Hockey has helped shape me into the person I am today. It was always my escape from the real world. Whenever my skates hit the ice, I felt free. Free from the stress of school. From the stress of “fitting in”. From the stress of day-to-day life. It was the one place where I felt like I could be myself despite anything else that was going on in my world. I felt safe with my teammates and they accepted me for who I was out there on that ice.
It took me a bit to figure “it” out. Looking back, it was obvious to see, but I grew up with a mom and a dad, my brother dated girls and my sister dated boys. The feelings I was feeling, the thoughts I was thinking, I believed that there was something “wrong” with me because I didn’t fit the mold that was all around me.
I kept it bottled up. I didn’t understand what I was feeling. I didn’t talk to anyone about it and it was killing me inside. So much so that I developed Bell’s Palsy in high school, I believe, because of it—my body’s way of telling me I wasn’t being my true authentic self.
It wasn’t until I was in college that I “figured it out”. The light bulb went off—the reason I didn’t enjoy dating guys was because I wanted to be dating women. It was a liberating moment, as well as terrifying. How do I tell my family? My friends? Would my teammates still accept me? Think differently of me? I built it up so much in my head that I kept it from everyone for another two years. I was essentially living a double life.
My college roommate was the first person I told. Her reaction was, “Hawk, I already knew. I was just waiting for YOU to tell me”. The weight of the world lifted from my shoulders in that moment and to this day, we are still best of friends. It was the best response she could have given me in that moment—I felt safe.
I went on to tell more of my teammates who all had similar reactions. None of them cared. They just cared that I was happy… and that we kept on winning!
But how did I now tell my family? Anyone who knows us knows that we are a tight-knit family, but what if this tore our family apart? What if they didn’t accept me because of this? What if they kicked me to the curb?
My dad came to pick me up at college after my sophomore year. Now, my dad is more of an old school kind of guy, so I was beyond nervous to tell him. I didn’t know how to say it or when. I thought, I’ll wait until we’re minutes from home, drop the bomb, and run inside the house and hide.
Here is what actually happened: we had just packed up the car and started the drive home. We weren’t even off campus yet and I just blurted out, “Dad, I’m gay”.
For what felt like forever.
Keep in mind, it’s a seven hour drive home and I was trapped inside the car with no place to hide.
He was simply amazing, though! We had the best talk on that drive home. He came at it from a place of curiosity rather than the disapproval and judgement I had built up in my head. He was genuinely intrigued and wanted to learn more. He has supported me ever since. He always has.
My brother… oh this is a good one. My brother is a hockey player. He had a successful collegiate career and played professionally overseas. He was the reason I started playing. I wanted to be just like him growing up. If he got a skateboard, I wanted a skateboard. If he got a new hat, I wanted the same one. Apparently I took it to the extreme and when he married a woman, so did I!
Anyway, I asked him if I could take him out for some ice cream and “catch up”. I told him inside of a Dairy Queen, yes a Dairy Queen, and his reaction was almost a sigh of relief. He thought I was going to tell him that I had hooked up with one of his friends, to which I replied, “Well it wouldn’t have been the friend that you were thinking of”. He always was and still is one of my biggest fans.
I have a twin sister. We are as tight as two people can be. We tell each other everything. When I told her, it was over the phone as she was working and living in Toronto at the time. I honestly don’t remember what she said, but I think a part of her was hurt that I didn’t confide in her because like I said, we told each other everything. Once she realized that I didn’t avoid telling her to hurt her, but rather to protect myself, she understood. She was so proud of me and was most excited to go to a gay bar with me and not be hit on by guys 😉 She is the best wingwoman ever and best friend I could ever ask for!
And then there’s my mom. She is the kindest, sweetest, and most caring human in the entire world. My fear was that maybe I’d see a different side of my mom when I told her. Nope. That didn’t happen. She just hugged me and said “I love you and don’t care who you date as long as you are happy”. My hope is to be half the mom to my own kids that she has been to me.
I am fortunate that everyone I love still loves me. Nothing has changed. I know this isn’t the case for everyone. Not everyone is accepted by their families, friends, or the communities they live in.
I felt included and feeling that inclusivity is why I created Women’s Hockey Life. I wanted to create a space for anyone who has something to say, to have the platform to say it, to feel heard and accepted. I wanted to build a community where one’s sexual orientation, race, religion, etc. doesn’t matter. A place where the game of hockey knocks down any and all societal walls and we come together as one to celebrate the game we all love.
So, this pride month, I encourage you to love yourself and to know that you belong in hockey and in this world no matter what. I encourage you to share your story to help inspire others. I encourage you to let others know that they belong and will always be respected. We’re all human and we’re all just here loving this beautiful game—that’s all that should ever matter.