The hockey jock is an enduring fantasy figure in gay culture, a collective daydream that undoubtedly includes some locker time with Jarome Iginla, highsticking and a hat trick.
Luckily, right here in Toronto, we have the largest gay hockey league in the world, the Toronto Gay Hockey Association (TGHA). For 21 years, local gays, lesbians, queers and their allies have been lacing up their skates and pulling on their jockstraps to play our nation’s favourite game.
The growing league boasts a median age of 29 and is ready to kick off the season at new digs, the Mattamy Athletic Centre (formerly Maple Leaf Gardens). They are also eager to welcome new faces, new fans and some seriously sweaty competition.
Bryan Frois joined the TGHA
as a goalie four and a half years ago before becoming the volunteer responsible for TGHA’s public relations. “I was in my third year of university and missed playing hockey,” he says. “I played competitively as a kid, but when I left high school, I stopped playing. Part of why I had to leave was because I didn’t feel comfortable any more playing in adult hockey.” Frois came out in Grade 12 but faced homophobic attacks his whole life, having participated in figure skating and ballet as well as more traditionally masculine sports. “In high school I ended up losing a lot of my hockey friends because of this issue.”
Stories like Frois’s are not uncommon, but hockey is quickly becoming seen as a more gay-friendly team sport. Allies like Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke speak out on homophobia, and recent polls, like one conducted by ESPN, show 92 percent of professional hockey players supporting gay marriage. A number of National Hockey League teams also came out in support of Spirit Day this year, donning purple to bring attention to the challenges facing gay, lesbian, bi and transgender youth.
Frois is supportive of this trend: “My argument is that hockey has the best chance to accept a gay player out of the five major sports on the continent because it has its roots in our liberal Canadian society. We are a very accepting people, and more than 50 percent of NHL players are Canadian. In Canada we preach acceptance, and I think that our players would be welcoming of a gay player because of how they were raised.”
While other TGHA players may be cautious about agreeing, they have all found an accepting fan base in the Village, with their annual Jock Auction packing Woody’s each February. “The Jock Auction is our biggest fundraiser,” says Dave Doucette, who has played in the TGHA for more than a decade. “The concept is to sell tickets for the right to remove the jock from the player. All you get to do is remove a jock and keep [it]. There’s nothing else attached to that. The jersey is very long, so the jock is slipped down; the audience doesn’t see anything, but somehow people want the right to do that. It’s amazing!”
In this type of environment, Frois finds that the questions players get asked are based more in fantasy than fact. “It’s usually ‘How’s the dressing room? Do you guys shower together?’ Most of us are friends and have seen each other naked already, so it’s not really a big draw anymore. Straight guys playing varsity hockey when I was in high school — they would do things that were more homosexual than our gay hockey league. The guys would pretend to slap each others’ asses and dry hump each other. The whole jock atmosphere is very sexual in itself. It doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight.”
Gay or straight, the fact remains that participating in an activity as physically demanding as hockey will deliver some very alluring benefits. Aside from the spirit of sportsmanship and teamwork, hockey is a seriously sexy sport, and playing gets you game on and off the ice.
“If it truly is a hockey player and not just some guy in equipment, it’s a sport where you’ve got to have certain body parts built up,” Doucette says. “Hockey players have amazing legs and generally a good shoulder area. There are parts of the body that build naturally, and once you combine that with the equipment, which fits quite snug, it’s definitely appealing. I think that all of us gay guys growing up looked at those athletic guys in high school on the football team. You were into that body image, and I think hockey plays into that. Not to mention we live in Canada, so that’s typically who we look toward.”
Chad Eugene, a forward with the TGHA, became involved when a friend wanted support in joining the league. He agrees that hockey has a mystique the gay boys love. “If someone were to go up to a friend of mine and ask them about what they do, and they say they play hockey, they seem more attractive,” he says. “It does put you in a different type of class or stereotype compared to other sports. It changes their perception of you. Watching hockey on TV, it is very sexual. The players are very beefed up, they work out a lot and they are hot. Saying you are a hockey player gives people that impression.”
The hockey-jock fetish even extends to online dating, where a hockey-themed moniker increases your odds of a hookup. “I’ve known people who use a hockey profile name online,” Eugene says. “They use that to their advantage; they’re telling the truth, and it probably attracts a lot more people, just like at the bar.”
Despite the obvious physical attributes of some players, TGHA members stress that the league is for everyone, with a draft designed to balance skill levels. “There may be some apprehension about fitting in,” Doucette says. “I know there is some hesitation from the new guys coming in. We’d like to see these players develop, and we are there as a support, for sure. I think ultimately, how we’ve been able to maintain 10 teams is the atmosphere, the camaraderie and the events.”
For those who just like to watch, Doucette offers some friendly advice. “We would love to see people come out. There’s amazing seating and of course, you just might pick up a gay hockey player who’s watching his friend play. We’re often there.”
— Andrew Robertson is a writer, a DJ, a backup dancer and a sucker for men in sports gear.