Each year the Madison Gay Hockey Association invites its members to write about the role the MGHA plays in building their identity. 2009 Scholarship winner Max Camp shares his essay.
In 2006 I was working at the UW-Madison LGBT Campus Center and saw a poster of a shirtless man clad in shoulder pads and holding a hockey stick. Not just another ad for a local fetish night, I immediately jumped when I realized there was a gay hockey league in development. In high school I had played some pick-up games of roller hockey with neighborhood friends, but I never had the chance to play ice hockey—much less in an organized league. Three-and-a-half years later, after first seeing that poster, the Madison Gay Hockey Association has played a transformative role in my personal happiness and my social connection to Madison’s gay community.
As a kid, my dad encouraged me to play many sports as he dreamed that one of his kids would go pro. I started off with the team sports, baseball and soccer, and gradually added doubles-tennis, swim team, and even a year of little-league football in sixth grade in exchange for a Gap jean jacket. However, as puberty set in, and team sports developed an atmosphere that was less about having fun, and more about male bonding over girls, or proving you were not a girl, or worse, a faggot, sports gradually came to be, not a source of pleasure, but something to dread and occasionally fear.
However, MGHA and its emphasis on recruiting inexperienced players and teaching each other through peer-development has been an amazing experience. There is a variety of experience and expertise in this league. But rather than the great players growing impatient, they are kind and helpful. While many people express a desire to win, the underlying priority is to have fun and make sure everyone gets a chance to play. MGHA epitomizes what team sports should be about: having fun, building each other up through encouragement and teaching each other new skills.
The second reason that MGHA has been so important to my personal happiness is that it has opened a space for me to meet and develop friendships with other gay men. While I have been politically active in the queer community for the last 10 years, there has always been a disconnect between myself and many other gay guys. It has been a continuous source of frustration and disappointment because, while I was working so hard for sexual freedom for all and the end of oppression of LGBT folks, I felt like I was not connecting with those I should have most in common with.
Engagement in political struggle fostered tendencies in me to judge people by their politics (or lack of). Gay men who seemed to play into the hands of consumer capitalism by looking for the next cute outfit were kind of sad, I thought. I was instantly repelled by gay men who didn’t like women. I could go on, but hope you get the point. I closed myself off from people I disagreed with, rather than opening dialogue with them.
However, when I tried to explore social outlets, I found them fairly unfulfilling. Despite a commitment to feminism, I could not help but feel when I walked into a gay bar that I was there to “find someone” for some yet-undecided reason. It was difficult to not feel like I was objectifying people. I hated thinking and feeling this way, when it went against so much of what I believed in and strove for. As a result, I tended to avoid gay bars and just went to “straight” bars with friends where we could grab a drink and chat.
In contrast to these two experiences, MGHA has opened an incredible social space where I can be around other gay men (and queer women, trans-folks, hetero men and women, etc.) and have a great time in an environment that is not hyper-sexualized. Although the environment itself fosters building positive connections with others, the people that MGHA has attracted have been wonderful. Most people are grounded and relaxed. I think the developmental aspect of the league tends to attract people who care about others and are patient. For example, on my team this year, a shy, straight guy bends down and helps tie the laces of a butch, queer woman. Where else would you see this type of bonding and concern across people of different orientations and gender expressions? This is just one example of what makes this space so special for me.
Now that you know how important MGHA has been to me over the last three years, I think it is appropriate to discuss why I would like a scholarship to the Chelsea Challenge. After 15 amazing years in Madison, a place I proudly call home, I will be moving in August to attend law school. Prior to joining MGHA, I really could not ice skate. I had been to the UW Shell a handful of times, and held onto the boards as I took insecure baby-steps—not glides—and prayed I did not fall. These days, I receive compliments from my Coach and Captain that I am an “animal” on the ice. I would really like to represent MGHA and demonstrate how amazing this league is in terms of developing complete newbies into puck-thirsty monsters on the ice. Thus, I think I am a good candidate to represent the unique mission of MGHA as a developmental league. Conversely, attending this tournament would be a wonderful way to conclude a three-year tenure with an organization that has taught me new skills, introduced me to amazing people and brought me much happiness on a weekly basis.
In addition to being a product of MGHA, I am applying for this scholarship because, as a graduate student who faced unforeseen financial hardship in 2008, I would not be able to attend otherwise. Last year my partner, Boian, who is not a U.S. citizen, ran into complications when applying for a work visa. Not only did he not get the work visa, but he lost the job he held at the time. This made me the sole income-earner for our two-person family while I was still a grad student. We made ends meet, but in doing so, I tapped out various financial resources available to me. Therefore, the scholarship would open an opportunity for me that otherwise would not exist.
After 32 years, I’ve come to realize that life in general is pretty hard. And for many in our community, life is frequently unnecessarily hard. This league has brought so much joy and happiness to me and others on a weekly basis. When I move in August, a piece of my heart will be left with MGHA, but the fantastic memories will remain strong. Thank you.