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.”
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.