In the first two installments, Zach talked about the hockey experience and his road from the junior ranks to high school play. Zach is out to many players on his team but not all. He shares how he and his teammates manage.
While you’re making the transition from peewees to playing high school hockey, somewhere along the line you realize you’re gay. Did it impact your play?
Zach: I’ve kind of known since I was at a very young age. I remember in second grade, I was attracted to one of my friends, and it’s just… That’s just kind of like you don’t voice that feeling. You’re just kind of like… When all your buddies are talking about their crushes and all these other girls, you’re kind of sitting around and in your own mind wondering why you think you like him more than you like her, you know what I mean?
As far as the relationship of that to hockey, it’s kind of just always been something that’s always been left under the table. I haven’t really mentioned at all, I haven’t really said anything about it. But eventually, that curiosity leaks out. You don’t keep that in.
You eventually start talking to people and doing things, and… I think right around that transition time is really when I was kind of like, “Ok, I’m up in the big leagues now.” I want to say that hockey actually helped give me that kind of epiphany like “All right, I’m in high school now. I should start doing high school things.”
Zach: That’s when kind of like that experimental phase came in, and I figured out what you like, what you really don’t like, and we’ll just leave it at that. And so I think as I’ve gotten older, as I’ve moved up in high school, I’ve obviously gained knowledge in a number of topics, but more specifically that worldly knowledge of “All right, what am I going to do with my life?” “When am I going to stop caring?”
And I think, just kind of over the past summer, it kind of started to lead me to come out to more people, and it’s been a good experience, especially having a core group of friends that are really accepting, really caring and understanding, and I think that has helped me come out to the majority of my team right now.
You’re in a good spot. You’re very lucky. A lot of kids don’t have that core group.
Zach: Yeah, very true. There are some people that I do know that don’t have that core group and wouldn’t be able to be in the same situation that I am, but I am fortunate.
So, you’re out to a majority of the team. Did you tell them or did they just hear rumors and put two and two together? How’d that all go, and how’d they react?
Zach: The first thing you have to understand is how liberal my school is. I go to a private school that, basically… It’s a school that as a rule, teaches being gay is ok. So I think that whole aspect of the school itself preaching this acceptance, I’m sure it’s helped to deal with it in that aspect.
But you also have to realize that a majority of highly conservative kids were kind of ignorant. That’s another issue. You know, they won’t send their kids to this very liberal school, and so the majority of the student body is very liberal overall, but also in general even more liberal as far as kind of the, what’s the word… socially progressive. So that whole thing has helped a lot.
It softened up the ground and provided you a little bit of cover – that the school culture was accepting.
Zach: There two girls at school I’m real close with, we’re very close. In June of this past summer, I came out to both of them. One of them dates this kid that also plays hockey, James [pseudonym]. I’ve been able to share a lot with her about what I have to deal with. It’s good to have someone to talk to, And she often talks to James about that, which I was perfectly fine with. James was really cool about it, and he talked to me about it at the beginning of the year, and the three of us have actually grown to be really close friends especially over the last couple of months
So James actually ended up telling a couple of kids on the hockey team who just really wouldn’t care. Sometimes I’ll make jokes, just kind of simple jokes that eventually people have caught onto, in the locker room, I’m talking about jokes that kind of some of the kids who I haven’t flat-out told or James hasn’t flat-out told or somebody else hasn’t told. That kind of hinted that, and somebody will.. . Everything is gay when you’re playing hockey. Everything is gay and everyone’s a fag. That’s one thing that you just have to get over- it’s like, “That’s gay, you’re a fag.” That’s just what it is.
So, somebody calls something gay. Like, “Kyle, you did that. That’s so gay.” And I’ll just turn and be like, “What’s wrong with that?” and just kind of smirk. So these comments and these kind of jokes which are harmless but can be pretty funny catch on, especially when people know that I’m actually gay. That’s funny.
It’s just as funny if you don’t know, but eventually whenever you say the word “gay” or you say “fag” or something like that, why is he making a joke? Well, that’s because he’s gay. (laughs) That’s been basically the main strategy of how I’ve come out to the majority of my team, and I’m convinced that – I would say 90% of my team knows-the other 10% is just either oblivious, ignorant or they just don’t understand.
So have I had any problems from that? No, I haven’t had one kid legitimately be like disgusted or whatever or despise me for it, and that’s been one thing that’s encouraged me to come out to more people.
It’s like, honestly, I’ve heard “gay” and “fag” so many times for so many years, it doesn’t offend me anymore. That’s one thing that I think eventually those words are going to be just as off-limits as the n-word or something like to where you don’t say them in front of people. Until then, it’s humor or whatever you want to call it.
But what was it like though as a younger kid hearing “gay” and “fag” thrown around the locker room, where you might not have felt so comfortable? What was it like hearing that?
Zach: I never… It really took that epiphany when I transferred from youth hockey to high school hockey of realizing like, “Oh man, is this word actually me?” And before that epiphany, it’s been really just a word.
The word didn’t have any true meaning to me until I really realized, you know, “Man, this is who I am. This is what I’m attracted to.” And so, I think, realistically, it didn’t really offend me at all. I didn’t think twice of hearing it, you know, quite a few times I didn’t think twice of saying it, until I had that realization, I was gay.
Do you think Coach knows, and if not, how do you think the coach would react?
Zach: It’s actually funny you ask that, because just this past weekend we had a tournament, and I came out of the locker room after we won. I came out with one other kid and our coach was watching the game that was following ours, and we were just up at the glass and people started texting, and my coach was like, “What the heck, guys? You come right out of the locker room and as soon as you do that, you start texting your girlfriend. What’s up with that?”
And the kid next to me was like, “Oh no, this isn’t my girlfriend. I’m texting my mom.” And I’m like, “Oh no, this isn’t my girlfriend. I’m texting my, umm…. Umm… Nevermind.” And I kept texting. And the coach is like, “What? Your significant other? Your whatever? I don’t care what you guys do, whatever you want to call it.”
And so I mean it’s like-I don’t think it will be long before my coaches know. Do they know now? I doubt it. They’re not involved in our everyday life enough to really fully get to know that. They’ll ask a teammate about another teammate’s social life randomly if they have a question about it, but in general it’s like they’re not going to find stuff out on their own.
Just the fact that he floated “significant other” tells me the guy can handle it. You’d said before that you probably didn’t think it was necessary or appropriate to do the big, dramatic, “Hi, team. I’m Zach, I’m gay.” Do you still feel that way because pretty much everybody knows?
Zach: I mean, as of right now, I’m planning on – I want to take my boyfriend to the prom.
We’re voting for you for prom king.
Zach: Thank you! (laughs). I think the prom is in April and I think that it will be kind of like, “If you didn’t know, here’s evidence, morons,” kind of thing. As of right now, I don’t think there is a reason for me to stand up in front of my whole team and flat-out tell them.
I think if you were to spend any amount of time with the team, you would understand where the reasoning for that comes from in that everything is turned into a joke. So I mean, realistically, there’s no reason for that. If they’re really questioning, they can ask me, and I will tell them, but I don’t think they care enough to really need that personal statement from me.
Next: A gay NHL player and thoughts about his favorite team