Jan 11, 2023 - News

🌈 When sports and identity converge

A volleyball sits next to a team t-shirt that says "Stonewall Volleyball" on a turf field.

Annalise's team shirt sits on the field at Detroit City Fieldhouse, where Stonewall hosts its volleyball league, next to Elmwood Cemetery. Photo: Annalise Frank/Axios

👋 Hey, it's Annalise.

I signed up for an LGBTQ+ kickball league last spring on a whim. I knew no one in it, had no idea what I was getting into and hadn't the slightest idea what it means to "tag up."

  • Nevertheless, I showed up at Tindal Recreation Center on Seven Mile, grabbed a highlighter-yellow team T-shirt and emblazoned it with my name and pronouns.

Why it matters: With the pandemic and an increasingly online world, our "third spaces" — communal gathering spots that have naught to do with work or home — are disappearing.

  • I've long found this dispiriting when it comes to LGBTQ+ third spaces, which allow expression and a depth of understanding. Their numbers in Metro Detroit have declined starkly over the decades, and it can be especially hard to find spaces not centered around alcohol.
  • But even bars are dwindling — just 24 lesbian bars remain in the United States, according to the Lesbian Bar Project. The closest to Detroit is Slammers in Columbus, Ohio.

Between the lines: So despite my inability to understand how to run the bases — thanks knowledgeable teammates for yelling "RUN" or "STAY PUT" — I was drawn to the Detroit chapter of Stonewall Sports, a national queer community nonprofit.

  • I've stuck with the league for almost a year now, including moving from kickball to indoor volleyball, which I have (slightly) more of a knack for.
  • The second winter volleyball season starts next week. There's also pickleball, billiards and bowling.

Quick take: I never saw team sports as factoring into my path of self-discovery — I was not a sports kid growing up.

  • But working with a group of people toward a shared goal is giving me that sense of belonging.

The big picture: Figuring out who you are can be a hell of a journey, whether it comes to sexual/gender orientation or anything else. And when we need some direction, the arrows that point us forward along our paths can come in the most unexpected shapes.

  • Like the shape of a dusty red kickball, passed from a teammate and caught in my cupped arms while lunging toward first base for a successful out.
  • Then the shared smiles and high five after high five as we trotted back to the benches.
  • We never won a game that season, and it hardly mattered.

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