Category: 16-17 Essays

Skye Zitkus – 2016-2017 Essay

I have tried to write and rewrite this. What MGHA hockey means to me is a very real acceptance, encouragement, support and a caring community that I have never experienced before. Ever. Really, I mean it! It has been absolutely amazing and I have grown as an individual that I never thought possible without the support and encouragement of everyone I’ve met through MGHA. I hope everyone can see it beaming through my grin every time I’m at the rink and on the ice!

I came out as trans over 15 years ago and before that I struggled with understanding and accepting my self identity. Prior transitioning I have been the butt end of lifelong intense bullying besides being raised by ultra conservative & religious parents whom continuously write me out of their life. Severe social anxiety and depression have always been my companion because of this. Just how I survived my teen years is still a mystery to me and I almost didn’t, I will always bear the scars of survival. My saving grace may have been my naturally introverted self, happy to wander the world on my own and finding solace in nature all around me. But it has also been my burden to carry all those hurtful years and not shed those harmful layers of myself. It has held me back from living a full and beautiful life that we all are capable of, that includes feeling that I could safely participate in team sports and interact as a social being.

As a trans individual, nothing about team sports screamed safety. The locker rooms alone were a terrifying experience that I still have nightmares about, so I tended to avoid most sports activities despite my interest. I played briefly in HS softball only to be kicked off due to depression at the time and again picked it up later in life, but I never really felt I fit in with the all women team I was on.

That said, I had also never even watched a full game of hockey, let alone play. Yet, I immediately fell in love with the game after a friend invited me to watch her play, thank you Michelle, I am eternally grateful!! Sitting in the bleachers I felt a camaraderie on the ice that I never was able to experience before. Plus the sounds of hockey were amazing! Skates on ice, puck hitting sticks and goalie pads, players whizzing by, it all lulled me in before I even knew what hit me.

As soon as I signed up, I was welcomed to a community that not only promoted, but actively engaged with members in a healthy and caring manner. From teaching how to be inclusive amongst ourselves, to watching experienced players encouraging and teaching the new members that were learning how to skate from scratch. Never have I ever experienced such compassion from a diverse community like ours. I dare say that after the first day orientation, I went home and cried. Cried from relief and realization that this is truly a safe space and I really did feel this was home.

After my first game, which I couldn’t stop smiling the entire time, hockey became a metaphor in the rest of my life. If you fall, and yes you are going to fall ever so ungracefully, then just get back up and play on. No one ever ridiculed the fall, but instead will cheer your effort. Miss the puck, try again and again. Sooner or later it will connect and damn, it feels good! Going through a tough divorce and struggling with finding a community it was perfect timing and just what I needed.

Out on the ice, I was nervous beyond belief, but somehow I managed to stick with it, keep showing up to try again and I actually started to listen to the encouragement of my teammates. No one in my life really told me that I was good enough or supported me through the tough moments. To hear fellow teammates cheer me on was nothing I was prepared for and I loved seeing how we all progressed as players, by simply enjoying playing hockey together every Sunday night.

I realized how much we all can accomplish through supporting each other, showing that no matter where you came from we all matter to the team and community. My first season was full of personal triumphs and I’m truly thankful for all of my teammates helping make it an amazing hockey experience. This is what true community is, and it resides right here with the MGHA.

Samuel Smurlo – 2016-2017 Essay

One year after signing up and six months after starting my transition I got an email, addressed to my pre-transition name, asking if I was still interested in playing in the MGHA. And part of me panicked. Is the league weird about trans players? Do they recruit a requisite number of men vs women? How do I get changed in a locker room full of strangers?

But I decided to reply and at least see what happened. “I am still interested in playing. Just a heads up, I’ve started transitioning. I go by Samuel now, and am on testosterone. I don’t know if that impacts anything, but figured I should let you know.”

Shortly thereafter I received an email. “Congratulations Samuel! I’ve updated our spreadsheet to reflect your name. Our league was created to specifically support you and the rest of our community, so I’m hoping you’ll join us this fall 🙂 We’re just beginning to ramp up our new player program for people interested in joining.” It was one of the most relieving feelings. There were no questions, only support and enthusiasm.

That first season with the MGHA was tumultuous. I had never been on skates before, I was woefully out of shape, and my personal life was something of a mess. I tried to be helpful and involved both on and off the ice, but was feeling like I was holding everyone else back. Nevertheless, I stuck with it, mostly because I still didn’t have very many friends in Madison and having something to do was better than nothing.

And then my second season came around. And I was asked to be a mentor for new players. We were at one of the first new player orientations, sitting in the grass outside of Hartmeyer doing an ice breaker that definitely pushed more people out of their comfort zones than a standard ice breaker would. I was talking to a new player, lamenting many of the struggles I’d been having with my family since coming out as trans; without missing a beat she said “That’s okay, I can be your family, if you want.” And that’s when it really hit me. It isn’t really about the hockey. It’s about finding the community you need and the hockey is an added benefit.

Kevin Colelli – 2016-2017 Essay

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

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

“Perricone, you’re gay!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kent Walker – 2016-2017 Essay

I was on a bike ride (2015 ACT Ride for AWRC) when I mentioned to others that I was suffering from some isolation issues and needed to reach out and get more social. Immediately, several other riders informed me about the Madison Gay Hockey Association. I had heard of them but I thought since I had never skated or played hockey, I wouldn’t be welcome. That wasn’t the case. I was invited to join. Not really invited, implored. lol

I joined. Yes, I had a learning curve but I was determined to do something different. I was given a mentor and we embarked on a journey that I can only describe as transformative. I was encouraged, cajoled and gently guided into a space that provided not only acceptance but also a healthy companionship. I was humbled.

Although, I was not as active this first year as I would have liked to be due to some personal health issues, no one disparaged me for that. They instead, rallied behind me and boosted me up and were supportive.

MGHA has given me purpose. It has let me know I do have value even when I doubt that in myself. Another bonus is that I was able to expand my own friendship circle to include members of the LGBTQ community to whom I was not previously exposed. I have a new love of others that I was lacking in the past.

I am a better person, I am more educated and I am more enriched now that I have been accepted as a member of the MGHA and I cannot put a value on that experience. Well, yes, I can. It is priceless. I still have much to learn. I have more skills to gain but this past year has exposed me to more love and acceptance than I have ever had in my previous years of life. No experience has enriched my being more and I hope that I can continue to improve, gain and learn from the people that have come into my life via MGHA to make my existence as beautiful as every person I have met.

I have a new family and it is lovely. (even though I fell down more than skated… I was patted on the back more than I ever was in my previous years of life.)

Caleb Oakley – 2016-2017 Essay

My therapist told me I needed a hobby. As with most my therapist’s proposals (cutting down on my drinking, looking for writing jobs, practicing mindfulness), I protested.

I had hobbies, I insisted. But ninety percent of these hobbies could be performed from my bed and I was attempting to turn my most productive hobby, yoga, into a side career.

She asked me when the last I felt the happiest and I told her it was when I worked for my little college radio station in Lexington, Kentucky.

“Why?” she pushed.

Because I felt like I was collaborating in an organization intent on being a positive force in the community. Because I loved the people I worked with and because I felt I was challenging myself every time I sat behind the studio soundboard with my headphones on and mustered: “It’s midnight and you’re listening to WRFL, your only alternative left.”

“I think it may be worth your time to try to find that again.”

Rolling my eyes and nervously picking at my fingernails I muttered “fine” and asked if we could move on to my daddy issues.

A few months later, I joined hockey. NOT, I insisted, per my therapist’s suggestion, but my own desire.

I had started ice skating the winter prior, in an attempt to assure I did not have a repeat of my first cabin feverous winter in Madison. My significant other and a regular at my coffee shop were part of the MGHA and adamant that I join.

I had my reservations, to be sure.

To say I wasn’t a fan of sports would be an understatement equivalent to saying my cooking skills were sub par. I felt sports in direct competition with the arts and losing dramatically. My blood boiled when I made wind of the millions hurled at basketball players, while the university did as little as they could to support the radio station. I likened sports to religion: an opiate of the masses. How could I in good conscious join hockey, ruining my unapologetic resistance to organized athletics, and in turn, my reputation.

I had long grappled with perfectionism, a condition my first therapist was able to identify minutes into my first session over the more obvious anxiety and major depression. While the condition had come to aid so often in academic arenas, the fixation was detrimental to my mental health and my ability to enjoy many activities. If I wasn’t good at something the first time, I usually wasn’t going to do it again, which is why I haven’t ridden a go-kart since I was 13.

I was also wary of gay spaces. As someone who didn’t and continues to not identify with one end of the spectrum, I found my gay peers were not much more likely to accept my orientation as valid. Sometimes I felt the only experience shared with gay men was our fondness for our own gender. I felt gay spaces stripped me of the ability to lay low the way straight spaces did.

I won’t even attempt to delve into my aversion to locker rooms, which could occupy its own essay.

Despite these quandaries, I signed up, paid my dues, and poured over hockey stores for used, cheap equipment.

I barely slept the night before the orientation. I demanded my significant other attend with me despite having a decade of hockey under his breezers, reminding myself of the time I demanded my mother walk me to the door of my first day of class… in college.

My first practices at the MGHA were challenging. I threw my back out so badly on my second practice that I was physically hunched over. I continued to do so nearly every practice to extensive degrees of severity ranging from slight discomfort to wailing as if ten centimeters dilated with contractions every fifteen seconds shooting from lower back up to my navel, down to my ankles and around the corner to my testes.

The few months of skating practice I accrued proved thoroughly insufficient during assessments. I coiled when asked to weave through cones with a stick and puck. If only one of the drills had been “skate on the ice for one minute without falling”.

I thought it certain I would not return for a second year, but was insistent on completing the season to maintain whatever pride wasn’t sprinkled all over Hartmeyer from a tremendous volume of tumbles and my detestation of wasting money.

Halfway through the season, my sense of obligation to finish out the season was kidnapped by a dumbfounding fondness for hockey. Sundays became my most looked-forward-to days of the week after being in dead last for the majority of my life, as I was forced to attend church every Sunday from conception into my late teens.

I realized the MGHA granted me the freedom to be the brand of queer I am. Equipping players with a baseline understanding that everyone identified with at least one letter in the queer alphabet soup, I was free to not explain, educate or justify. I was elated to find a swath of queer identities and gender expressions sorely lacking from my life.

I had the freedom to make mistake after mistake with nothing but support from not only my team, but other members on the league. I approached sports with less animosity, judging them not as a whole, acknowledging the benefits dispensed to participants, though I was still reluctant to share my shift in attitude with my friends and family, insisting that this particular practice of the sport of hockey must be different.

Grappling with the fact that I’m writing this on a Sunday afternoon with no hockey game to look forward to, I realize I have not only found a hobby, but a favorite hobby. A hobby that has provided me with an outlet to an organization aimed at doing good in the community. One that challenges me physically and mentally. One that has my back.

I stopped seeing my therapist months ago, but if I were to share this realization with her, I know she would don a gloating smile, while demanding me to take responsibility for my own hard work, and then chastise me for eyes rolled back in my skull.

Ashleigh Baldwin – 2016-2017 Essay

I’m Ashleigh Baldwin. I have just finished my first season in the MGHA. What does Gay Hockey mean to me? I don’t know that I have a short answer for that. I am not even sure I would want to have a short answer. For me it is a place where I am comfortable. It is inclusion without having to hide who I am. It was meeting wonderful people who are also out, and share this passion for hockey with me. It has been a relighting of my passion, and understanding my dream of playing hockey my entire life is far from dead. It was a remarkable confluence of events that have brought me here. I am not shy about sharing how I found MGHA. I will discuss those events. For me finding MGHA was a miracle. I will always be grateful for my opportunity to play here.

As I began my transition from a physical standpoint, I understood that I needed to lose weight to maintain my health. So, I began working out intensively. As I finished my workout one hot summer day. I had some water, and jumped on Facebook. There was an ad for MGHA. I had already lost about sixty pounds. I needed the proverbial “carrot”. There it was. I clicked on the ad immediately. What I believe MGHA stands for is exactly what I needed out of hockey all along. If there was a drawback it was I found the ad in July. I wanted to play so bad that it made the those summer days drag by. My excitement started building, and I began my normal hockey ritual of starting to skate late July, or early August. It dawned on me that I hadn’t been on skates in roughly twenty years. Wow, where had the time gone? Skating in itself was amazing to me. I stared buying gear again. This was really going to happen. I was coming back to hockey as a player. There was not going to be the bad feelings I always had back in high school. Having new teammates that accept who I am from the very first day. Can this really be happening? I found out the answer was “yes”. My counselor said that this was going to be a good “bridge activity” for me. I could not wait for the season to start.

I have just completed my first season in the MGHA. Anyone who has watched me play knows I am a player of considerable experience. I have been playing since I was six, or seven years old. Which is ironically about the same time I started contemplating my gender identity. What I knew to be true was: if I came out as transgender in the late 1970’s, or early 80’s I would have been excluded early on. What I also knew to be true is I had some talent as a player. I also had a passion for playing hockey. So, the choice was clear for me at that time. It was to hide who I am on the inside. By the time, I finished my senior year of high school I was done with playing the game. At that time, I left multiple junior “A”, and college offers “on the table”. It wasn’t because I didn’t believe I could play that kind of hockey. I knew I could play. I was afraid of being discovered. In those days, the dressing rooms were a house of horrors to me. Homophobia, and to a lesser degree transphobia were rampant. So, I thought it best to walk away. I battled depression, and anxiety as part of gender dysphoria. I put on a lot of weight while pretending to be who I wasn’t. I didn’t know, or understand that I wasn’t done playing quite yet. It was an odyssey to get there, but worth every second.

What does gay hockey mean to me? It is inclusion, comfort, and coming full circle in my life, and in hockey. As I drove to rink for the first skills clinic I thought about everything. I thought about on the heels of my divorce how I begged to be able to “come home” to my ex wife. I thought about everything else that had hurt me in life. As I pulled up to Hartmeyer every bit of emotion I had came out. In a moment of clarity, and happy tears I said to myself “Ashleigh, you’re finally home”. What does gay hockey mean to me: It’s community, family, friends, of course hockey. Most of all this is home for me. Gay hockey has helped me be complete, and happy. Now, I believe I am truly living authentically.