Category: 12-13 Essays

JD Donahoo – 2013 Essay

What It Means.

Becoming something larger than you ever imagined you were going to be, with the realization of the limits you set against yourself.

There is none able to decide what they are brought into. To grow up with aspiring opportunities or to strive for the next sunrise are close yet far. With struggles in life that deny our wishes or stomp out our dreams only succeed from our failure to ourselves.

Finding something that seemed as unique as I was, something that seemed to have every great aspect of any other sport slapped into one hard puck, finding someone who knew how to play the game and make a name by his presence during the Lindros years of the Philadelphia Flyers, it became the great escape. I knew I could be something in it. Something like he was, my own saga.

Without money for food or a stable home most the time, how the hell would one pay for hockey fees let alone make the team? I never wanted to give it up. I worked for change to buy supplies to make baked goods to sell at my library or gas stations but never enough. When the time came, I gave in and kept the channels tuned in, as that was all I would ever get.

Thirteen years later that forcibly matured kid is working 70 hour work weeks as a lineman, still recording Flyers faithfully. The choices and decisions, friends and enemies in those years came and went as they do for everyone.

As few do, one friend stuck out and close greatly. We were un-biological twins. Our bond had many layers, including the militaristic brotherhood as being ex-Navy and he being not-yet-deployed-Marine. Always thinking the same, doing the same, joking, laughing, crying, we shared it all, did it all. The road our future was on had turns but had no stop in sight. His motivation and life views always so motivating, we always fueled each other to keep humanity, to pay it forward, to help out no matter what.

In due time, it kicked my own ass into gear. This is your life, made just for you, and it comes to a close at any given moment. Why waste time regretting anything, you’ll only end up regretting the time you’ve wasted. I never forgot my dreams, I only forgot how to chase after them. I changed my life around. I put together my list of things I must accomplish before kicking the bucket, the a.k.a. Bucket List. I didn’t put much on there at first, but hockey took the first slot.

I spent a month on Google looking up Madison Hockey Leagues. Several came up, but one caught my attention. I pondered, contemplated, then questioned why I was even second guessing.

It was a Gay hockey league, and it admittedly frightened me. I never thought myself to be gay, but born into the wrong body. For lack of any understanding, gay was the only way to label what I was and would be most accepted to. But with so many labels and limits society places on us, why add to them? I myself was living my own life as it were to not interfere with others. To admit I was gay wasn’t shameful. I’ve always supported everyone in their lives, no matter what. But I couldn’t come to grips with what I was, or was going to be. A strong supporter vicariously chiming in at supportive gatherings that I never went to, and still haven’t.

On my lunch break, April 4th 2012, from the job that I worked myself into oblivion, and financially set me to be able to do whatever I wanted, I sat at a food joint and used my phone to complete the form for new players to join the Madison Gay Hockey League. I took a deep breath when I looked out the window upon completion. Excitement and nerves hitting the same chord. To see what the future brings.

On April 5th I had woken up, another 4AM work day, only for my life to be changed forever, as is so possible in just a second, just one moment.

My dearest friend, my military brother, the only person who had my back, the reason I had even filled out that application, that I ever considered improving my life by changing it 180 before self-destruction, had taken his life in his room on the 4th, the same day. Without a word, without a cry for help, without a second thought, without any attempt, he was, is, gone forever. It consumed me, as it would. He was always there, always over, always near, now he would never answer my calls, never reply, never know.

We would never know.

I could never get my head right. I tried to not let it go in vein, by remembering to be happy or live on or any of that junk. Easier said than done. As it never will, none of it made sense.

I had to force myself to realize, this is not my life. It was not meant for me. It was meant for me to live for others. To take that drive I’ve always had to help others, and to use it as fully as possible. The Navy for Search and Rescue, the child’s dream of being a Fire Fighter to save others, to live fuelling the fire of the embers he left us.

With my miles and time and thoughts behind me through checking out of life and into work, half a year passed before I realized it. August came with a random email, ‘Welcome New Player’. I had forgotten. I had entirely forgotten I had even filled that out. I forgot my dream?

I got what equipment was needed, as orange as possible for my beloved Flyers, then hit the ice for the first time in my life. Never had I put skates on my feet before. Once at Tenney Park when I was 3.

Once.

I didn’t know how I was going to perform, but I knew I would give it my all. I had to and I would. I learned what I needed to, and took what I knew. The fear was overcome by the happiness from accomplishing something I never thought I would ever do, and meeting people who in turn, also ended up changing my life. By gaining a whole new understanding I thought I already had.

To support something, it isn’t about you. It is about that, about supporting it all, supporting others, them, those who cannot, the familiar strangers from afar, and them whom were like me, like he was, struggling to find themselves in the universe. Because you can, and they cannot.

We later put together his struggles with himself, questioning himself. That he could help everyone else but not himself. Too familiar for me than I wished to admit.

With every game I hit the ice it was for Elmo as the other players caught onto. For him. For myself as well, I did not forget. It was because of him, but for me.

What it means, to be apart of something bigger than I originally expected. That I ever imagined being. Ever imagined happening. To be with a group of excellent people of my city, who are happily accepting of you, as you, not because you are gay or straight, but because you are here, as we all are, to have the best time we can playing the best sport there is. The over powering feeling it was to have that be my first ever hockey game I ever seen in person, to have people asking me for advice, to get critiqued, to be there, to hold the stick, slap the puck, have my first goal, assist, shoot out, to find out my dearest friend’s favorite color was orange, to have orange to do everything with hockey then, to have his initials on my hockey stick, to pass by the bench dedicated to him at Tenney Park while practicing hockey for hours at night for the first time, to have the persons from hockey in my life as well, to help and be helped, to accomplish this all, by simply playing hockey,

Means a hell of a lot.

Mark Nessel – 2013 Essay

As I submitted an essay last year, let’s call this Part 2…

Over the last two seasons our hockey league has been in a state of transition around what Gay hockey means, that transition is still on-going and its destination seems yet to be determined.  In the course of fulfilling my role as a team lead this season I had to help another straight player figure out some changes to make in his play style that brought my definition of Gay hockey into much sharper focus, and I had some realizations that have not so much changed what Gay hockey means to me, as more sharply refined the definition.  When I shared this with the player in question, and our other team lead (also straight), the light bulb of this particular idea got brighter for them as well.

Initially,  Gay hockey was for me, and (I think) a lot of other players, primarily about what goes on in the locker rooms and at the bar after the games.  The League’s mission statement leads to this conclusion, especially in this sentence:  “We are especially committed to providing opportunities for those who have historically felt uncomfortable in traditional sports settings to learn and teach ice hockey in a safe, supportive, and fun environment.”  To be clear, it’s not my intention to critique the League’s mission statement, or to propose changes to it.  I’m only pointing out that it endorses my initial notion that Gay hockey is mostly defined by what goes on in the periphery of the game.

Even more explicitly, Gay hockey was hockey where the locker room banter didn’t include calling each other “faggot” or boasting about what we intended to do with (or to) our date after the game.  Growing up playing straight sports meant I spent a lot of time in that kind of locker room.  My life-long discomfort with that sort of behavior is one of the reasons that I prefer to play in the MGHA.

Hockey is a sport, and sports are competitive.  That fact carries with it the underlying assumption that winning the game is paramount.  I had been operating under the assumption that Gay hockey meant locker rooms that aren’t hostile and a focus on sportsmanship and stricter adherence to the rules, but that the underlying assumption that the point is to win the game is still paramount.

In actuality, if that were true, we wouldn’t be playing Gay hockey.  We’d be playing Straight hockey where it’s okay to be Gay.

What I’ve come to realize is that Gay hockey is a challenge to that most fundamental assumption about sports.  I’m not saying that winning isn’t more fun than losing, or that as a team lead I don’t encourage my team to try to win the game.  But the imperative to win the game isn’t paramount to everything else.  It’s a priority, but no higher a priority than the priorities of sportsmanship, inclusiveness, and safety that are explicated in our mission statement.

At the end of the 11-12 season the league president pointed out that nine of the top ten goal scorers in the league were straight men.  I know that some in the league took that as trying to make the league less welcoming to straight players.  I would like to suggest, respectfully, that the players that saw that statement as trying to create a rift between Gay and Straight players missed the point.  There are Gay players in the league that have played their whole lives, and are great hockey players by any standard.  The fact that those players weren’t amongst the top goal scorers meant that they were choosing to play the game with a different set of priorities.  Therein lies, for me, the definition of Gay hockey.

Gay hockey means that if we can’t win inclusively, we don’t win.  It means that we keep our beginning players on the ice for their shifts when we’re down on the scoreboard.  It means that, as an advanced and physically large player, I moderate how I challenge opposing beginners and smaller players for the puck.  If I can’t challenge them in a way that isn’t aggressively physical then I give up possession.  It means that, while I’m capable of carrying the puck end to end on my own, I rarely do so because I’m looking for opportunities to pass.  It means I pass to the beginners on my team when they’re open, even if passing to that teammate has already resulted in multiple turnovers.  I could go on, but I’ll leave the examples at that.

The point that the president was making was that the straight players in question were playing Straight hockey where it’s okay to be Gay, as opposed to Gay hockey.  This is a Gay hockey league, I think it’s incumbent upon everyone to try to play Gay hockey.

How the league defines Gay hockey appears to me to be very much up in the air, and the way that I’m defining it here is not ubiquitous.  I think the league moved this past season a bit away from Straight hockey where it’s okay to be Gay, and more towards Gay hockey.  I hope that the movement in that direction continues.

Chuy Pina – 2013 Essay

Oh, hey….I didn’t see you there but since I have your attention, why don’t you stay awhile and listen?  People call me Chuy.  I am from a small town called Chicago, where my family settled down from Mexico way back in the day.  (Which was a Wednesday if you care to know…)  I have recently celebrated my 10th anniversary of being 21 and I am currently a student with a goal of a career in the health field.

What I really want you to know about me is that I am a hockey player.  Yes, that is right and I am proud of it!  Granted, I just completed my first hockey season where I recently learned the game.  I didn’t even know how to skate before joining the Madison Gay Hockey Association (MGHA)!

So how did a Mexican-American gay boy like me pick up hockey at the tender age of 31?  Well, I didn’t know much about the sport before.  I don’t think I have even watched it on tv.  It just seemed like a sport out of my league, dominated by big rough Caucasian straight men with no teeth.  Well, I found myself at a very awkward period in my life around the beginning of the season.  I lost my job, went back to school, and moved into a new place with new room mates.  At certain times, the big changes in my life was very overwhelming and scary.

Then one day I met a friend of one of my room mates that was recruiting for MGHA.  I figured why not try something new, along with all the other changes I have been going through at the time.  What is one more thing?  I could use the exercise and it would be nice to get to know the gay community better and become more active.  Let me tell you, this was the best decision I’ve made all year!  I can’t believe I didn’t join sooner.

Now, I should tell you.  I am very secure with my sexuality.  I’ve known ever since I was little, growing up in a Machismo environment back in the inner city of Chicago, that I liked boys.  Growing up, I’ve had to come to terms with who I am very fast.  So while I have always appreciated LGBT support groups, I’ve always felt ok on my own, having my family and friends that I have already established.  I guess that is why I didn’t think to join a gay club or organization before.  It was through recent changes in my life that lead me here.

I understand you want to know what does gay hockey mean to me.  I feel that it is so much more than a gay organization, it is more like a family.  MGHA is such a diverse community.  We have gays and straights, men and women and transgendered, young and old, students and professionals, and everybody in every walk of life it seems.  We all choose to join MGHA through the interest of playing hockey.  And it is through that bond we share where we can break down borders set by society and come together as a team and create an environment of respect and support.

I have to admit.  In the beginning of my first season, I felt out of my element with the sport.  I didn’t know the rules, I didn’t know how to skate, and my feet and body were killing me.  I felt very disenchanted at times and missed a lot of the beginning games because I felt I wasn’t good enough and was frustrated.  Despite all of this, the support I received from the league was amazing.  No body cared that I was new.  I never once felt rejected or put down because I wasn’t a good player.

I remember one moment during one of my first few games we were losing.  I told my captain that I am ok with sitting out the last period so that they can have a better player out there to make some points.  I will never forget what he told me.  He said that wasn’t the point of the game.  Winning or losing doesn’t matter.  All that matters is that I go out there and try my best and have fun.  I can only get better if I try.  It was at that moment that I knew I found my place.  It is in MGHA where I found a place where I can play a sport I am increasing becoming fond of and not be afraid to be myself.  Here I can receive the support I need to become a better athlete in a respectful and fun environment.  Being gay did not once inhibit my ability to play or have a good time.  I don’t think I would have joined this sport if I didn’t have that reassurance.  I only hope that this finds other people looking for a similar experience.  I look forward to playing with them on the ice!

Brandon Rounds – 2013 Essay

In 2005 I graduated from a small town of about 2,500 people. I struggled much of my middle school and high school years battling with my true identity. I did the normal thing and dated girls. I knew deep down, from when I was a little boy at recess sitting on the side lines watching the other boys tackle each other while playing football, that there was something different about me.

I attended a local technical college where I no longer kept to myself and began to finally accept myself for who I was—a gay male. I quickly became the student body president and head student ambassador. I introduced the Day of Silence to campus and struggled with a few protestors for doing so.

In 2008 I graduated and started at a four-year university. Here I attended a small LGBT gathering on campus with about 15 students. The next year I ran for president of this organization and the attendance went up to about 75 members. That year our organization was named the organization of the year and I received a leadership award.

In 2012 I moved to Madison to start fresh. I knew one person and basically everything that I had worked for meant nothing now. I was later put into touch with an individual who would help build and shape who I am today.

I pulled up to Panera Bread where I was to meet this individual who was supposed to help me get into touch with the gay community. As I sat in my car I contemplated turning around and just resulting to meet others at the gay bars. After arguing with myself for a few minutes and getting a few weird looks from people passing by, I got out of my car and walked in to a guy with several Our Lives magazines and an iPad. This person was Patrick Farabaugh. I couldn’t believe I was meeting thee Patrick Farabaugh. The person who was homeless at a young age, traveled the world, and ended up in Madison, Wisconsin where he stated his own magazine, professional networking group, and the Madison Gay Hockey Association.

We sat and chatted briefly before he made me read a short story about an inspiring Ames Barker. After her story about how hockey changed her life so much I thought to myself, why not join the league. My inner self replied, “Because you don’t play hockey or let alone any sport, you idiot.” I again awkwardly argued with myself and after little persuasion from Patrick I was picking out hockey gear the next day.

I strolled into the second newbie practice because I joined late and put on my gear slowly for the first time. I put on my skates, walked up the ice, bravely started to skate like an old pro and instantly fell. I was wearing Patrick’s All Star jersey, so I know I was doing him proud. That first night I made a handful of friends. I went home and instantly became connected with several people on Facebook. We then started meeting each other for open skates, dinner, and just hanging out.

The season began and I had a rough time in the beginning. I didn’t feel like I was getting the help from the veterans and other members that I should have. That quickly changed the third game when a team member stepped up and started offering me advice and some tips to help improve my skills. With the advice and expertise I had received from Jen Voichick, I made my first goal and one of my best goals in the league along with several assists in other games.

I volunteered my time on the Blades Against AIDS committee and we nearly doubled our goal from last year. I met a group of very passionate individuals who wanted this event to be a huge success. That it was.

I have gained so much respect for each of my fellow hockey players. Each person brings something unique to the league. I would not have met such a tight knit, accepting community had I not joined the hockey league. I am so glad that I argued with myself that day in the Panera parking lot and forced myself to do something I never would have done. I owe it all to the Madison Gay Hockey League. Now Let’s Have a KiKi!”

Chue Xiong – 2013 Essay

In 1996 my family came to the United States as a result of the Vietnam/Secret War, in search for a better life for us. We came straight from the refugee camps into this industrialized nation, I had never seen people of different skin color, nor did I know what music and television was or any other kind of technology, I didn’t even have clothes until I was 3 and here I am in a different part of the world where people were giving us free food, clothes and a home to stay, and all of a sudden I had cousins and relatives who knew me. But it wasn’t very long until I started seeing how different life was here, I was told to go hide every time a white man appeared because it was dangerous and soon after I was taken into a place called school where I was left with random people who didn’t speak my language.

Instantly the other kids knew I was different because I couldn’t speak English and for some other reasons, just didn’t like me; I would later make friends by giving them something of my own or stealing for them.  My insecurities would grow over the years as I realized what being poor meant. On my first Christmas, a year later,I was 6 and I watched as all my cousins opened a box, I didn’t know what they were doing but all the boys had toy guns and action figures and the girls had ponies and things I didn’t even know existed, I was so excited, I have never had a toy before, but couldn’t find my present.  I went to my mom and said “Mom, what about me?” but she didn’t have an answer, I was devastated at the time and went into a rage, but later promised myself after that I would never ask my parents for anything no matter how much I wanted, unless I felt that we were in a financial situation where it was ok, I didn’t want my parents to suffer; I’ve stayed true to that statement.

Skip ahead 3 years—On my first day of fourth grade my parents moved me to a new school for the fourth time, and I would be taking the bus. As we neared John Marshall, the bus stopped and all the kids started running out, and as I took my first step out of the bus I looked up towhere a tall fifth grader walked up to a fourth grade kid my size and punched him in the face; all the other kids were shouting out “fightfightfight”, “girl” and “gay”. I was still struggling with some English at the time and was too shy to ask but I figured, gay, was just another bad word that the other kids were using, I didn’t stop to think about how much this word would later affect my life.

In the fifth grade some of the boys started calling me gay, and girl because I was “too nice”, I had recently started hanging out with some of the school girls and “girly boys”, and stopped playing dodge ball. I didn’t understand why I was getting called these things because I was just doing what I liked, my insecurities kept growing to the point where by the end of the year I would contemplate about all the terrible things I could do to these other kids who would call me gay or a girl, I thought to myself, “I had never done anything to them, so why should they be allowed to do this to me?” Eventually my cousins also started calling me girl and gay, which resulted in me hating everyone, I was confused and I didn’t like how other people dealt with my feelings; in my family at the time, it was weird if the boys talked about their feelings to their parents, so I never went to them. I already knew what the word gay meant, but it wasn’t until I was in sixth grade when I finally understood the meaning of the word Gay.  I was in the bus headed to class and was just thinking about that word when I realized that I was gay, it was the word that was going to define my life. When I got home I went to sleep at 5, and for the first time I turned towards god, I didn’t know how to pray but I laid on my bed to the side and clenched my hands together and said “God, if you exist, please make me normal, and if you don’t want to do that, than please kill me in my sleep so that at least it won’t hurt”. It didn’t work, but I thought it was because I wasn’t praying hard enough so I prayed harder and harder, and continued the process throughout the course of two or three years. I would also try changing my personality to be how a normal boy would act, tried dating a girl, and sometimes cursing this world, but eventually came to the conclusion thatnothing was going to work and that I would have to hurt my parents one day. One day I came to the conclusion that maybe if I distanced myself from the people I loved that one day if I told them I was gay, and if they disowned me, it wouldn’t hurt them as much; that thought never left my head. So after I graduated from high school, I ran away to from home, it didn’t matter to me where I was headed, or how I got there, I was finding every reason I possible to get away from my life and everyone in it, and so I chose a destination.

Unfortunately due to my naivety I ended up in Fargo, and two years of mental isolation. Fortunately I was blessed enough to join the Theatre Department up there where I met Stephanie Olfert, Alex Stokes, and Kelsey Svare who are just some of three of the best people you’ll ever meet in this world. I don’t know how I would have made it through those two years without them; I didn’t have to worry about being accepted when I was with them.

Eventually I chose to return to Wisconsin, and being hesitant to return home, I transferred over to MATC in fall of 2011 and later UW-Madison. That very same year I auditioned for The Talking Out of School Plays directed by Monty Marsh-McGlone and was casted for a few student roles where I also worked with a friend, Paula, who later invited me to go see a LGBT Speaker at her church. I instantly smiled as I saw Patrick Farabaugh walk up, at the Praire Universal Unitarian Church. He talked about his life story and how he came to publish Our Lives Magazine and played hockey, I have never met someone so inspiring in my life, and had to talk to him. As I walked up to Patrick after his speech, another lady came up and started up a conversation with me, she wanted my number for her daughter, I didn’t want to say no, and was too hesitant to say I was gay to her, so the conversation dragged on for a bit and I was only able to say a couple words to Patrick.

After that day I started reading Our Lives Magazine, I would look at the hockey information, and later that summer would go to the pride parade in Madison by where the Hockey League was there.  I really wanted to meet people, and I didn’t have a lot of friends in Madison or in general, and I was still struggling to find a community that might accept me, and so I shot MGHA an email and got started.

I walked into my first hockey clinic at Hartmeyer Ice Arena in shorts and a jacket, and boy was it cold. There were a lot of people at the rink and I was nervous about how this was actually going to go, but one of the new players walked in, Jasmine Donahoo, and introduced herself to me and assured me that I wasn’t the only one. And just seconds after that, a taller guy walked in, turned towards us and smiled. Instantly I knew he was gay, and I knew we were going to be good friends, Matthew Basler. Unfortunately when the teams got picked all the rookies were separated into different teams and I would be thrown in the Black Team whom I didn’t recognize anyone’s name on the list except Brandon Rounds.

On the first day when the Dark Knights (name of black team) met up, I was thrown into a moment of consternation as I walked in, none of the guys looked gay, and I was sure they were all straight, Brandon Rounds also not going to make it, which didn’t help my situation. I really thought this was going to be one of those show no mercy to the gay newbies kind of day, except we only have one noob. It was quite uncanny for me to be out in front of a lot of straight people, especially guys. But when our team captain Joe Walsh started the passing drills and said “everyone find a partner”, Richard Avremenko came straight up to me and said “You’re going to be my partner”, I thought I died and went to hell, but now I would never change that moment. I now know that I was blessed to be thrown into this team, Rick, Jen, Brandon, Anna, Joe, Katie and Wally and the rest of the team, you guys are the best and this season was just filled with life for me.Because of you guys and everyone in MGHA I’ve really grown to love the league and the sport; I have never been this close to anyone, much less a community. Being in the league has really shown me that allies do exist and that people do care, and now I can say that I am gay and proud without being scared. I have made friends who I can call family without worrying about what I will be judged as. Being with MGHA I have come to realize that society can only hurt me if I let it. MGHA is more than just a league and a community, its family, love, and support.