It’s 7:30 on a Friday night in Las Vegas. I pull across Las Vegas Blvd. and pull into the Tropicana hotel and casino. I just left a hair appointment and my stylist is the best. She darkens me up a bit, throws in some highlights, and gives me a cute little textured look. I leave the salon on cloud nine. I look good.
I pull around the casino and into the valet lane. A valet runner greets me as I step out of my car. Hair freshly done, feeling pretty, I say, “Hey I don’t plan on being here too long so if you could keep it up front, I would really appreciate it.”
“No problem, sir.”
I walk into the Tropicana and a scene I could have never imagined is laid out before me. It’s the registration party for Sin City Shootout, an annual LGBTQ multi-sport event that descends on Las Vegas every January. I’ll be making my triumphant return to volleyball and competing in a tournament for the first time as Jamie. I’m stoked.
Wall to wall, everywhere I look, there are gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people, drag queens, drag kings, and everything in between.
I had never been around that many LGBTQ people in one place my entire life. It was something for me to behold.
Before the tournament I was lucky enough to be picked up on a team that is well-known and established in tournament volleyball circles - Hawaii Titah’z. I had never met any of the girls I was playing with, but we were in a group Facebook chat so I had some idea what they all looked like.
I meander through the casino past the throngs of people, none of whom can be bothered to look up from their drinks or conversations while they spill off the table games into every aisle of the casino floor.
I find one of my teammates and we introduce ourselves - her name is Tatiana and she is a vision: At five-foot-10 or so, slender and cute as a button, she welcomes me with open arms. I register and watch a couple men – shirtless and wearing shorts so short they’d make the most confident person blush – referee a Bumper Balls soccer match, where the participants wore huge bubbles so they could bounce off of one another.
Two more people show up from our team - Alana and Tia. Tia is slightly taller than me and has a smile that warms your soul. Alana is a little shorter with a jovial giggle that made me feel welcome immediately. Tia introduces me to her fiancé, Scott, and he gives me a huge hug and a kiss on the cheek. He’s playing men’s volleyball and you can feel the positive energy between he and Tia. This is absolutely a group I want to be associated with.
The next morning I meet the rest of my team at our first match.
Billy is a scientist - wicked smart and the prettiest set of hands I’ve seen in a long while. Her sets are smooth as butter. ChaCha and Fraustina round out our seven girls, five of whom are trans. While neither of them is large in stature, they can both ball out of their minds. Strong swings and great defense, these two are more than capable of holding their own.
I feel more than slightly intimidated. I’m about 80 pounds heavier than I was last time I competed at a high level, and it’s been six years since I played any tournament ball at all.
We roll through some of our early matches with ease, running into one team from Salt Lake City that gives us some trouble. They are definitely a team to contend with but we beat them by eight before they best us by two in the second of the two-game match.
The second day – elimination day – rolls through and we get an early start. I get a text from one of my editors who came to support me the day before. He sent a good picture of me and told me to play well and win it all. I intend to. A couple of my friends show up and watch every match we played that day.
I couldn’t ask for better support.
We win a closely contested match with a team from Vegas and then we play Salty, the team from SLC. Back and forth, they win a game, we win a game, and in the tiebreaker game... they win the match. Harrumph. We go to the losers bracket where we ultimately take bronze.
* * * * *
Anybody who knows me knows that losing is legitimately my least favorite thing in the world. Two is not a winner, and three... nobody remembers.
That said, I don’t feel like a third-place finisher after this tournament. It’ll sound cheesy, but I felt like I won it all.
Sure, I didn’t play the best volleyball of my life, but I assure you the next time I am in a tournament, I will be much closer to my old self than I was this weekend.
I made memories with a group of ladies I had never met, both on my team and on other squads. I watched two other teams — made up entirely of cisgender women — take first and second after they both beat a team with five trans chicks.
This tournament wasn’t just about the volleyball. This tournament did so much for me from a personal perspective that the outcome mattered just a little bit less than it normally does.
There were women holding the bathroom door open for me so I could walk in after they walked out.
There wasn’t a single person trying to use my being trans as an excuse for why they lost or why they got blocked. It was just a time where we were able to play volleyball, compete against each other, and continue to spread the love of a game that I have held near and dear since I was a junior in high school being coached by Carter Youngblood and Lee Guerrero.
“This tournament should serve as notice that it isn’t about being transgender or not,” my team captain echoed. “It’s about teamwork. There were five transgender females on the team that took third - the team that lost to two different teams made up of cisgender women who were very good.”
For the several trans women I saw playing volleyball this weekend, it is all about playing a sport we love - not about having any advantage that someone else doesn’t have. As we go forward, we just want to grow the game as volleyball players who play this sport, love this sport, get injured for this sport, and want to share the love we have for it with everyone we possibly can.