Sneakers squeaking against the wooden floors create a rhythm around me. Lined up against a mustard brick wall, numerous bags of various colors and sizes act as decor. Above them a mixture of silver and brassy fencing protects the tall, cathedral-like windows. Despite their size, no light travels through. Instead the moon tries to peek in and a slight breeze crosses me but the warm summer night doesn’t offer much else.
Groups of men warmup together all dressed in athletic wear – pastel shirts, neon shorts, dark socks and volleyball sneakers. Blue florescent and warm yellow lights mingle together illuminating only half the gym. The off white net possesses strings of its own, showing wear and tear but still proudly announces, “Gotham Volleyball” in red and white.
“Give me a one!” A setter puts up a ball and only a second later a middle puts it down, nearly hitting a player’s face. It’s a normal occurrence in this gymnasium. Friendly conversations aren’t disturbed by spiked balls flying by. These conversations are a blend of words, laughter, and screams. Although the vernacular of the community isn’t suitable for family magazines, the language evokes encouragement.
The wooden floor shakes momentarily as players hustle after balls, which come roaring down smack on their forearms. Despite the constant movement, men continue to greet each other with kisses and hugs. I’m a minority surrounded by 50 energetic men who belong to the LGBT community.
A tall, muscular African American man approaches my boyfriend, who is standing next to me, and kisses him on the cheek. When I’m introduced I extend my hand out to him, but he kisses my cheek instead.
“What’s your name, gorgeous?”
“My name is Selena.”
“Oh, that’s her name too!”
He points to the referee standing on an elevated red platform overlooking the players. The referee has long, dark brown hair in a ponytail with a simple t-shirt and tight jeans. She looks over at us, having overheard our conversation and smiles. Her strong jawline and mustache catch my eye. I smile and wave to her.
At Gotham the unexpected unites people. Men and occasionally women, from ages 19 to 67, play together on weeknights releasing their daily tensions. They are actors, coaches, students, waiters, nurses who have become friends through the love of volleyball. Within the Gotham community there is a special bond, unlike any other. Each person understands a struggle that a straight person, like myself, doesn’t. Not every player knows who they are, yet and that’s okay. Selena, the referee, owns her identity and everyone else accepts it.
The referee blows her whistle calling everyone’s attention. I kiss my boyfriend ‘Good Luck’ and the game begins. Immediately the players come alive around the room focusing on the game happening at the center. Encouraging teammates stand on the sidelines waiting to be rotated in while other players sit against the yellow brick walls cheering. The high-pitched, dancing men have now become powerful athletes slamming volleyballs straight into the ground.
PHOTO CREDIT: GothamVolleyball.org