Category: 19-20 Essays

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.”

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.”

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.

Wyatt Carlston – 2019-2020 Essay

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

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.

Julie Anderson – 2019-2020 Essay

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Hockey has been my passion for as long as I can remember.  My parents did not let me play growing up but that didn’t stop me from spending as much time at ice rinks as possible.  Watching my younger brother play, going to friends’ games, working at a family friends’ rink, attending college games on my own, and finally having my own kids to experience the hockey life with.  I’ve been a hockey mom now for 11 years. A hockey board member. A Zamboni driver. Concession stand worker. Game scheduler. Tournament director. The hockey life list goes on and on.

A few years ago, after moving to this area, a hockey dad convinced me to play in a “Kids vs. Parents” game.  They didn’t have a goalie, my son is a goalie (not for this particular team), and would I play goal for the parent team?  Sure, why not? As is often said, goalies are crazy! So, at the age of 43, I played goalie and I fell in love! From there, said hockey dad, who has become one of my best friends, convinced me to play in their Friday Night Beginners League, which I love.  Then I was asked to play on a women’s team, which I did not love; too much drama! I play as often as I can. I’ve played on teams of those I have never met. I’ve played where I travel and stay in VRBO’s, like a sailboat. I play with friends that I look forward to seeing on the ice each week. I play with a group of guys that make me laugh while trying to beat me up. And I fulfilled a bucket list item by playing Pond Hockey in Eagle River. While wearing goalie skates!

Forward to the current hockey season.  A friend, Keith, from another group asked me if I would be willing to play goalie on his team for Madison Gay Hockey Association (MGHA). I’ve heard of MGHA and I have heard they are a great organization.  But, should I be on a team for gay hockey? I am not gay. 

The funny thing is, without even knowing what was going on in my life, Keith extended the offer for me to play, we chatted about it, and I finally I said I could do some games but couldn’t commit to all.  I wasn’t sure this was the right group for me, but I was willing to give it a try. What was going on in my life at the time? My oldest child, my first baby, “my Girl” as I’ve always called him had started the process of transitioning to a male.  As a mother this was very difficult to accept. I couldn’t understand why and I had a lot of unanswered questions. I was hurting, but mostly I was scared. My child has a chronic disease and I was scared of what hormones would do. I was also scared the decision my child had made would lead to a very difficult lifestyle for him.  I wasn’t familiar with the LGBTQ community and I didn’t know how I was going to support my baby.

I showed up to my first game with the Avalanche Avengers knowing only 1 person.  I had not spent much time in the gay community but I am very open to everyone being their own person. The first person I met was extremely friendly and offered me a hug (it’s a funny story). Everyone I met after that were just as friendly and welcoming. They were all ready to have fun.  They were all extremely supportive of each other and encouraged each other to play the MGHA way. I wasn’t sure what to expect, I was nervous, this was a new experience for me, and I can say I went out to play my first game with MGHA and I sucked!

Since that first night, I have come to love my Sunday nights with all the people involved with MGHA.  I started to refer to MGHA as “Happy Hockey” to my friends. Everyone was so happy and we have so much fun playing.  Cheering each other on, encouraging new skaters to try something different, helping each other up, and laughing! Oh, the laughing!  But that was only the on-ice fun stuff. Happy Hockey became the place I learned more about my child. The place I have met people from all walks of life. The place I look around and see an amazing community that I know my child will be safe in.  And a place that I so badly wanted to get my child involved in! With a little pushing, a lot of support from my team Captains, and the Board, my son is now an Avalanche Avenger along with me. The joy I get from watching him skate and make friends, and be 100% himself, is priceless.

What is MGHA to me?  Happy Hockey!

Ian Leach – 2019-2020 Essay

It’s 2016 – I’m going into my sophomore year of college living in a brand new city in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Desperately looking for community and not really knowing how to find it in the predominately-high income school I was attending, I decided that one of the best options would be a semi-local gay soccer league near Detroit. I thought that playing in this league might give me the opportunity to find a like-minded community that cared about social justice and inclusivity, especially in a sport I had played for the majority of my life.

The experience ultimately turned out to be one of the most problematic queer spaces I have ever attended. Frequented by nearly all cis- and gay men, I encountered fatphobia and transphobia in many of the people I played with. My body image and self-esteem ultimately tanked and, frankly, I would struggle to count on only two hands the number of problematic statements I found from the people within the league.

When I left the league after only one year of playing, I thought that queer sports might not ever fit into my life. I questioned if the activity of sport could ever shed its heteronormative and transphobic nature to create an environment that was supportive of all people and cared about improving all aspects of life for queer and trans folx. That is, until I found the MGHA. 

I honestly don’t recall how I found the MGHA after moving to Madison in 2018. Whether it was a message from one of the recruiters on various queer applications or a Facebook advertisement, I ultimately decided that I was going to get onto the ice despite never having played hockey before. And I am so, so grateful that I did. 

It all started with a 6-week clinic that showed me and my cohort all of the ropes of skating. It started as one of the challenging experiences of my life – as someone who carries a lot of pride and issues with perfectionism, it seemed a daunting task to show that I wasn’t “good enough” at something to anyone. It became much easier when my group of never-skaters were so supportive of one another. Every Sunday, we strapped on our hockey gear, fell a few times while practicing and learning, and finally spent the night messaging one another how grateful we were to be doing this together. It’s challenging showing to a 200-person league that you’re not yet good at an activity, but it’s a lot easier when you reframe this as an opportunity to be vulnerable in front of 200 people who care and support you in all aspects of your identity.

Only two weeks after I started the league, my father passed away from brain cancer. As with many queer people, and to put it lightly, I had a complicated relationship with my family – my father never fully accepted me as an out-and-proud gay man and I hadn’t talked to nearly all of my biological family for most of my years throughout college. My father’s passing was and still is one of the most challenging experiences I’ve ever experienced; finding any constructive escape to the reality of picking up the pieces of my life has been something I was and still am desperately been searching for.

Thankfully, the MGHA has remained a constant in my first year without my father and, perhaps more importantly, in my first year of finding my new normal.  Like nothing else I have been able to find, in sport or otherwise, I feel like a kid again. Every Sunday night, I sign up to sub in literally every game I can – I think I’d play 100 games on a Sunday if I could.  Despite traveling extensively for work, I make sure I get back every Sunday so I can play hockey every week.

The MGHA ultimately represents roots for me here in Madison. It represents a future for sporting activities that I so deeply believe in – that it really is possible to have sport be a supportive space for learning and community. Finding my new normal after tragedy has certainly been hard, but I know hockey and the MGHA will have a big role in helping me get to that place in life. 

Grayson Schultz – 2019-2020 Essay

“I have a world of support within arm’s reach.”

2019 was a weird year for me. After nearly five years of marriage and nearly twelve years together, my husband asked for a divorce. It was good timing at least, as I’d just started to work again after being off of full-time work for nearly three years due to health issues. I’d been seeing multiple physical therapists for three years in order to be able to walk safely.

Earlier in the year, I had been diagnosed with a hypermobility syndrome. Truth be told, that’s not the first diagnosis I’ve picked up. The growing laundry list of afflictions in my life has made it hard to move, see, breathe, and think at different times. I grew up with Systemic Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, something that can be fatal as it attacks organs and joints alike. I got sick when I was five and it’s really the only life I’ve known. I was never an athlete or honestly good at balancing. Honestly, I’d fall standing up many days. 

That brings me back to 2019. In the middle of dealing with all of this upheaval, I leaned hard on the connections I made via social media. One of the people who got me interested in hockey – specifically, the person who spurred me to go to a 2014 Women’s Badgers NCAA tournament game – shared the NHL video made about the MGHA. I ruminated on how cool it would be to learn how to play hockey like Cole, Rigsby, Pankowski, Clark, Nurse, and Roque. I let the idea pass towards the back of my mind, focusing on the important things like finding my own apartment, etc. I thought that idea would let me be.

Boy, was I wrong! The notion of playing hockey kept rattling around my brain. Within a few weeks, I brought up the idea with my physical therapist who overwhelmingly agreed I was ready for that type of physical activity. She gave me a ton of exercises to work on that were tailored to becoming a better skater. Once I signed up, I definitely started to think about all the ridiculousness I had gotten myself into. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not the epitome of grace.

My first day on the ice was… hard. I was able to be upright for maybe a total of five minutes out of an hour. My mentor and the other coaches hung out with and encouraged me to keep going. At the end of the practice, I walked to my car incredibly sore and sweaty. For the first time in my life, though, I did something sporty. I didn’t do it well or for most of the allotted time, but I did it.

I couldn’t wait to get back out on the ice next week!

At my second practice, I definitely got injured. I fell in a back-leaning butterfly and tore part of my meniscus. For the first time in my life, I asked at urgent care if I could play the next week. The answer was a resounding no, but I was able to start strength training again after a few days. 

Despite being off the ice for just a week, I had numerous people reach out and check on me. When I came back, I was greeted warmly by the other newbies and coaches alike. The support propelled me to push myself harder, both on and off the ice. 

I decided to take up the position of goalie, something I’d always admired but was sure I would suck at. Instead, my hypermobility helped me excel. I went from being someone who never did a sport to embracing one of the most difficult positions in one of the most ridiculous sports out there. It took a while to get the hang of getting all those pads on, but I know there’s nowhere else I’d rather be than squatting in goal behind my team. 

To be a part of a team and have people to rely on at all feels weird. When I was growing up, I didn’t really have friends. As a matter of fact, I was heavily isolated in an abusive family. Closeness isn’t something I’ve ever had, at least not in a healthy way. Since joining the league, I began to allow myself to connect with others instead of putting up walls. It became easy to share all the difficulties I was going through with my health, relationships, and life in general.

The amount of growth I’ve been able to go through physically, emotionally, and mentally by joining the league is something I can’t measure. My sister says that I sound happier than I ever have, and she’s not wrong.

When I started using a different name and different set of pronouns, my friends and teammates didn’t even flinch. When I started testosterone, my trans brothers checked in on me to see how I was doing and gave me the 411 on what to expect. When my disabilities affect my ability to play, I get encouraging comments instead of ones filled with ableism or frustration. Hell, a few people have emergency medical information for me in case something goes wrong.

As I write this, I’m preparing to go to divorce court with my ex-husband. I can’t lie and say that I’m not nervous – I absolutely am. I know it’s going to be a rough day and that it’ll open up healed wounds. Thankfully, I have a lot of support within the MGHA. From advice from divorced players to check-ins from teammates, I have a world of support within arm’s reach.

When someone asks me what the MGHA means to me, it’s hard to sum up in a short sentence. It means many things – progress, a workout, flipping off my disabilities… I think the most important pieces for me, though, are support and acceptance.

Martha Hansen – 2019-2020 Essay

“My feelings of indecision evaporated: I knew that I wanted to be part of this community again and that I could be.”

I first heard about MGHA in 2016 while preparing to move back to Madison, my home town, after almost 40 years away. My old friend Susan told me she had a lesbian co-worker who played in Madison’s gay hockey league and maybe I could join too. We had a good laugh about that, given that I was: a) 56 years old; b) had never participated in any organized sport; and c) had spent the majority of my adult life avoiding any and all physical activity. And HOCKEY of all things — come on! Everyone knows it’s a rough, difficult, and expensive sport, not to mention a total boyzone: I had vivid memories from my youth of being at the neighborhood outdoor ice skating rink wearing the white figure skates that were de rigueur for girls in those days and watching the boys play hockey on the other side of the boards, a place where I knew I would be unwelcome if it had ever even occurred to me to try to join in, which it didn’t.

So yeah, Susan and I chuckled and moved on, but for some reason, as ridiculous as it seemed, the MGHA stuck in my mind. So I decided to check out the web site, and when I did, I was immediately impressed with and moved by the MGHA’s commitment to tolerance and inclusion and the fact that it was truly open to all: LGBTQIA and straight people; folks who identified as male, female, and nonbinary; and skaters and non-skaters alike. The cost, while not insignificant, was manageable, with financial assistance available to those in need of it, and it was a rec league, so there was no concern about body-checking or any kind of violence.

I was amazed to find out that the MGHA would accept people who didn’t even know how to ice skate, much less play hockey, promising to teach anyone who wanted to learn. Remembering my time spent goofing around on the ice rink as a kid, I assured myself that I most certainly knew how to skate! (LOL, more on that later.) In reading through the web site with its emphasis on inclusion of marginalized folks and people who’d been made to feel unwelcome in more traditional sports settings, I realized that in spite of my general societal privilege, I did in fact fall into a marginalized group in terms of hockey: as a girl growing up in the pre-Title IX days, it had never occurred to me that it was a world I could enter.

As lucky as I am to have friends and family in the Madison area, there’s still that thing about being around your own tribe. I had left behind a wonderful group of gay and lesbian friends in Albuquerque, and I knew I would need that in Madison too, especially being newly single again. Having left Madison so long ago, before I identified as a lesbian, I had no idea where to start. But here — so very unexpectedly — was the MGHA. True, I was not an athlete and had exactly zero interest in becoming one, but I had quit my job and moved cross-country to start a new life in the aftermath of my mother’s death and my own divorce, so hell — why not hockey? I got in touch via email and was assured by Randi that I was not too old to give it a shot, and after signing up I was assigned a mentor who was equally encouraging. Susan and her hockey-playing family helped me buy the gear, and I was set to go. The orientation session was as impressive as the web site had been, with its emphasis on inclusion, inclusion, tolerance, and inclusion, accompanied by safety, safety, fun, and safety.

I went to the beginner clinics and found that ice skating was much harder than I remembered (which shouldn’t have been a surprise, given my 40-year hiatus), but also found that no one batted an eye at my advanced age or low skill level: I was treated just like everyone else. Inspired by others who had begun skating as adults and rapidly achieved impressive proficiency, I started going to open skate sessions at the Shell in an effort to improve. It was there, just days before the first game of the season, that I fell and broke my wrist. Although deeply embarrassed, I forced myself to show my face again to my new teammates and other MGHA folks, all of whom reacted with kindness and commiseration. I was offered an open door to return whenever I chose and was jovially assured by several MGHA-ers that they had played hockey with injuries and even in casts and had been fine. Still, sitting out the remainder of the season seemed the sensible thing to do, and I did.

I thought long and hard over spring/summer 2017 about whether I could or should give hockey another try. With the encouragement of Susan (who had decided to join MGHA with me in 2016 and had played the whole season and had a blast), I signed up again. Now age 57, I was feeling like the world’s oldest rookie, but as I began the preseason beginner clinics for the second time, I found myself welcomed back into the league with open arms. I played for Team Red, aka Redrum, and had a fine time, being treated with great patience and kindness by some seriously good hockey players. As before, I was determined to improve my skating and hockey skills, so I also joined a women’s beginner team, through which I met some more great people and got some excellent coaching and even scored a goal! It was a fun season, but playing for two teams was a little more than I’d bargained for, and I ended up deciding to sit out the 2018-19 season.

In the summer of 2019, I was feeling indecisive about returning to the MGHA, but, having just turned 59 (!), I figured that if I ever planned to attempt hockey again, now was the time, so I contacted the recruiting team about reactivating my membership. I almost immediately heard from two (2!) of my Redrum teammates saying how happy they’d be to see me come back! My feelings of indecision evaporated: I knew that I wanted to be part of this community again and that I could be.

Now, with the 2019-20 season coming to a close, here I am, with another full season under my belt, new friends made, much fun had, and even a goal scored!

I won’t lie — I still struggle with self-consciousness about my age and anxiety about my abilities. But it’s important to note that these difficulties are entirely self-imposed: Every MGHA member I’ve ever interacted with, no matter their age or skill level, has been friendly and kind and welcoming. No one has ever asked me, as I have frequently asked myself, what in the world are you doing trying to learn hockey at your age? So I’m here to tell you that when the MGHA says it, they really mean it: Hockey is for everyone — even a rookie who’s practically retirement age. Thanks, MGHA, for welcoming me into the world of hockey as well as home to my community.

Avery Cordingley – 2019-2020 Essay

“I don’t rush… in the locker room; I linger, relishing a feeling of comfort I’ve so rarely felt before in locker room settings.”

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

I am a transgender hockey player. I am trans and a hockey player. I am a hockey player who happens to be trans?

My gender identity shouldn’t matter when I tell people I’m a hockey player, but so often in sports, it becomes the only thing that matters. People fixate on an athlete’s genitals and fail to see the athlete as a whole person who just wants to play the game they love. USA hockey may have a trans-inclusive policy on the books, but players are still required to select between the two binary genders when registering. How do you pick when both feel like a lie?

As a nonbinary transgender athlete, sports can be a difficult setting. In a sport like hockey, “difficult” can easily morph into a heap of conflicting emotions. The gendered nature of the sport often leads to me feeling like an unwelcome imposter wherever I play.

When I play with men, I pull my gear on rapidly, shoving down fear that one of them may notice there is no bulge in my underwear. The likelihood that I mention my pronouns, much less enforce them, is miniscule at best. I spend those games trying to reassure myself that I belong. Your voice is low enough to blend in. That stubble coating your chin will quell any suspicions. Cis people don’t question other’s assumed cis-ness unless given good reason.

When I play with women, my trans-ness shoves itself to the forefront, demanding it be noticed and addressed. As I grow more comfortable in my body, I grow less comfortable among the teammates I am happiest playing with. Walking into rink after rink, my anxiety treads a well-worn path, summoning my equally well-worn defensive mantra to the surface. You’ve met some of these people before. They want you here. You shaved last night. No one will scrutinize your chest under this baggy hoodie. The other team isn’t going to question your hormone levels on sight. Just play the damn game.

When I came out in college and began contemplating medical transition, I also began wondering how such steps would impact hockey. The spring before I came out, I had stepped into a captain role on my college team. I spent that summer with a D3 girls hockey program, practicing among some of the most stereotypical cisgender girls I’d met to date in Minnesota. It was over this summer that I began to unpack and analyze my unhappiness and discomfort. I bought my first binder. I let my housemate buzz my hair. I googled “top surgery” for the first time.

I didn’t want to jeopardize the joy I found in hockey, nor did I want to let my team down, but fighting tears or rage every time I was reminded of what lay beneath my clothing wasn’t a sustainable way to live. I needed to act.

Fast forward a year and a half, and a very different person arrived in Madison, WI. I was finally seeing a body I thought I could love in the mirror, and my confidence had grown along with muscle and facial hair. But in graduating college, I left behind a team that had accepted me as me without a care for how I looked or sounded, and for the first time in recent memory, I didn’t have a place to play hockey. I spent a lonely summer coaxing myself into the gym and googling ice rinks around Madison, waiting for fall and the chance to join a league a friend from college had told me about.

The MGHA has changed my entire perspective on Madison. Immersing myself into a community of passionate and welcoming people has given me reason to begin thinking of Madison as a home. I’ve found people who, even after only a single season knowing them, I think could be friends for life. Playing hockey here, I don’t feel the old urge to tailor my underwear selections or color of stick tape based on how accepting the league seems to be. Here, there is no question. My teammates would be disappointed if I didn’t bring my whole self to every game.

Hockey has always brought me joy, but with the MGHA, I get that and so much more. I’m vocal on the ice, communicating with my teammates in earshot of the ref. I don’t rush through changing in the locker room; if anything, I linger, relishing a feeling of comfort I’ve so rarely felt before in locker room settings. It isn’t unusual for me to be among the last to leave as the rink staff shut the lights off around us.

MGHA hockey means a place where I can shed the usual cloak of trepidation I feel walking into a hockey rink. I know that there, I’ll see people who know that I am transgender who simply file that fact away in the same file as my wild-patterened shorts – as a fact about me that bears knowing if only so they can support me when the world would beat me down.