How Gay Volleyball Has Helped Me Grow

By Darren Stehle

I’m finding it difficult to find a single word to describe my emotional state this morning. I was considering schadenfreude and bittersweet but neither hits the mark. I am not taking pleasure in someone’s discomfort therefore feeling ashamed of my emotions. Bittersweet is perhaps closer to the truth.

Last night was the playoffs for my gay volleyball team. We were 8th place in B-pool. We were playing against very good teams and I think the energy was something between excitement, fun, and nervousness. I wanted to play well and have fun, but yes I was feeling competitive and wanted to do my best. Leaving the change room to go warmup, one of my teammates was just arriving. “Ready to lose?” he said. ‘No’, I said. “I’m ready to win Gold!”

On the first game we won and then tied. In the second game we won both sets. And on the final game we lost and then tied. We thought we were going to get a silver, and we were very content with that outcome.

As the awards were being handed out, they announced the silver medal winners. I think we were all expecting to move forward and take that medal. I know that I took a step but instead they called another team. We looked at each other, eyebrows raised in excitement. We simply did not believe we had won the gold.

When I got home I began to feel swell of emotions. Past emotions, and past memories. This was the very first time I had ever won an award or a medal for playing a sport. When I was in elementary school and then in high school I hated gym. I was the skinny guy who everyone realized was gay. I didn’t seem to understand sports nor did I seem to have skill to play well. My two strongest memories of those times are of always being called last or second last when selected for a team, or being hit upon the hardest when we had to play murder ball in the gym because of rain. In murder ball I was usually one of the last standing. There I showed skill to run, to move and to dodge. It was some form of ironic allegory that I could avoid being hit by the ball but not deflect the social criticism as being labeled a Fag.

All of those feelings, those fears, the upset, the memories, the loneliness swelled up inside of me last night. I tried to let them go before bed, but I woke up after having slept exceptionally well still feeling tired and emotionally exhausted.

It was the best thing and the worst thing winning that Gold medal last night. But to contradict myself it really was the best thing. This is why gay and lesbian sports organizations exist. Something like TSVL, the Toronto Spartan Volleyball League, exists for people like me. It’s an environment of fun, openness, safety, freedom, and skills development to become a better player. I let go and allowed myself to play, to experience fun and be in the moment in sport. At 46 years old that was the first time I felt that way, other than in private, physical activities like working out, stretching and cycling.

I would like to express my gratitude to all of my teammates of team 17, ‘In The Hole’. You guys were so much fun, helpful, and a pleasure to see every week. And to TSVL for the Player Development Clinics, all of which I attended and helped me to improve as a better player. What an incredible organization. And to the man I’m dating, Christiaan, who in August of this year suggested we sign up for volleyball. He is playing in competitive and I am playing recreational. You made it easy but you also encouraged me, because there were a couple times in the beginning when I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay and keep playing. But you suggested I stick it out. I’m so glad I did. Thank you.

© 2011 Darren Stehle & Integrated Fitness. All Rights Reserved.

  • Brian Middleton

    Hi Darren,

    Thanks for your post. It was just wonderful to read and I related to it all so much.

    I will be 62 yr. old this weekend, am now retired here on Vancouver Island with my partner of 37 years…
    We started out in TO together as a young gay couple after I was at York U and just as I was starting Ontario College of Art in 1974. I discovered my own athleticism in my early forties and also uncovered my own “latent” competitve spirit and passion in sports then. Things are very different for me now. In the best possible way….

    Like you I was always the last “pick” for any teams in Phys. Ed and I avoided all gyms and thus denied myself that great “kick” and joy of winning and of pushing myself physically. That went on for way too long~ but: Those days are GONE!

    And I intend to stay active and fit and toned and friendly but competitive to the end… LOL

    I look forward to further posts and blogs from you. http://www.brianmiddletonart.ca

    Cheers!

    • Brian – thank you for such a thoughtful comment. So glad what I had to say made an impression on you. And… congratulations on 37 years with your partner. That’s wonderful!

  • Hey there, I played in the team you guys played the first on the playoff night. We won broze. Congratulations on the gold!

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and emtion. It is a beautiful article. It expressed the same emotions that I had. Good one!

    I hope to see you the next season!

  • Great post. Made me choke up a little. I admit.