It must be pretty clear by now that hockey is the single thing that gives me pure unadulterated joy. Don’t get me wrong, there are things that give me joy, things I love. I love my spouse and our partnership gives me great joy. I love being a parent and of course, I love my children, and they do bring me joy. I also love Cleo. But let’s be honest, everything contains some element of, let’s say, complexity. Um, I believe the expression is, every rose has its thorns. Which is the kindest way to say nothing is immaculate, unblemished requiescence and tranquility. Except hockey. Hockey, no matter how shitty I play on the ice, is simple unequivocal pure and honest-to-goodness bliss. I am completely out of my head, out of my body, in a zone of competitive euphoria.
About 8 months ago, in response to a near calamitous (I’m sure you read about it in the news) shortage of goalies, I offered to learn to play the position for one of the leagues I play in. Without too much self-glorification, I think I can honestly say that I’m actually quite good at it. All those years of playing shortstop in softball must have honed my hand eye coordination I guess. The bottom line is, I am actually better at playing goal than I am at playing forward, so I made the switch and have been practicing as much as I can, playing as often as I can and learning as I go. I can’t adequately explain how much I’m enjoying the challenge of learning and playing hockey slash goalie. I simply can’t get enough. As the winter leagues drew to a close, I perused the options for summer hockey (knowing full well that I would go insane without playing for 3 solid months).
There are several forward positions on a hockey team as well as a few defensive positions on each team. But just one goalie position per team. And somehow I missed the memo about getting my name in early for a goalie position on a women’s team for the summer. I guess I’d also been counting on the aforementioned shortage. At any rate, all of the goalie positions for women’s teams were filled. I was shocked. Not to mention panicked. I called every summer hockey league in literally 50 miles and finally found a “co-ed” league (not too insanely far away) that would have me. The reality is that this league is “co-ed” in name only. I am the only non-cis-male in the league.
The game itself is not so different. Harder yes. Faster yes. Louder and more physical yes. And whereas in women’s hockey one has to be a goalie who drops down to play in a butterfly position, one does not drop down in men’s hockey. Unless one wants to stop the puck with one’s face-mask. In other words, men can and do lift the puck. The team I am playing on is in a league far above what I can or should be playing. Really. It gives the expression “out of my league” a whole new meaning. But the guys are great. They don’t seem to care that I sometimes let in 12 goals in a game. Every single time I stop the puck from going in the net several players skate over to thump me on the leg pads with their sticks and say, “nice!”, “good job” or “great save” (even if it wasn’t). Just as every single time I let in a goal the defenders come over to tell me it is no big deal, that they should have been playing their position better, that someone was blocking my view or that no one could have stopped a shot like that and to roughly pat the top of my helmet in big brother to little brother fashion.
And while the game may not be so different, the locker-room is. There has been no discussion of gender. There has been absolutely no accommodation or acknowledgement that one of these things is not like the others. Our “team” has a locker-room assigned to us. And as a team that is where we get changed, gear up and talk strategy before the game and review and congratulate various plays/players after the game. Men are socialized in the realm of locker-room etiquette quite differently than women are apparently. Stripping down to one’s birthday suit as it were, and walking around, bending over, reaching, stretching and engaging in banal chit chat as if one’s private parts were not dangling, jiggling, flapping in plain view is evidently customary if not mundane to men. I do believe there have been a few instances where men have turned their backs to the center of the room (or perhaps to me specifically) in order to (bend over) and replace undergarments with equipment or vice versa. The sight is no less startling I assure you.
Women and women’s locker-rooms are a very different scene. At least the women’s locker-rooms that I’ve been in. Items of clothing are exchanged rather than removed, quietly and quickly without any time for display or demonstration. And talking seems to be done in turn by those not in compromising states of undress. It is an interesting dance of turn-taking I must say. So subtle it is easily missed. Most of the women I play hockey with come somewhat prepared, having on sports-bra or long underwear under their street clothes. Very few, if any, expose breasts or buttocks ever. Certainly there is no naked nattering going on.
As for me, all locker-rooms are problematic for one reason or another. The men’s locker-room seems just a new kind of awkward. Though I have to say, it is better and I prefer it. Even though I am surrounded in close proximity to men’s bodies in all their pageantry. The hairy, more muscular, solid, aspiration that I sometimes see in my own mind’s eye (before actually shattering that image with the one in the mirror). Then there is the odd sense of belonging and yet not belonging. I feel more comfortable in the men’s locker-room. Until I remember that I am still different. There is both longing as well as curiosity. I am both trying to be and trying to let go. I try mightily not to get in my own way, not to trip myself up as I usually do, and just let myself be welcomed and accepted by these guys. It’s hard to get out of my head, my body, my judgments of myself. I enter with a deep breath and say my hellos. I try and just focus on the task at hand, putting on my equipment in the correct order without too much swearing. And when all else fails, I inspect my skates. Very closely.