful and that I didn’t need to change.

I might very well have ended up just another statistic, another suicide or another runaway being pimped out, if it hadn’t been for two things. The first is the fact that I had a great single mom. She never uttered a single homophobic (or any other) slur.  In fact, she sat me down when I was a little kid and told me about how she grew up in a world where racism and sexism were common, but that this was not something she would tolerate in her household and that we are all created equal in the eyes of God. This gave me hope that one day I could have an honest relationship with my mother. I made myself a promise that one day I would be honest with her; I kept that promise, eighteen years  later. The second thing was Troop 102, Boy Scouts of America. I shutter to think of what might have happened to me, had I not had that ten plus years of wonderful education and mentoring, and all the great weekend and summer camping trips, free of any discrimination. We all wore a uniform; we were all equal. I grew up internalizing so much self-hatred that at times I felt as though I would explode. The Boy Scouts gave me a way to channel those negative emotions that were productive, healthy and laid the groundwork for me to form my moral compass and. Sadly, I earned my Eagle Scout Award at about the time the national argument over allowing openly gay scouts and leaders was heating up. All I could do was move on and pay it forward in other ways.

It wasn’t until my late teens when I was starting college that I began to truly consider that it was actually OK to be me. Up until then, I was ‘Playing Straight’; going through the motions, but not really living in a way that allowed me to truly create my own personal identity. I would ape others’ laughs, their mannerisms, their social behaviors instead of being myself, because I didn’t know who I was and was terrified of people finding out I was Gay. In college, removed from the suffocating affects of homophobic homilies in church (while surrounded by family and neighbors, not a one of whom ever stood up and complained or shook their head and walked out), I truly began to find myself. I did make some new friends, and began to socialize. Still, I really struggled, and for a long time never completely felt that I fit in anywhere. I had begun to have an honest relationship with my mother and siblings. Still, it was always hard to make friends, not knowing who was truly being sincere, but only on the pretense that I was heterosexual.

It didn’t help that I suffer from neurological disorders that make it seem as if I am consciously staring at people, or following them with my eyes across a room, when in fact I am in a dream state and unaware of what is happening. I will forever remember being heckled out of places like the LGBT Center on the UW Madison Campus as reverse discrimination at its worst. When my neighbors used permanent black markers to graffiti the outside of my residence hall door with homophobic slurs, and I tried to stand up for my rights, the student supervisor for my floor yelled at me, “We don’t do that here!” I went to talk to an associate dean in Bascom Hall about it, and I was told that UW Madison did not recognize being gay as a minority status, and therefore I could not so much as file a complaint.

All of this has a negative cumulative affect on a person. To make matters worse, the pastor who verbally tortured me as a child and young man performed many of the Holy Sacraments on most of my family, friends, classmates and many neighbors. When attempting to Come Out to relatives, I found out the hard way that people don’t want to associate some of the most important days in their lives, like their wedding, and the man who performed it, with decades of verbal abuse and a childhood filled with pain. I can empathize with what victims of physical assault must have to go through, when the assailant is someone the family loves and trusts unconditionally. An aunt once asked me what it was like growing up in our family. I answered, “Always together, forever apart.” Until parents grapple with what many kids are going through, and come to the realization that one or more of their children might very well not be heterosexual (and that it shouldn’t matter) this pattern of behavior laced heavily with denial with continue to be passed on to the next generation.

Last summer, I happened to find myself chatting online with Patrick Farabaugh, who founded the MGHA. I explained that I suffered from mild neurological disorders, and that I had never played hockey, but that I was very interested in joining. He was incredibly supportive and assured me that I would be welcome. I was so excited that I started researching how to play online. Within a few weeks, I had purchased all of my hockey gear, and was learning how to skate, opposite my mentor, David Hafner.

The last several months have been some of the best I can ever remember. I have been warmly welcomed into the league. The over one hundred members and their significant others/families have been very supportive of me. I have a mentor that taught me how to skate & play hockey. I have team and league mates I really enjoy playing with. I have made many new friends and can see myself playing in the MGHA for many years to come. I finally feel like I belong somewhere, like I am a part of something bigger than myself, in a positive way. It’s amazing how one random encounter like my online chat with Patrick can be the focal point for a life-changing set of events.

The MGHA and the staff at Hartmeyer Ice Arena and Madison Ice Arena has been nothing but supportive and professional during my first season. There is a warm, supportive LGBTQ-friendly atmosphere. I need to send out a big thanks to them for that. This allows for all our members, be they lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or straight allies, to really be at ease, be themselves in a way we are not always permitted to be. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to constantly improve upon my hockey skills and be apart of this wonderful community. I love my hockey family and am so grateful to be a part this wonderful organization. I look forward to many great season with all of you.