Third-year knowledge and integration student Sam Jones first began participating in competitive sports at the age of five as a competitive swimmer in Montreal.
Jones didn’t participate in organized sports for a couple of years after moving from Montreal to Ottawa in 2006. However, Jones’ father — a University of Waterloo alumnus and former varsity volleyball player — introduced Jones to volleyball.
Jones began participating in volleyball youth programs at age 10 and played competitive volleyball from ages 13 to 16 in a club and was part of their school team. The club season ended in May 2016, and Jones came out as transgender in July of the same year. Jones played as part of their high school’s girls’ volleyball team from 2016 to 2017, but wore a boys’ volleyball uniform.
“When I was put on the girls’ team, it was really great because for the most part, they were all super supportive,” Jones said.
Just after wrapping up their time playing club volleyball in the summer of 2016, Jones had a reputation for playing the sport well and knew several members of the school team from having played club volleyball with other athletes outside of school. Jones said they didn’t face any issues when wearing the boys’ uniform, and the team and coaches were “very accommodating.”
However, the gender neutral bathroom was on a different floor of the school building and did not have water fountains. This became an issue in particular when Jones began coaching at their club. “I did not have access to any water, while working a six-hour shift that involved a lot of physical activity,” Jones explained. “I ended up having to ask one of my coworkers to refill my water bottle as I was not out to them, it was really stressful trying to explain why I couldn’t do it myself.”
During the 2017-18 school year, Jones was the head of the school’s Rainbow Alliance and made the switch to play on the boys’ volleyball team. “Transitioning to the boys’ team was pretty horrible, because they are not very accepting,” they said.
Jones said they made the decision to join the boys’ volleyball team in the summer before the new school year started and their decision to play on the team prompted concern.
“I had people asking me, ‘Do you have a safety plan? Do you know how you’re going to get to and from practice so that you’re not alone?’ Because people were afraid that I would be assaulted. And thankfully, that never happened. But I was harassed and bullied,” they said. “We had one game where a spectator was referring to me as ‘it’ and my team did nothing.”
Jones said they faced microaggressions from teammates such as not being acknowledged as part of the team, not being invited to team gatherings, teammates cutting in line in front of them. Jones was not on hormones during their time playing volleyball in high school. They explained that they could “pass” as male a lot of the time, but stood out because they had a high pitched voice.
Although Jones said they faced transphobia on the team, “Being able to play volleyball on the boys’ team was huge,” they said. “To my knowledge, no other out trans person had played sports at my high school.”
Jones is a co-founder of a youth group called SAEFTY Ottawa — an organization based in Ottawa that aims to create a safe space for LGBTQ+ individuals and their families. Jones is still involved with the group remotely from Waterloo, while also volunteering with UW’s Glow Centre as the external director.
While recovering from top surgery two years ago, Jones took up crocheting as a hobby that has since grown into a business, called Kartoffel Krafts.
Before the pandemic, Jones would swim recreationally a few times a week at the UW pool. Jones was sharing a locker with a friend, who had rented a locker in the men’s change room. Although there is a gender-neutral change room with lockers, one cannot be rented like they can in the women’s and men’s change rooms.
Jones hopes to work in User Experience (UX), with a particular interest in hearing aids and improvements that can be made to products that aid with hearing loss. “My goal would be to work at a company in Denmark, that’s where the scene is in terms of design and also hearing aids.”
Jones’ message to UW students is: “Do not be complacent when you see injustice occurring around you. Even if the issue does not directly impact you, your complacency leaves vulnerable people behind.”