I'd never been to the Tournament of Choice, a lesbian softball competition held each year in southern Washington. It's been going on for 29 years, nicknamed the LCP, after a 1970s organization called the Lesbian Community Project.
The tournament, held last weekend, is the largest and oldest lesbian softball tournament on the West Coast, a word-of-mouth affair that draws 44 teams and more than 500 women from California, Oregon and Washington.
Most softball tournaments are aggressive. Players sleep in a hotel, get to bed early and only meet their competitors on the field.
But LCP, or so I had heard, doubles as a three-day party where competitors eat together, play beer pong together, slip naked down a greased water slide together and, sometimes, end up in bed together.
"A lot happens here," says a friend who takes her softball seriously, "that can't happen someplace else."
So this year I went—ostensibly to play first base for a Corvallis team called Spanky's. I had no interest in the drinking or the random hookups, but I wanted to know what it was like to be around so many other lesbians at the same time, and the freedom that could bring.
On Friday evening, it's 81 degrees and the heat is rising when I walk into the camp of Team Spanky's. It includes one RV and seven tents—among dozens of camping groups spread across a park in Brush Prairie.
Our camp table has the essentials: Bacardi rum, Coppertone, coffee. Our pitcher cracks a Corona, while one of our outfielders spreads peanut butter on a kaiser roll. Pabst Blue Ribbon cans pile up around a trashcan outside. Across from our tents, members of the Rose City Softball Association sip North Carolina moonshine. Wood smoke fills the air.
My teammates talk about softball strategy, a hot new Spanish soccer player for the Portland Thorns, and lesbian stereotypes. Someone says how nice it is to be at a place where a woman with heft can show some skin—wear short shorts or walk around in only a sports bra on top.
Elsewhere when a heavier woman is scantily clad, people make snide comments. That didn't happen. Women were proud of how they looked, and other women were proud of them.
"This is a place where feminine women don't have to explain about being lesbians," my coach tells me, "and butch women don't have to be judged."
On Saturday morning, the teams—with names such as Pandora's Box, Double Ds and Some Bs, and Lunachix—start playing as early as 7:30. We take the field against the Seattle Riveters. We lead the whole way and don't look back after one of our outfielders hits a home run.
After the victory, we wander back to camp and slouch into chairs to wait for our next game. It's getting warm.
"I stink," I say.
"The trick is to breath through your mouth the whole tournament," says our pitcher, a thin, tall redhead with short hair. "That way you don't smell the women, you don't smell the weed. You don't smell the cigarettes."
LCP means a reprieve from modesty and men. You can change your clothes in the open. There's no waiting when you need the restroom; you just use the men's stalls. And the games, while competitive, lack the serrated edge that testosterone brings.
But men do show up. Our rival Corvallis team has mostly straight players and a male coach, whose day job is in mold detection. Some onlookers wonder out loud why he would come to a lesbian tournament.
There's also something relaxing about hearing nothing but women's voices—even when the women are yelling. There's a whole different ethic. The umpire, for example, charges players $1 for every swear word.
A few men came to cheer for their girlfriends playing on rival teams. When they shout at the players, you turn your head. "Wow," one of my teammates says. "You don't expect to hear that here."
We beat the other Corvallis team and take a 3-0 record into the playoffs Saturday night. I play first base, get on base every time at bat, and even catch my first fly ball.
But we get crushed in our first playoff game—no one pays close attention to the score—and with drawn faces my teammates gather their gear and head back to camp.
Then the drinking games start. In the beer relays, players spin while leaning their heads on an upright baseball bat, and run around with a quarter held between their butt cheeks, aiming to drop it in a pitcher.
At some point, they roll out the naked Slip 'N Slide. An audience gathers in lawn chairs; onlookers light up the slide with headlamps and hand-held spotlights.
The industrial plastic slide is unfurled down a hill about 40 feet; it's wide enough for a half-dozen naked women to slide at once. One person hoses it down while another pours bottle after bottle of baby oil on it.
I strip down and, after a running start, flop onto the plastic. But I slide only a few feet. I stand up wet and cold, and decide the experience is overrated.
At the bottom of the hill, a few men gather to watch. The crowd of women try to block their view. I hear that last year, one man got naked and joined in. The sliding came to a halt after that.
I walk back to camp, and in the darkness I can see glowsticks flashing in the distant outfields. They are wrapped around the necks and wrists of women making out in the grass.
On Sunday morning, we have to play two more games. I'm in pain. My thighs are so sore that I shuffle around like an elderly cowgirl. We lose our last game. "The bad news is, we're done playing softball," our coach says. "The good news is, we're done playing softball."
I drive off in my sweltering Honda Fit—dusty, sleepless and smelly—and no longer an LCP virgin.