Category: Essays

Leif Backus – What Gay Hockey Means to Me Essay – 2021-2022

I can’t forget the nasty shout: “Geez! What a bunch of dumb queers!”

That was what my coach said anytime we didn’t play well on my high school hockey team. And we rarely played up to his standards. The words were an emasculating disapproval to most and a bitter identification to me. Not aggressive enough. Not fast enough. Not physical enough. Hockey magnified my closeted shame such that even after hearing encouragement from my best friends, I didn’t play my senior year. But sometimes now, on Sunday evening, the joy I get from playing in the MGHA feels like a little, beautiful revolution. Instead of feeling anything negative, I cherish the freshly Zambonied wet ice, the unique rink smell, the sound of a puck drop, the sensation of rough ice under steel blades, a glove-on-glove congratulatory hi-five, the excitement of a beautiful goal, or the ‘ding’ of a shot hitting the post. I love the game. But more importantly, I love and feel deep gratitude towards all those who are the league/community as they cultivate the best part of the sport… and ourselves.

So to all MGHA-ers, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. “What a bunch of fun queers,
allies, and good people you are!” And don’t you forget it!

Breanne Cyr – What Gay Hockey Means to Me Essay – 2021-2022

My story is long, but it’s been a long and winding road. (Or perhaps a wet and slushy ice rink?!) This, my
friends, is my journey to playing gay hockey and how it has helped me with “becoming a human again”
as I like to say. Not that I was ever actually not human, but you don’t always feel human when you don’t
feel like you fit in society, and you can’t trust your own body. Let me explain…

Period 1: Old and Gay
Once upon a time, back when I was 10 years old, I decided I wanted to play hockey. However, the
options for joining a team were limited. As a girl, I could join the girls’ team along with the girls who’d
been skating since they could walk (umm…yikes!), or I could join a lower level “co-ed” team of all boys.
Great, as a sensitive pre-teen girl, joining a team of boys sounded like a recipe for disaster and was most
definitely out of the question. Thus, I concluded at the ripe age of 10, that I was definitely too old to
start playing hockey.

Instead, I joined a sport that was more acceptable and accessible to pre-teen girls: basketball. And I
hated it. I was the only one who had never played before, and my confusion showed. In my professional
photo, I had my jersey on backward, and that alone tells you about how well I did on the court. I felt
stupid and deficient. To this day, I have a sour spot for basketball.
The desire to play hockey remained in the back of my mind as I grew up. I considered it again in high
school, but I then became aware of the stigma that “girls who play hockey are gay.” In a time when I
just wanted to fit in and be “normal,” there was no way I’d risk people calling me “gay.” Hell no, I wasn’t

In reality, I’d never even considered the fact that I could be gay because growing up, we never learned
that relationships were anything other than a male and a female. I didn’t know anyone who was actually
gay and not just the derogatory “gay” that kids labeled each other around the turn of the century. I
wasn’t really into boys, and I wasn’t into make-up and other stereotypical teenage girl things, but I
thought I was just weird and broken. After all, it was better to be secretly immensely ashamed of being
weird and broken than to be gay, right?!

Toward the end of high school, one of my friends rekindled my desire to play hockey. She had found a
women’s rec league in town. Cool, we could join together and I wouldn’t look so “gay.” To our despair,
we then learned we had to be 18 (or 21?) and we were under the age limit – with no exceptions. Ok, so
now I was too young to play hockey!

Period 2: Betrayal by my body
My chance to play hockey in college (and the years thereafter) dwindled once again when I developed
debilitating health symptoms and all my life’s plans changed significantly. l often felt on the verge of
passing out, and I blacked out on my way to class a few times. My heart would race as if I were in the 3rd
period of a championship hockey game – just from standing up or sitting upright for too long. I had
constant dizziness, migraines, fatigue, nausea, sensory sensitivities, etc. My symptoms were countless
and all over the place. I was later diagnosed with an autoimmune neurological disease and
dysautonomia, a dysfunction of the body’s autonomic nervous system. Basically, my body was attacking
itself and cheating by making up its own rules instead of doing the normal body/organ functions. And
such cheating was not at all conducive to playing hockey.

My health declined further in the years following graduation. I was eventually mostly stuck at home. I
had trouble walking without assistance, I lived off tube feeding to my intestines, and I had IV lines in my
arms and chest. I spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital for several years. Needless to say, things
were not good. I was much too sick to play hockey!

Period 3: Anxiety Takes the Reins
On top of the health fiasco, I was also becoming more and more isolated socially which also led to
depression. As an introvert with some level of social anxiety already, the isolation only solidified my
feelings of awkwardness and not knowing how to socialize like a human being. My friends eventually
moved away or fell out of contact with me because I was too sick to ever do anything or because they
feared what would happen to me. The ever-increasing isolation coupled with the fear that I could no
longer relate to anyone my age added up to some wicked social terror. It also led to some serious
internal debates about whether I had a place or purpose in society or whether I was just a burden taking
up resources. I was too anxious, depressed, and sick to play hockey!

But humans, like monkeys, are social animals. (I work with monkeys, hence the reference!). I was so
lonely and I longed for friendships, acquaintances, and connection. As my health improved, thanks to
finally finding the right (albeit expensive!) treatments, I ventured out into the world a bit. In all honestly,
I partly did it just enough to appease my therapist and let her know that I tried doing the whole social
thing and it sucked…and my first experiences did suck. As an academic, I just wanted there to be a
manual on “How to be a Human 101” that I could memorize so I could avoid all the awkward and
craptastic experiences. I couldn’t even socialize with others. I was clearly too awkward to play hockey!

Celebrating the Win – ie What Gay Hockey Means to Me:
With ongoing professional encouragement and because I’m a good student (even in therapy!), I finally
took the big leap and signed up to play hockey with MGHA. I paid the dues before my anxiety could
change my mind and tell me to back out. Then this really cool thing happened – I went to my first few
weeks of hockey, and each time, although I was physically drained, I felt energized and excited instead
of dejected and rejected. I didn’t want to wait another week before going back!

I’d never met such a welcoming, inclusive group of people before joining gay hockey. Upon meeting the
folks of MGHA, I felt an instant connection or sense of belonging that I haven’t felt in a long time – likely
since before I was that 10-year-old girl afraid to play hockey with the boys, concerned that I wasn’t
feminine enough or that I didn’t like boys enough. I truly believe this is because I finally feel safe and
comfortable being 100% me without having to hide part of myself or act the way I think I should act in
order to fit in.

Society tends to say tell us things like “Be yourself” and “Embrace your differences.” They tell us that
“Love is love,” and “Disabilities are just different abilities.” However, those words are rarely backed up
by action or genuine feelings of it being safe to believe it or celebrate it without being judged or othered
to some degree. Often, it feels like society says one thing, but means another. In MGHA, the actions and
sentiments are backed up with the genuine feeling of being accepted just as you are, however you are,
regardless of sexuality, disability, etc.

There is something special about being able to show up and feeling like you fit in, without that voice in
the back of your head wondering what people are really thinking and stressing about what you need to
do to appear “normal.” I don’t have to be the feminine female that society says (or means) I should be. I don’t have to have a husband or a traditional lucrative career and fancy home to feel like I fit in. And
unlike so many sports, I don’t feel like I have to be a skilled and super athletic player to feel like I deserve
a spot on the team. I can be awkward, fumble my words, or do something stupid, and they don’t look at
me funny and cast me aside – they embrace my awkward and keep talking to me as I relearn how to be

Through MGHA hockey, I’ve learned to push myself and recondition my body beyond what I ever
thought I’d be able to do again. Importantly, I’ve also to play within my limits; in other words, I don’t
have to stay on the ice until I am on the brink of passing out in order to please the team. MGHA has
taught me to push myself in all the right ways (even if that means holding back or taking a break) by
giving me a safe and supportive environment to do so. My teammates cheer me on and give me positive
feedback, even when I struggle, rather than reject me.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have ongoing health struggles and medical hardware installed. I was (and
probably still am) hella awkward…but my MGHA people do not seem to mind. I’ve built acquaintances
and friendships. Heck, I even ended up unexpectedly finding a relationship through all my 1200 layers of

So what does gay hockey mean to me? Well, to put it in a more succinct fashion, it has helped me
become a human again, in both a physical and social sense. It’s shown me that “Embrace your
differences” and “It’s ok to be gay” are real sentiments, not words that may or may not be true. It’s
helped me venture back out into the world by providing a truly safe space and by empowering me to
feel confident in who I am as myself, not as who I think society wants me to be.

I could say that I’m sad that I didn’t start playing hockey way back at 10 years old when I first decided
that I wanted to play. Indeed, there is a part of me that’s sad that I’ve missed so many years of this great
sport, but the truth is, I don’t think I’d have had nearly as positive of an experience as I have with MGHA.
Like my one year playing basketball, I’d have probably felt stressed and deficient, decided I didn’t like
the sport, and then quit forever. I like this ending much better – the one where I can say “I am too
worth it NOT to be playing hockey!”

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

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.

Dexter Lane – What Gay Hockey Means to Me Essay – 2021-2022

No photo description available.

My earliest memory of hockey is from elementary school. I came home from school and told my father that I quit soccer so I could play hockey instead. He told me absolutely not and signed me up for girl scouts. I grew up playing soccer from then on. I played many other sports through the years, but soccer was always my constant. I was engaged in sports year-round until my junior year of high school. Shortly after I graduated high school in 2009, I got sick, and after months of tests, procedures, and surgeries, I was finally able to come back home. I was given a prescription for Percocet, and I flew through them. This really opened the door for my addiction, and for the next several years I used a variety of drugs daily.

It’s fair to say that I have very little recollection of a large portion of 2015. I was living in Madison, and I woke up on the top of a parking ramp in West Virginia with almost no memory of how I got there. I came home and overdosed for the final time, less than a week later. After being taken to the emergency department and receiving Narcan, I spent the next three days in the hospital. I have almost no memory of my time at the hospital. What I do remember is the doctors telling me that if I would have gone home and gone to sleep, I would not have woken up. Within weeks I found a treatment center in the area that felt right for me, and I dove in. I made my recovery my full-time job.

I had many obstacles to overcome, but something that always seemed to pull me down was boredom. I had received emails from Patrick Farabaugh asking if I was interested in playing hockey.  With a lot of hesitation and fear, I made the jump. I laced up skates for the first time just days before the evaluations. I walked into that building not knowing a single person. I specifically remember Leah Rudin watching me try to tie my skates. When I looked up, she gave me a smile and said, “Can I show you a trick?” I use that same trick to this day. When I started hobbling to the ice, Christina Libs said, “You’ll need one of these.” as she tossed me one of her old jerseys with an “A” on it. She said, “Look at that, you are already an assistant captain.”  As my skate gilded onto the ice for the first time, I grasped tightly to the boards. I must have looked up with a face of pure panic because Molly Costello looked at me and said, “Hey, you got this.”  That first day on skates was one of the first solid memories I have after I found sobriety.

My first year of hockey wasn’t pretty, on or off the ice. On the ice, I was not the best skater. I had a tough time with the rules and was extremely quiet. Off the ice, I was dealing with a lot of anger. The first year of sobriety is hard for anyone, and another one of my biggest struggles was anger. I had spent the last five years numb and was finally starting to feel everything I had been suppressing. Looking back on the first year or two of hockey, admittedly, it was not the best reflection of who I wanted to be.

The entire first year of hockey, most people did not know I identified as a transman. I was not a very social human, and outside of Rainbow Kate, I really didn’t connect with anyone in the MGHA right away. It wasn’t until the beginning of the second year that I came out as a transman in all aspects of my life. The MGHA was the newest community I was a part of, but it instantly made me feel the most welcome when it came to how I was going to identify. It was the first space I was a part of where someone asked me and respected my pronouns.

When I reflect on where I started my journey versus where I am, I can’t thank hockey and the MGHA enough. Hockey gave me a place to go when just that was all I needed. MGHA was the first place I was able to feel completely like myself. It was the first place I could comfortably walk in a space and say, “My name is Dex, my pronouns are he/him/his, and I’m in recovery.” Those were two huge parts of my identity that I was hiding in different areas of my life. I was never made to feel uncomfortable for being in recovery, nor did I ever feel left out. I was still always invited out after games. Connection was difficult for me for many years, and if I’m being honest, it wasn’t until the last several years that I really started to open up and make deeper connections at MGHA. I feel that last year has been the best reflection of the true me. I feel more involved, have more patience, and have made so many meaningful connections. To quote Johann Hari, “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.”  I came here angry, alone, and closed off. Hockey and the MGHA family have helped me find that connection was possible for me and gave me something to feel passionate about.

MGHA May 2022 News

MGHA Members elect 7 to MGHA Board of Directors for 2022-2023 season

The new board met in May to select their roles and focuses for the 2022-2023 season. Read more about the board and our individual responsibilities on the MGHA Board of Directors page. Contact us at any time –

Avery Cordingley, President

Leads the board of directors to implement programs that align with the league’s mission to sustain and grow the MGHA. Highest escalation point. Special focus on hockey operations, skills development and coaching.

Brett (Bront) Rojec, Registrawr

Manages USA hockey registrations, assists gear program and website development.

Christina Libs. [web]Secretary

Manages league-wide communication and documentation using the website, email, and meeting notes. Special focus to support hockey operations and coaching program development.

Gabby Grandin. HOPs Program Manager

Manages captains, coaches, mentorship programs, within Hockey Operations.

Gene Zadzilka, Treasurer 

Manages yearly budget, oversees Grant & Financial Aid Programs, bookkeeping, and sponsorships.

Laur Rivera, Conductor

Manages league-wide conduct standards, goalie operations, and recruiting.

Nat Carlston, Pro Socialite

Manages social communications, social media accounts, and recruiting.

New player applications are open

We recruit many players by word of mouth, so send your friends and fam to our Player Application Page at any time throughout the season. As always, the sooner the better – having accurate numbers help us budget and balance play as we grow.

Returning players will be able to reserve their spot for next season starting in June. Stay tuned here on our website and on email for more news and all the details for next season.

What Gay Hockey Means to Me” Essays released and winner announcement

This year we received four new essay responses – our players’ stories – in response to our yearly call to reflect on “What Gay Hockey Means to Me”. We encourage everyone to read each essay as they represent a unique blend of our community’s stories, and help us connect to each other off the ice.

Breanne Cyr’s Essay

Dexter Lane’s Essay

Leif Backus’ Story

Maggie Stack’s Essay

Join us in congratulating this year’s winner – Dexter Lane! Dex’s MGHA dues will be covered next year, and he’ll have a photo shoot to accompany his essay being featured in Our Lives Magazine.


Thanks for reading – we hope to see you out(side) in June! ☀

2019-2020 “What Gay Hockey Means to Me” Essays Published and Winner Announced

Every year, the MGHA asks our community to reflect on their experience and prompts everyone to write an essay on “What gay hockey means to me”. This year we had 9 people respond and as always, these essays reflect the beauty and diversity of meaningful experiences.

Check out these essay previews and click the links below each picture to read the full essay.

Thanks to everyone who participated this year – you mean the world to us!

Avery’s Essay and Profile
Avery’s 2019-2020 essay won this year and will be featured in Our Lives Magazine.
Alpha’s Essay and Profile

Martha’s Essay and Profile
Bryam’s Essay and Profile
Grayson’s Essay and Profile
Ian’s Essay and Profile
Julie’s Essay and Profile
Karoliina’s Essay and Profile
Nat’s Essay and Profile

Bryan Zaramba – 2019-2020 Essay

“while my friendships in the league were still forming, it was my progress as an athlete that surprised and sustained me.”

Bryan’s Profile

What does the MGHA mean to me? When I sat down to write about what the MGHA means to me, it was shocking to me how quickly I realized my feelings about the MGHA could be distilled into a single word: love. Love from others in a supportive, caring community; and love for myself as a gay man in that community, and as an athlete.

I joined the MGHA in 2018, on the recommendation of a stranger on the internet, at a time of enormous change in my life. I was in the process of moving, by myself, from my lifelong home in New England to Wisconsin, a state I had been to only twice and knew exactly one person. Knowing that I would need to make friends, I asked Reddit where to meet gay people in Madison, and a former member of the MGHA messaged me and recommended that I join. Despite the fact that I hadn’t played organized sports since middle school, when I had been allowed to quit baseball after getting hit in the face three practices in a row, I put in an application.

My first year in the MGHA is a bit of a blur to me, even just a year later. So much was happening in my life–learning a new job, finding my way around a new city, figuring out how to live by myself–but the MGHA became a source of stability and joy in my life. As the months went on, I started spending most of the week waiting for Sunday night, and for the Wednesdays when I and my new friends would go to the Shell for extra skating practice. 

Initially, while my friendships in the league were still forming, it was my progress as an athlete that surprised and sustained me. For the first time in a very long time, I was doing something physical that required patience and practice, and I could feel myself getting better, week after week. After years of complacency in my personal life, I had forgotten what it felt like to be proud of my achievements, and the MGHA gave me the opportunity to play a game and to genuinely enjoy the process of getting better. The inclusive style of play in MGHA allowed me to feel like I was contributing, even while I was falling down, or whiffing the puck, or turning so slowly I was behind the other team’s defense when they whisked by me. 

On the ice, the MGHA has given me the space to learn who I am as an athlete after a lifetime of thinking of myself as a watcher of sports, not a participant. But off the ice, the MGHA has provided me with something even more valuable: a community that genuinely cares about each other, both on an individual level and on an institutional level.

One of the things that struck me most about the MGHA was the earnest friendliness of almost everyone in the league. Coming from New England, a place where people are generally reserved about making new friends, I was pleasantly surprised about how open people in the MGHA were to sitting next to new people in the stands and inviting those people into their circles of friends. 

This year, I decided to volunteer as a captain and on a number of committees to help give back to the community. What I appreciate most about participating on the “back end” of the MGHA is how that spirit of friendliness and inclusion is cultivated, intentionally, at the institutional level. It’s not just that I happened to sit next to people who were friendly last year; it’s that the volunteers who run the MGHA put hours of thoughtful discussion and effort into making the MGHA a positive experience for everyone who participates. Sometimes they’re faced with tough decisions that not everyone is happy with, but they make those decisions with a spirit of giving back to their community. 

But the MGHA isn’t just an exceptionally friendly developmental hockey league. It’s also an explicitly LGBTQ-friendly space, and it is unlike any I’ve ever been in before. What I love about the MGHA as a space for LGBTQ-identifying people is that, as a player and member, it feels so effortlessly supportive of everyone’s gender identity and sexual orientation, while focusing on your inclusion in the hockey community and your development as a player. Before I came out, one of my biggest concerns was that I felt like I didn’t belong in gay spaces because being gay wasn’t a central part of my identity, and I didn’t feel “gay enough.” For me, the revelatory experience of joining the MGHA was finding a gay space that didn’t feel like it was making assumptions about who I was, or what I wanted out of that space. The MGHA is set up to give each player (or fan in the stands) the space to bring who they are to the table, and to encourage all of us to be supportive and understanding as we figure out what exactly that is.

So, what does gay hockey mean to me? It’s my life, it’s my friends, it’s my community. And if it’s not already yours, I hope you join soon.

Andrew “Alpha” Brausen – 2019-2020 Essay

“It’s not about just about being LGBTQ+, it’s not just about hockey, it’s about creating a place that’s safe for all.”

Alpha’s Profile

It was a warm August day in 2013 when I sat down with MGHA Founder, Patrick Farabaugh. I spoke to him of my concerns and fears for joining such a physically demanding and typically non-accepting sport. My concerns also consisted of how affirming and safe the locker rooms were for a trans man such as myself.  As someone who grew up in band, drama, and other non-athletic activities; I didn’t consider myself athletic to say the least. Although our talk had me convinced to sign up, I was not prepared for all the MGHA would become for me. I had grown up with many hardships including physical and mental disabilities, being low income, and never really feeling like I belonged anywhere.  As the last 7 years have passed I have grown both on and off the ice. I have not only found an amazingly fun and challenging sport to play, but I have found a pack of my own, with a place I belong.

As a transgender man with physical and mental disabilities, even being out can compromise my safety.  I choose to do so because I want to make the world a more affirming place. I grew up being afraid and ashamed of everything that makes me who I am.  I have worn many hats in life and my absolute favorite is my MGHA hockey player one! I tell everyone how much the league means to me. I live and breathe the MGHA motto which also aligns with my motto for life.  I wear an MGHA shirt almost every day. This is a place where all walks of life are truly welcome and if you’re unable to afford the fees there’s help. If you need a ride, someone will help you. If you need someone to talk to, there will be someone there to listen.  I have been personally involved with helping make the league a more accepting and affirming place not only for trans men and women, but also our gender non-conforming/non-binary members. I have watched these numbers grow every year. I never could have dreamed of not only playing hockey, but with so many folks like and unlike myself.  We have folks who are CEO’s, nurses, doctors and regular joes like myself. We have folx who have been playing since they were small children to those such as myself who learned to play right there with the MGHA and continue to welcome all skills and ability levels.

Speaking of ability levels, I hadn’t even played on a sports team (other than gym class) let alone on a highly action packed game such as hockey.  I was not only welcomed, but encouraged every step of the skate. Each time I fell and got back up my fellow league mates would cheer. In fact, you might hear of a move called the “Alpha Tornado”, created by yours truly. insert a wink here Throughout these years I have learned to stop, skate backwards, and even gotten pretty darn good at maneuvering my body.  This season I even got to try something new. I got to be a goalie! Goodness gracious is that hard, but a blast!!! It has shown me that underneath, I was an athlete all along and it is a good thing.  Being an athlete isn’t so much a skill level as an attitude. It’s never giving up even when all the odds are against you. It’s getting back up each and every time you fall. It’s helping your team be the best it can be.

Helping others is something I have always been good at and I had no idea how much that skill would assist in finding my place as a leader.  I have been honored with the chance to be a mentor, a team captain, and a teammate with an understanding ear. My teammates have always made me feel welcome and a valued member of the team and been there to lend an ear when I needed one.  I have been told by multiple people that I personally have helped them not only want to continue playing hockey, but continue living and/or growing as a human. I can not express enough how important places like this are for the queer community nor can I ever show enough gratitude for those who allow me to be apart of this amazing league.

Without the MGHA, there would be no Alpha.  Without the becoming Alpha, I wouldn’t have wanted to continue living either.  I know that I am far from alone in my feelings of isolation, internal struggles, or self loathing/guilt, but having a place like the league allows folks like me a place to come together to have a good time while creating lasting bonds.  It gives those of us without a place of community a place to belong. It’s not about just about being LGBTQ+, it’s not just about hockey, it’s about creating a place that’s safe for all. A safe place for me to be me and that’s what gay hockey means to me.

Nat Carlston – 2019-2020 Essay

Nat’s Profile

I joined the MGHA in 2017 and started my 3rd season this year. At the tail end of 2016 I moved to Madison from Boston and had felt as though I had lost a great sense of community and friendship moving here. I was struggling to find a sense of belonging and was actively searching to move elsewhere when I happened to take a day and go ice skating at the UW Shell ice rink. It was there that I had a skater approach me and ask if I played hockey, and if I had heard of the MGHA. Little did I know this was the start of finding everything I had been looking for.

I have wanted to play hockey for many years and always struggled to find a beginner friendly league. The MGHA was not only a developmental players league, but also a LGBTQ environment that supported its players to both learn hockey and have a safe space to be oneself. I quickly gained some of the best friends one could ever ask for and share in learning a sport I have longed to be a part of. As soon as I touched the ice I was surrounded by the most welcoming group of people who all supported one another and cheered for each person’s growth and successes. Over the years I have played many team sports, but playing with the MGHA was the first time on a team that I felt so accepted and a part of something bigger. I have since become a captain and a mentor within the league and love the opportunity to support others starting their hockey journey and seeing them find themselves, as I was able to. This league opened the door to so many of the best parts of my life that I cannot begin to express how grateful I am.

Karoliina Bursian – 2019-2020 Essay

Karoliina’s Profile

Gay. Hockey.  

What an incredible concept. 

I first heard of the league a couple of years ago from a friend, but never gave it much thought.  

For one: I did not identify as gay – I was a cis, closeted bi-guy.  

For another: I couldn’t skate.  So, while I thought the league sounded great, I never considered playing.

Life has a way of sneaking up on you and smacking you in the back of the head, though.  Roughly a year ago, that’s exactly what happened to me.  

After struggling for many, many years, I’d come to the conclusion that I am a trans woman.  

There were so many feelings that flooded over me as a result of this.  Basically, life as I had known it was over. I was starting anew and it turned out to be a major upheaval that brought an untold number of changes.

The idea of hockey and MGHA was brought up at an Employee Resource Group meeting at work.  One of the members of the ERG also happened a member of MGHA, and she was recruiting people for the league (Thanks, Randi!).  

I thought about it and decided: Why not?  A new life calls for doing new things. I applied to play in May of 2019 and then I waited.  I received word that I was accepted into the league and got all excited.

Then, the nerves hit. How I would get myself on skates and actually do hockey?  

Between getting on the ice and being in a very LGBTQIA+ space for the first time, my stomach was churning with butterflies that very first day in September.  But I hadn’t needed to worry – I was accepted instantly for both who I am and how I skate. There was never, for one moment, a doubt that I belonged.

To me, that’s what the MGHA means: Belonging.  I’m so fortunate to have met such an amazing group of people, whether that be my fellow first year players, my teammates, or anyone else in the league.  I have never felt out of place or that I did not belong there.  

The experiences that I’ve had with the MGHA hav given me confidence in many areas of my new life and living my life the “MGHA way” has been very fulfilling.  I try to look at things with the sense of joy and wonder that I feel when I’m on the ice skating with Black Mirror.  

What could have been a very scary and uncertain first year of transition has been eased knowing that I have a family of about 200 amazing individuals who love me and support me for who I am.  

The MGHA has been instrumental in my first year of transition.  I would not be the person am I currently – or the person I’m on the road to becoming – without this group.  Thank you.