Kriona Hagen – 2019 Essay

I’ve been with the league for several years, and I’ve had the option to write a “What Gay Hockey Means to Me” essay a few times now.  Each time, I declined – this community means the world to me, but I didn’t have a story that fit into a nicely packaged narrative. I am thoroughly hooked on hockey now and play in two leagues (thanks to the MGHA), and I served on the board for two years as a way to give back to the community that has given so much to me… but it still wasn’t quite enough to coax a story out of me.  I didn’t have any life-altering experiences that were worth writing about – that is, until this last season.

I joined the MGHA several years ago.  It wasn’t very dramatic, but it was actually an act of desperation.  I had no queer community. I had lived in Madison for upwards of 10 years and I knew virtually no one like me.  I looked in all of the circles I walked in – namely school, work, and gaming. I was still in the process of questioning my gender when I tried to find like-minded groups in college, but I didn’t feel “queer enough”, or that I fit in.  I had no luck at work – there was a fledgling queer community, but the power dynamics of the workplace made it uncomfortable enough that I couldn’t rely on it for support. The gaming community was out of the question – I am sure there were queers there, but I didn’t click well enough with the group as a whole to find anybody.

At one of the LGBTQIA+ meetings at work, Andrew Cox mentioned the MGHA.  I was not athletic, and I was not into sports or hockey, but I needed a community.  I was desperate. So I went to the website and filled out an application.

I didn’t get in.

That is to say, my application got lost.  Or something. Nobody reached out to me, and by the time I followed up with Andrew (who pointed me to the right people), it was too late.   The league was full, and they didn’t have space for me. Shit. I mean, I wasn’t heartbroken – “this is not the queer community you’re looking for” had become sort of a recurring theme by this point, so I figured I just needed to look elsewhere.

Fast forward a year, and little had changed.  My quest was still underway, and I’d made no progress.  On a Friday in late June of 2015, I had an email from Patrick Farabaugh.  “Are you still interested?”

Well, I haven’t had any luck elsewhere, so sure, why not, I’m still interested.  Let’s do this. How scary can it be? Turns out, REALLY SCARY. Do you have an anti-competitive streak a mile wide, a deep aversion to being aggressive, a crippling fear of being read as masculine, and haven’t exercised in years?  When you do, team sports are utterly terrifying. A month before the season started, I nearly quit the MGHA. What had I gotten myself into?? I needed a community, but did I really need it this badly? What if I didn’t get along with anybody, or I was awful at it, or if it was like all team sports I had tried in the past and I would end up going home crying each night?

Spoiler alert: I didn’t quit.  But I very nearly did. I convinced myself that I should try it for a little bit, and that I could bail if it turned out to be awful.  And, further spoiler alert: it wasn’t awful. In fact, it was wonderful. The league was a place where community came first and hockey came second.  I met so many wonderful, amazing, loving human beings. I couldn’t fathom how there were so many fantastic humans living in Madison right under my nose.  It was unbelievable.

Over the course of the next few years, I fell in love with the league.  Each year, I was placed on a new team which allowed me to make friends with a whole new group of humans.  My circle of friends grew, and the people who are closest to me in my life right now are people I met through playing hockey.  I joined the board as a way to give back. I have a lot of skills that come in handy when running a hockey league, apparently. I was helping make the MGHA a better place.

As things with hockey continued to get better, things in the rest of my life continued to get worse.  It was a litany of disasters with no end in sight. It culminated with the death of my son in March of 2018.  I was absolutely devastated. There’s no way to sugarcoat it – Einar’s death broke me. My grief led me to some very dark places, and as a result, at the beginning of this last season, I left my wife.  I put some clothes in my backpack, hopped on my motorcycle, and rode off into the wind.

The MGHA was wonderful, but I didn’t have a story that was worth writing an essay about.  Until now.

I couch-surfed for a month-and-a-half.  At times it was 7pm at night and I didn’t know where I was going to be sleeping that night.  I rode my motorcycle through the sun and through the rain. And when I crashed on couches, exhausted, with wet motorcycle gear, it was largely with people from the MGHA.  I had built this community for several years, and when I needed them the most, the people in this league Showed Up for me. They fed me, held me, kept me safe, and listened to me cry.  They took me out dancing for my birthday and defended my honor when it was impugned. They had long conversations with me about what healthy relationships look like and what you need to do to build and maintain them.   They talked with me on the phone as I sat on sidewalks in Madison, sobbing and broken. The people in this league stood by me as everything in my life fell apart.

After I settled into my own apartment and my mental health started to stabilize, I realized that my choice three years prior to join the MGHA – and my choice not to quit before it started – had been life-altering.  Without the emotional support my friends in the league gave me, I may have never realized I was unhappy in my marriage. The MGHA gave me the structure and support to build up the courage I needed to completely upend my life and leave a relationship that wasn’t working for me.  It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, and I didn’t have to do it alone. This league is my chosen family, and they were there for me.

In the aftermath of my breakup, as the season began progressing last fall, I already knew – I was going to write an essay this year.  I finally had something worth saying.