Madison Doucette: 'Follow Your Path'

Madison Doucette is a goalkeeper on the U.S. U19 women's team that won a gold medal at the World Lacrosse Women’s U19 World Championship last August. She appeared in seven games as a sophomore at Northwestern in 2020.

It was something I had never said out loud — not explicitly, at least. I had alluded to it many times, making subtle comments under my breath, hoping people would hear, would understand, while praying people wouldn’t.

There is an innate fear in saying something that could change the way the people you hold closest view you. I am incredibly fortunate that deep down I knew my parents would support me. While I recognize that this is a privilege, it’s hard to escape the doomsdayer thoughts that come in and tell you it still might not work out. Maybe it will bother them. Maybe it will change things.

Some queer people have a specific instance when they knew, the light-bulb moment where everything fell into place. In my own experience, it was the little things. It was sitting uncomfortably in my Catholic Sunday school classes in Kansas as my teacher denounced the “choice” to love the same gender. It was priding myself on not being “boy crazy” in middle school without consideration to why that may be. It was the silly little smile that would slide across my face when a girl said, “my girlfriend,” or a boy, “my boyfriend.”

While there was no exact moment of conclusion, my first blatant suspicion came while driving with my mom. Talking about celebrities, she made the comment along the lines of “women are beautiful, but I could never kiss one.”

My immediate thought: “Hmm, well this might be an issue…”

"I field any and all questions they shoot my way. They may be silly, even uncomfortable, but anything that normalizes queerness is worth the conversation." — Madison Doucette

It took a few years from the time that seed was planted to fully understand myself and my sexual orientation. Years of piqued awareness, Google searches, and taking every “Am I Gay?” quiz that I could get my hands on.

The first time I came out was to one of my best friends, who I had only seen for one weekend in my entire life. (I have since seen her only one more time, but more on that later.) I alluded to it without saying the words, playing off an inside joke that came about from when she had come out to me years prior. I still couldn’t say, “I’m gay,” but she understood. I was a senior in high school. She lived in another country. It was said via text, but it was a step in the right direction.

After that, the pieces seemed to fall into place more easily. I told my dad I was gay while coming home from hockey practice one night, to which he responded: “You can date a girl, guy, whomever, just don’t date a loser.” I told my mom the next night and my brother that weekend. The process got easier, but there was still a hold.

As athletes, our relationships with our teammates are not only instrumental to our happiness, but it can be the difference between success and failure as a unit. Team culture is a differentiating factor. Just look at the San Antonio Spurs under coach Gregg Popovich or the All Blacks rugby team to understand how pivotal relationships can be. In my mind, our journey to win the state championship my senior year was so important that it was better to keep my truth from my teammates than let them know and risk changing how they saw and trusted me.

I could not have been more wrong. In a surge of courage spurred by defeating the reigning state champs, I told my senior class as we sat in my co-captain’s basement the night of our win. The result was a flood of support, love, emotion, borderline awkward questions and a quote along the lines of, “If anyone hurts you, tell me. I know how to mess a girl up on social media.”

My high school team was on my side, and soon enough, my college team was, too. I told a few people personally, but never formally came out. I was just me, and they accepted that. The locker room didn’t change. The conversations didn’t change. My relationships with my teammates didn’t change. I am not the first gay lacrosse player at Northwestern, nor will I be the last. For this reason, I field any and all questions they shoot my way. They may be silly, even uncomfortable, but anything that normalizes queerness is worth the conversation.

As proud as I am to be who I am — to represent my country as a gay athlete — I hate that I have to. That may be a jarring statement, and maybe hate is too intense a word, but the sentiment remains true. We are athletes on the field, and so much more beyond, but whatever identities we have do not define our athletic performance. In an ideal world, it doesn’t matter who you love, the color of your skin, the religion you follow, or where you sit on the gender spectrum.

Yet, as strongly as I feel about this perfect, hypothetical world, I am not naive. We are not there yet. Not as a culture, a country, a world. Until acceptance is the baseline, it takes some of us stepping up to normalize what makes us “different.” I have looked up to so many athletes before me as their coming out stories have highlighted all the good that can come from being yourself. This essay is my own humble attempt to follow the path and simultaneously pave the road a little wider, to make anyone earlier in their process a little more comfortable in continuing.

The process of coming out will never be over, at least not while heterosexuality is still the default. However, my fear over what that means for me personally has come to a gradual end. Now, I serve as an executive member for Northwestern’s Student-Athlete Diversity and Inclusion group. I connect with queer influencers and try to get involved as best I can. And that best friend to whom I first came out, the one who I have only seen twice in my life? She was the one grabbing me in the tightest hug of my life after she drove 12 hours round trip to watch our U19 team win the World Championship. It all comes together in the end.

To the lacrosse community at large: Our sport is ever changing and growing. As rules evolve every year and we set precedents on how niche sports grow on an international stage, let us do the same on efforts for diversity and inclusion. Lacrosse is a game everyone should play, regardless of identity.

To the teammates, friends, family members, and peers: If it hasn’t already, the culture starts now. Inclusivity is rooted in the support of all, whether members of a community or allies. Make your teams, families and communities inclusive places. Be accepting and hold everyone accountable.

Most importantly, to the players that may be where I was just a few years ago: It is going to be OK. Be proud of who you are and where you are. It may take time, but the end result is worth every second of the process. Whether or not you are ready to let the world fully know you, your identity is valid and, when the time comes, sharing it in whatever way you see fit will only free you further to follow your path.

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