Editor's Note: Stephanie Shostak is a volleyball referee in North America who was assigned as the first referee for the Woman's Division 1 Gold Medal Championship Match at the 2015 National Collegiate Volleyball Federation (NCVF) in Kansas City. She is the current president of the Volleyball Alberta Officials and previously was a group sales representative with the Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club.
In the summer of 2013, while I was halfway through my referee certification process as a Volleyball Canada National Candidate, I was contemplating if I should hang up my whistle.
My journey as a volleyball referee started in the fall of 1987 when a summer growth spurt caused major coordination issues. My coach knew I wouldn't make the team that year and steered me into becoming a referee. I was introduced to another coach, who was also a nationally certified referee and who had recently returned from Japan with the Canadian Men's National Team. I quickly learned that with time and effort I too could advance and would be able to travel as a referee.
Over the coming years I would travel across Canada and the United States as a volleyball referee, officiating matches from junior high school, to club, to college and university. I have also been a clinician, evaluator, supervisor, assignor and mentor, along with holding various administrative positions. I was recently voted to another term as the president of the Volleyball Alberta Officials until 2020.
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"I know I made the right decision," he says in the interview.
The contemplation of hanging up my whistle in the summer of 2013 had a direct correlation to a major change in my personal life: coming out as a transgender woman.
I was aware that there were referees, players and coaches who were lesbian, gay or bisexual, but I wasn't aware of any who were transgender. I knew this was uncharted waters and I was not sure how both Volleyball Canada and US Volleyball would accept me, as Stephanie.
Ultimately, I decided that I loved the sport too much to walk away from it. I sent a memorandum to Volleyball Canada and US Volleyball to let them know about my major life event. Both national governing organizations were very supportive. The refereeing and volleyball communities in general are like my extended family, and I got no negative feedback after my announcement. That felt awesome.
Since I came out I successfully completed my certification and became a Volleyball Canada National Referee, in May 2014. I have also continued to referee at all levels in Canada (junior and senior high, club (13U to 21U), college (ACAC), university (CIS) and in club (ages 12-18) and college club (NCVF) in the United States.
The biggest moment in refereeing for me came in April, 2015, when I was at the NCVF College Club Championships in Kansas City. When I was informed that I was assigned as the First Referee (R1) on the NCVF Women's Division 1 Gold Medal Match, I was hit with a wave of emotion - shock, excitement and happiness. I was told I was assigned to the match based on my performance during the tournament. As a referee I always strive to be the best that I can be, and I always hoped that I would rise to the level to get these assignments. This was especially special to me, as the gold-medal-match assignment was only 20 months since I had came out and eight months since I received my national certification.
There is no better feeling than being able to live your true authentic life. Unfortunately, some people have placed a stigma on being transgender, but it's no different than any other personal medical situation. I am hopeful that as more and more people become educated this stigma will eventually disappear.
Since I came out as a transgender referee I have observed many positive changes in my life. Other people have noticed them as well. I have become a more proficient referee. I no longer have to worry about a deep dark secret popping out at any time. I can just focus on being the best referee that I can be; and that has definitely come to fruition.
Other referees and players have approached me and told me that I inspired them to also come out and live their true authentic lives. That means a lot to me. I personally know what other transgender referees and players have or are going through - because I went through it.
The fear I had of coming out as transgender was all between my ears. Once I was able to get past that I never looked back; And I am glad that I was able to make a difference in at least one person's life. I'm proud that it seems to have been even more than that.
Above photo from 2016 men's national semifinal match. Photo by Steven Webster.