*Trigger Warning – some content in this post may be triggering for those who have experienced assault*
My name is Villainelle. I’m new here – new to Live Derby Girls, and new to derby too. You’ll probably be hearing more from me about what I don’t know than what I do. That’s the nature of being a sparkly new derby girl – everything is fresh and uncertain. It’s the first day of school. It’s the early stages of a passionate, tumultuous relationship. It’s discomfort and uncertainty. It’s possibility.
But before I get into telling you about the foibles and pitfalls of being new, I want to tell you about something I do know:
Roller derby saved my life.
You hear this one a lot, I know. The Live Derby Girls have said it before. Derby culture says it all the time. But I don’t know if anyone is really listening. I don’t know if anyone outside the leagues really understands how powerful a force this sport is. Because from the outside, derby may look like just another game. It may look like a bunch of rag-tag misfit girls. Or, if you’re watching the newbies skate, it may look more like a bunch of baby giraffes tripping over their own legs. Either way, when you watch derby women skate around the track, you can’t possibly know how strong they are. You can’t possibly know that each one has been broken down into pieces, has seen herself split wide open and bare. You don’t know what derby has done for them; you only see the end result.
From the outside, you can’t possibly know that derby is the thing you need. If you’re falling apart, it can be the linchpin that holds you in place. It can teach you about the raw power of women. It can teach you about strength you didn’t know you had. It can carve you into pieces and show you what’s underneath. It can teach you how to shout down the wind, how to be the woman you’ve always been, deep down.
Roller derby really can save your life.
Don’t believe me? Let me tell you what it saved me from.
Three years ago, two days after I turned 26, I was raped. The perpetrator was a friend and colleague, someone I had known and trusted for four years. He left marks up and down my spine, bruises across my arms. He slammed my body so hard against the futon in his living room that the slats beneath the mattress broke and splintered across the floor. He made sure I was scarred in places no one could see, then threw me out of his apartment to drive myself home, baffled and sore and crying, through the early morning streets of Los Angeles county.
I don’t talk about this incident much, for lots of reasons – mostly because I feel like it’s off-limits, a socially inappropriate topic of discussion. People don’t want to be reminded that this sort of thing happens in the world. But it’s always there, lurking just around the edges of my life. And in the years since, I’ve allowed it to take over, sometimes completely. I left L.A. – a city I love dearly – and moved home to Baton Rouge because of what happened – because I suddenly couldn’t move, couldn’t hold down a job, couldn’t think straight. I quit my career as an academic and a teacher because standing in front of a classroom gave me panic attacks. My life got derailed just as it was picking up steam – just as I thought I was finally landing where I wanted to be.
And because every good damaged girl loves a pattern, I left one bad situation and landed fairly quickly in another. Small, scarred women who’ve lost their confidence make awfully good prey for rotten guys, and I managed to find one and stay with him for nearly two years. He was the sort who shouted and threw things, who wanted to know where I was at all hours. He was the sort who insisted I was wrong when I knew I was right, who would tell me the sky was orange just to make me think I’d lost my mind. He was the sort who left bruises too, as though I didn’t have enough already. He was the sort who thought I needed to be “tamed.”
When I finally left him, back in October, I felt as though I barely had a body or an identity left to cling to. I was exhausted and terrified. When my best friend Sarah (now my RSRD teammate under the fantastic derby name CupQuake) invited me to join derby with her in April, it somehow seemed like the perfect answer. Derby, I though, could teach me how to be tough.
What I learned instead was that I already am tough.
In one of our first fresh meat lessons, referees Skunk Roller and Override explained to us the importance of recovery in a bout. Falling isn’t such a big deal; what matters is getting back up again. That was when I realized something I’d never noticed about myself: I’m a born derby bitch. Because I never go down for good. Things have been rough in the past, but I’ve found my way out. Before the first time I touched the track I’d already been juking and blocking and standing my ground. I’d been falling and rising over and over. And I’d never given myself credit for any of that. I’d paid too much attention to the falls, not enough to the recovery.
So if you’re prone to falling down, don’t think that means you can’t play.
If you give it a chance, roller derby really can save your life. Honest.