I was recently out having a couple cocktails and watching the hockey game, as I often do. And as I always do, I was cheering for my Maple Leafs.
I’m a die-hard fan who started playing hockey at the age of three. I only just moved back to my small hometown in nowhere northern Ontario after years of living in Toronto.
I figured I’d get back into hockey and play in one of the men’s leagues here in town. I’d never had a problem playing with straight friends in Toronto because I was the best on the team and they were comfortable around queer people.
So back home after several years away, I decided to ask around town to see what was the best night to play. Like most skilled players, I like a challenge and still have a competitive streak.
When I was younger and still in the closet, I was team captain and was respected by my teammates. Since it is a small town, I played with the same group of guys for the better part of my youth.
Growing up with these boys I remember having the greatest camaraderie anyone could wish for. We were teammates as well as best friends.
And yes, some of the things we did in the change room were very homoerotic. We would slap each others’ asses, hug, kiss each other on the cheek, and sometimes sleep in the same beds when away at out-of-town tournaments.
When I came out of the closet after high school, coming to terms with my sexuality was hard enough for me to deal with. I decided to leave my hometown rather than deal with its narrow-minded residents.
The other night, after watching the game, I was reminded of just how bad it could be.
“So, Monday night is the best night to play?” I asked an old hockey friend who was enjoying the game with me.
“I . . . I . . . I . . . just don’t think that’s a good night for you,” was his stammered response. “I know there will be a problem if you play that night. We already talked about it in the dressing room because we knew you moved back and wanted to play.”
My mouth dropped. These macho men, apparently, would have a problem with a gay man getting changed in front of them.
My other friends around the table looked at him in complete disgust.
He quickly added, “Not that I have a problem with you, but some of the guys do.”
I took a minute to finish the rest of my beer and choke down the rage and irritation.
My first response was to say to hell with them – I don’t need them to play hockey. They don’t understand that I’m a gay man, and gay men like other gay men. Plus, anyone who’s seen the men in this town – many still dragging their hands along the pavement, waiting to evolve – would not rush to see them naked anywhere.
I also hate when old friends say they are comfortable with how I am. For a second it makes me question, Have I changed that much?
Do people automatically see Gay Man instead of a person?
Do I need acceptance from these narrow-minded people?
These are questions I dealt with years ago, and I wasn’t sure I was ready for them to resurface.
But after living in Toronto and finding there is very little tolerance for this kind of small-town behaviour there, I’ve decided to take it upon myself to bring this matter to people’s attention here in small-town nowhere.
So instead of shrinking away and trying not to make people uncomfortable, I’m proudly wearing my Homophobia Sucks pin everywhere I go.
I’m also hoping to help out at the local high school and show the kids a positive queer role model.
And I’m showing up next Monday for my last game of hockey in small-town Ontario.