As a tall, white male, it’s my genetic responsibility to be good at volleyball. It’s a burden that I try to shoulder as often as possible, because I once heard that exercise is good for you. And so it was that I found myself playing in a recreational volleyball league not so very long ago in this great city of Chicago. After one of our games, the referee pulled me aside and asked if I’d be interested in playing for his competitive traveling club team.
I cannot overstate the importance of this request.
A competitive traveling club team, you guys! That’s the holy grail of awkwardly tall people! I knew that if I was ever going to win a gold medal as the world’s oldest male volleyball player in the 2020 Olympics, the road started with this referee and his traveling team. I said yes so hard, the floor shook.
We exchanged phone numbers, and he told me he’d be in touch with details. “In the mean time,” he said, “check out our next tournament online. Just Google ‘NAGVA.’”
So I did. I went home. And I Googled ‘NAGVA.’
And that’s how I learned that ‘NAGVA’ stands for ‘North American Gay Volleyball Association.’
What followed was a mental tailspin that basically went like this:
North American Gay Volleyball Association? Are only gay men allowed to play?
Does the referee think I’m gay?
Does my whole teamthink I’m gay?
If I play, do I have to tell them up front that I’m not gay? And if I tell them up front that I’m not gay, are they not going to let me play?
If I don’t play because it’s a team for gay people, does that make me a bad person?
If I doplay, and it is a team for gay people, does thatmake me a bad person?
Is everyone else on every team in this league gay? Is this league the Fire Island of volleyball?
I bet they play a lot of volleyball on Fire Island.
Who cares if I’m the only straight person in a gay volleyball league?
Wait, do theycare that I’m a straight person in a gay volleyball league? Is it going to be awkward for everyone else if there’s one straight guy on the team?
Do we share hotel rooms when we travel? Or do we have enough sponsorships that everyone gets his own room? Do we have enough sponsorships that anyone gets his own room? Do we all have to bunk in the same room? Do we have to sleep three men to a bed?
Did I just escalate this from a gay volleyball team to a gay orgy team?
And so on. After about an hour of internal downward spiraling, I finally decided to ask my wife for her thoughts on what to do.
She did not prove to be helpful. Instead, she just laughed, and laughed, and laughed.
In the end, I decided that if you’re calling out a league as being gay-specific in the name, you’re probably reserving it solely for gay people. Otherwise, just call it North American Volleyball Association and let the orientational chips fall where they may, am I right? So when the referee texted me the next day and asked if I’d registered on the site, I responded with, “I don’t think I should play. I’m not gay.”
Yes, okay, I know. That wasn’t exactly the most non-offensive way to put it. But how do you text someone the complexity of the jumbled thought process outlined above? You don’t. You can’t. So instead, you just say, “I don’t think I should play. I’m not gay.”
A few minutes passed. Then a few more. Then an hour. Finally, the referee replied:
None of us are gay. NAGVA just puts on a great tournament.
So. NAGVA isn’tthe league. It’s not even a league. It’s a two-day tournament. And you don’t have to be gay to play in it.
I am such an idiot.
I so desperately badly wanted to play in that tournament, and to continue to play with a traveling competitive team. But now, if I said, “Oh, okay, I’m in,” it would translate to, “Oh, it’s not a team full of gay people? THANK GOD, I’m in!” Which is not at all how I feel, I don’t care who prefers whom, not in life, and especially not on a volleyball court, but there is absolutely no way to back peddle from “I don’t think I should play. I’m not gay.” None whatsoever. After “I don’t think I should play. I’m not gay,” there’s only presumed bigotry and cold shoulders. So I did the only thing I could do; I deleted the referee’s number, called in sick to the rest of rec league games, and campaigned with my team to switch to a different league at the end of the session so I’d never have to look him in the eye again.
So far, it’s worked out pretty well.
Want more head-shaking awkwardness from Clayton Smith? Check out Apocalypticon, his debut novel about two dumb white survivors taking an ill-advised, post-apoclayptic road trip to Disney World.