Feb 222011
 

It’s really easy to write a private confessional one late night on your macbook, but making it public takes a lot of deep breaths. Breathing deeply, here’s my story, in case it’s any good to anyone:

Some girls join roller derby to become someone else, to get their flipside moments on the track; but my story is quite different.

I remember being thirteen or fourteen or so and riding beside my sweet, misguided dad in his fire red pickup truck, listening to him talk to me about my future.

“Are you really sure you want to seriously pursue a career in basketball? Can you hang in with this sport for another ten years?”

“Of course, dad. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”

“But. I’m not sure as your father that encouraging you to play ball is the responsible thing to do. There are certain things you’ll be exposed to.”

Things? Like?”

“Lesbians.”

Really.

Now, I didn’t have a lot of these conversations growing up; but I did have my fair share of nightmares about being gay or people talking shit about my swag. I’d say the topic mainly existed as a terrifying shadow I refused to acknowledge. If it came up, my line was always, “I’m NOT gaaaaaaay.”

I went to my all-girls Catholic high school, did well, earned the respect and friendship of a whole lot of people, and thought, privately, that if I ever considered “letting myself be gay,” I’d lose it all. My family and friends’ affection. My reputation as a good kid. My place in heaven. Sure, I had no interest in boys. Not even a little. But I told myself it was because I was busy being a basketball player. I made it through high school without my first kiss. Because I was busy.

Well, I did pursue a career in basketball, until I didn’t. I played a year at Tulane and then quit, a failed, but respectable straight, ready for the next thing. I dated a boy a few months later til I quit that and joined a sorority til I quit that.

Since those lady things had failed, I needed something to convince everyone that I was straight.

Enter roller derby. Derby girls were pretty AND athletic, their sexuality, I thought, never questioned. I mean, they played in fishnets. I had been playing my sport for years in shorts to my shins, my hair slicked back to stay out of my face, worn as unattractively as possible. There’s no makeup, smiling, or blowing kisses to the crowd in basketball. Here was my chance to express a certain untapped femininity through my natural draw toward athletics.

A few weeks in, I realized that I hadn’t bought any fishnets; and I wasn’t wearing makeup like I thought I might. I had no interest in the dudesy refs.

Slowly, painfully, each day an ounce of self hatred leaving my body, a girl and I fell for each other. I wondered how this could have happened. I had survived all those basketball gays unscathed and unattracted. They were dykes. I was better than that. And then, just like that, I fell in love with a girl and into a pit of emo turmoil. The further I got into the relationship, the larger my secret life became. I’d one day have to reveal it to my loved ones, and I was sure they’d disown me and talk shit about their lez former friend.

But this isn’t a coming out story. Yes, I came out, and everybody still loves me. It got pretty emo and shitty in parts, but I haven’t lost anyone. I’m closer to my mom, and, though my dad died a few years ago, I know that his love for me is more unconditional now than ever.

The point is, derby helped me shed my defensive skin. While some girls become their alter egos or use the sport to escape from their realities, I really needed it for the opposite reasons. I needed to know it was okay for me to let go of the straightlaced alter ego I had presented myself as for years and truly face up to my self, the one I had been hiding all along. I needed to let go of that hold I had on myself and thaw the freeze that I had cultivated for so long, unable to love, explore, or look real hard at my questions. I found a sport and a girl who let me do that. I found myself.

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Jul 232010
 

As I write this, I’m sitting on my couch after practice, wearing my Red Stick Roller Derby jersey for possibly the last time, after a photo shoot we had tonight. My house is quiet and rather sticky and hot despite the air-conditioning (which is never sufficient), and the Southern humidity clings to my sweaty limbs. Soon I’ll leave here for the bustle and chill of New York City, to begin an entirely different life, one which I hope, but can’t guarantee, will include roller derby.

My path here has been long. A year and a half ago, my friend Dee persuaded me to attend one of her roller derby bouts. I’d been to one before – in fact I’d seen Carolina Roller Girls play Arizona Roller Derby, which was no small scrimmage, I can tell you. I still remembered the grace and power and speed of Princess America and others, but it had never previously occurred to me that I could be one of those tough, beautiful, unstoppable women. When Dee Zasta asked me to come to her RSRD bout, it was with an eye towards recruitment – I’d just finished a half marathon, and she assured me, “Skating’s a hell of a lot more fun.”

Skating did look a hell of a lot more fun, and that night I pledged to attend the next practice, which was open to newcomers. Said pledge happened in front of an ex of mine, so even if I’d wanted to flake out I had to follow through to save face. I knew he didn’t think I was competitive enough, and I wasn’t sure I was, either, but I had to give it a shot.

By the end of my second practice, I was hooked. Within months, my team was like a second family to me. Eventually, I formed a pretty, erhm, intimate relationship with a teammate. These are all familiar details of the transition from civilian to roller girl. But what makes my time with RSRD really exceptional is having been part of a period of amazing growth and development for the team. When I joined, RSRD had a core group of around 10-12 girls, and most of those girls had been working their asses off for over a year to get the league off the ground. We had a coach and rented time at a professional rink twice per week. But we were still so fledging that I skated my first bout within five weeks of joining, and we brought a roster of 8 girls to that away game (which we won, btw). At each practice, we hoped enough people would show up so we could scrimmage. A pregnancy or an ankle injury could mean losing a tenth of the team, and hardly anyone in our city knew we existed. I was new and passionate, and I was in recruitment mode all the time. If I saw a nice round booty, I HAD to talk to the girl who owned it, to see if she liked roller skating. I even tried recruiting the dressing room attendants at American Eagle, until I discovered they were 16 years old.

And we all had this mindset – to help grow this amazing thing that we’d found, to share this source of strength and tenderness. We made some progress. And then Whip It happened, and the girls started coming to us. They wanted to be a part of us, and before they were even roster-ready, their families and friends came to ours bouts in droves. Word spread and roller derby became a rather glamorous thing here in Baton Rouge.

While we were gaining all this momentum, my graduate school acceptances started coming in, and I had to face the fact that I would be leaving. It was terrible at first; I even sort of wished I hadn’t gotten in, that I could just re-apply next year and have one more season with my girls. But the fact that RSRD is so strong now has helped me let go. It’s hard to leave when everything is so amazing, but it’s great to leave full of pride for the team that has given so much to me. Not only do we now have a travel team that we can rightfully call “All Stars,” but we have a home team, the Capitol Offenders, full of incredible skaters in their own right. Just recently, we were accepted as a WFTDA apprentice team, with incredible Houston Roller Derby skater Carmen Geddit as our mentor.

And then, last weekend happened. In my very last bout ever with RSRD, we beat our biggest rivals, Big Easy Roller Girls (their Crescent Wenches team, specifically). The score was 144 to 100. We had never before won against them, and prior to our very recent, overmatched bout with Houston, they were the only WFTDA team we had played. They were the skaters that the founders of RSRD has first seen, and they had always been the ones to learn from, the ones to envy. And I just cannot even begin to describe how incredible it was to skate that bout. Every single skater on that roster did her job, everyone communicated effectively, and the strategies that we had been developing in practice actually worked, over and over. I even felt perfectly happy about my performance, during which I got just what I wanted – mostly blocking as #2, with some jamming. And my team started the bout by having me skate a farewell lap while announcing my departure in words written by my amazing wife, Moxie Balboa (awesome photo of us here). The fact that the bout ended with a tearful, beaming, RSRD victory lap made it an absolutely perfect evening. It was a truly historic moment for RSRD, and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it.

Which makes me think, well, even if no one’s asking me to wear this jersey any more, I might just pull it out and walk around the city in it on those chilly nights when I know my girls are playing the 3-4 bouts that are left in this season. It’ll be close to me under my coat, and will keep me warm.

Photo: Writer’s own, snapped by Rowdy Reeta Ricochet of Magnolia Roller Vixens.

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Derby Divine

 Posted by at 12:00 pm  2 Responses »
May 142010
 

Kickass practices feel like this.

It’s 10:42 p.m., Thursday night, and I just got home from one of the best practices we’ve had in some time. I had a little smile on my face the whole ride home, driving the car I’ve borrowed from my RSRD teammate, Violet Reaction (thanks, Violet!) through the humid, murky Baton Rouge night. I played Tear for Fears’s “Shout” as loud as possible with the windows down and the hot, dark wind blowing in, and only blushed a little when I realized my stoplight partner also had his windows down and was privy to my ecstatic ‘80s nerd-out.

Best of all, the song ended the moment I parked for the night. Perfection.

And this ballad-worthy endorphin rush accurately reflects the tone of the practice I was driving home from – for two hours, I think every one of us had a good time. We laughed. We yelled more encouragement than criticism. We skated at our personal top speed when asked. We communicated more when asked. We communicated more, period. Our pivots were loud, our #4’s swept the back, our jammers juked and charged like mad. People called formations and worked in them. Sure, not everything was perfect – a lot of those packs were sloppy – but we identified things that weren’t going so great and worked on them. I think our leaders for the night – Turbo Tyke, Unholy Horror, and Sigga Please – had a lot to do with this. They each have a supportive, encouraging style, and people don’t seem to mind listening to them. But in addition to that, there was some sort of derby-magical thing happening. I’m tempted to say it was the one-minute jams that kept everyone in a good mood, but I think we were just on, and then, as a group, we recognized that we were on, and everything got, well, fun.

Keep trainin', kiddos.

Remember fun? We’re rollerskating two or three times a week with like 30 of our best friends. Wouldn’t you have just died if someone had told you, when you were about 8 or so, that you would get to do this when you grew up?

I’m grateful tonight, and not so wordy.

Tricky out.

Photo credits: TKBBBlog, Tears for Fears fanpage on Ning.

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Apr 292010
 

Dolly Rocket of Charm City Roller Girls doing some amazing pivoting. (photo credit: www.fracturemag.com)

So last week’s post was all about the jammer, who often gets the most attention anyway so I move on. This week I’m going to tell you more about the Pivot.
Now I’ve said multiple times but for those who are behind, the pivot is the lady with the helmet cover (panty) with a single stripe down the middle. I also discussed the privilege that pivots have of being eligible to become a jammer if for some reason the current jammer cannot swing it.
But this isn’t the only thing that differentiates the pivot from the rest of the blockers in the pack.
Often you’ll hear of derby girls referring to the pivot as the last line of defense but only after being around for a few months do you truly get the understanding of what the purpose of this position is (or at least it took me a while to truly grasp the understanding). Luckily for you though, I’m here to impart my knowledge.
Okay, the pivot is pretty much like the captain away from the bench. The pivot calls out the plays and helps to control the speed of the pack ALONG WITH being the last line of defense against a jammer who has just busted through the pack. But being a pivot is not just about having the mouth guard that’s easiest to talk around. It’s about being able to take in the situation and call what play needs to be done right there on the track.
From what I’ve seen with my own team, the captain, Sigga Please, and co-captain, Zarathrustya, do tend to play pivot a lot not only for their abilities to scream at their blockers but for this insane skill we derby girls like to call panty chasing. First they put their hips square in front of those jammers and try to

In the photo Zara is squaring her hips in front of jammer Rock Bottom and even though Sigga does not have the pivot panties on, she is getting the pack to slow down and force Zara out of the zone of engagement. (photo credit: Skunk Rolla, RSRD)

keep them in the zone of engagement. If for some reason this fails, they haul ass and swing their hips around in front of the jammer and slow her down. The hardest part about this is that most of the time, pivots are at the front of the pack. This is their rightful place, so when they take off to engage in some good old fashioned panty chasing, the pack is busy doing other things; and the pivot ends up out of play and has to let the jammer by.
Another two fellow Red Stick Roller Derby ladies who make amazing pivots are Sour Patch Kid and Rock Bottom. Whenever they are pivots, I know what is going on with the pack and where I should be. My team was playing against Magnolia Roller Vixens and they have this badass blocker named Kamdemic and she and I were out for blood from each other. At one point we both completely passed the pack up and just kept hitting each other. I still remember the sound of Rock Bottom screaming “MADIE LET HER GO, FALL BACK! SLOW DOWN!”

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This is that moment that will live forever in my brain. Kamdemic and I going at it while rock yells at me to let her go. (Photo credit: Cajun Eject Her)

That’s how a pivot works, you should always be able to hear her mouth, she should always be barking commands at you, and you should always be trying to keep her in the zone of engagement as she tries to nail the jammer. After writing this I’ll never be able to get this out of my head.

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True Love

 Posted by at 8:00 am  4 Responses »
Apr 242010
 

RSRD *hearts* MRV

I am a woman. I am a woman who has friends. I LOVE that I can say that. Logically speaking, it would be easy for me to have friends who are women , since we have this basic gender thing in common. Similarly, logic would hold that when I was a girl, I would have friends who were girls as well. Well, clearly our world is not always logical. As a girl, teenager, and finally a young woman, I failed miserably at obtaining and maintaining girl friends. As a child, there were a small handful of neighborhood girls I was friends with, each in their own time. I was never surrounded by the gaggle of girls I saw swarming some of the more popular girls. Rather, my friend and I would tromp around outside and see what the neighborhood boys were getting into. Eventually, my friend would find more popular friends and I was left to tromp after the neighborhood boys myself. As a teenager, this scenario didn’t change much. It went from tromping outside to exploring neighboring towns in our cars. Always had more guy friends than girls. I filled up that need for a good girl friend with an aggressive swagger that actually probably scared away any potential BFFs. I found myself in college working full time and going to school full time, always had my head down trying to make the right choices to get school paid for and money saved, that I missed that college experience. In a way, I have mourned this perpetual absence of “the friend experience” for a long time now. I would get terribly envious when my classmates or coworkers would talk about recent trips they took with friends or concerts they saw. As the years passed and I married my spouse and we started a family, I had even fewer opportunities to meet people and make lasting friendships.  Most of the other wives and mothers I would meet  at work or through my husband’s friends already had huge and complex social lives with girls they had known since infancy-or so it felt. I was a lonely lonely duck.

That is, until my current best friends came into my life. (Of course it’s roller derby. It’s ALWAYS roller derby !!) I had a great conversation with one of my good friends Tank Goodness about why I am so in love with being around not only my teammates, but most roller derby players. Her thought was that we are a ragtag bunch of girls who never made friends with girls growing up and we somehow made it through childhood and adolescence and crazily enough, we found each other. I had to agree with her. Sometimes I feel like it is out of sheer luck that we all found each other. Of course there are plenty of derbies who were the queen bees of their respective schools, childhoods. And more power to you, we learn how to be great girlfriends from you. Thank you. But I want to wax poetic and relax into the idea that these women I have met are like a comfortable, down -filled chair that envelopes me when I wasn’t aware I was weary. We wrap our arms around each other and offer love and support even when we don’t know what’s wrong. Interestingly, sometimes my teammates will ask what’s wrong, but usually they don’t-they just offer their attention and support where it is needed, a reason is not necessary.

my true loves, my team

It’s wild to me because I have only be in derby since October and I have made the best friends I have ever had in my life with some of these girls….and with all the others, I can’t wait to get to know them better. Check out our Facebook statuses and you will see what I mean. My Facebook wall is littered with affirmations of all different sorts from my team. Platonic exclamations of love such as “You did awesome tonight!“ and “I need some Kittie Fantastik!!!“ rock my world and fill my heart to brimming. Truly, this is the amazing thing about roller derby-or maybe it’s just my team!-the very open, supportive, affectionate, loving women here are all willing to embrace you, who you are, and who you want to be. In this day and age of cattiness, bullies, queen bees, and all-around toxic-ness, I found dozens of BFFs in the most aggressive, physical sport for women. Who says we are scary bitches?

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