Mar 112011

I know I owe you guys another installment of Sex and Roller Derby.  And I promise it’s still on the horizon.  But remember how I warned you I might come up with something more important to say?  Last night, when Moxie posted about the oft-contentious topic of derby dress, I realized I DID in fact have something to say.  Because what I wear to derby matters to me.  It matters A LOT.  Because I’ve been worrying about my clothes for way too long already.

I had my first conflict over clothing when I was about 10 years old.

I'm the one in pink. I am 6 here. I am already developing hips and thighs.

I’m one of those kids who developed really early – earlier than is strictly reasonable.  I was full height by age 9 or 10, already sporting breasts and hips and an ass that, for an elementary schooler, could only be referred to as “epic.”  Whenever I mention this aspect of my childhood in mixed company, my male friends say, “That must’ve been awesome!”  Girls know better, though.  When I mention being the first kid on the playground with a C-cup, girls cringe silently or offer commiserating stories of their own.  Because girls know that being sexualized early is rife with complications.

All of a sudden, my uniform shorts looked a lot different than everyone else’s.  The baggy fabric was hugging me so tightly that preventing panty-line became a daily challenge.  My new bra (like actual bra; no training for these tits) was absurdly visible through the sheer fabric of our Peter-Pan-collar innocent-schoolgirl shirts.  Boys popped my straps on the playground.  They asked me if I’d be willing to show them my tits.  Up until that point, I don’t think I’d ever even heard the word “tits,” much less some of the other super-creatively-gross euphemisms they’d come up with.  I had no idea what they were so interested in.  As far as I could tell, I wasn’t any different than I’d been the year before.  I was the same mousy, quiet girl I’d always been.  Now, all of a sudden, the other kids were paying attention to me.  But the attention didn’t feel good.  It felt strange and awkward, unfounded somehow in anything I could comprehend.

I’m not saying I didn’t know what sex was; my dad is a scientist, and as such he always made sure I had a scientific explanation of the world around me.  But understanding the mechanics of sex does nothing to help you analyze the skeezy feeling you get when the class bully unhooks your bra during math, or tries to bounce a penny off your ass whenever you bend over.  Those feelings have nothing to do with making babies, nor with the “mutual respect and affection” that you’ve been taught are supposed to accompany human sexuality.  (Yeah, I know.  ”Mutual respect and affection” is kind of high-faluting language to use on a kid.  But you’ve never met my dad.)

My mother and I began to have near-constant conflicts about my clothes.  While school days were taken up with required uniforms, my weekends had always been a long string of shorts and tank tops.  Now, suddenly, I found my mother trying to convince me to “layer.”  She took me to Dillards in search of jeans to replace my well-loved outdoor shorts.  Whenever I tried to ask her why I couldn’t just wear my old clothes, she would hem and haw, telling me only that “those clothes just don’t look right on you anymore.”  When I got a little older and babydoll dresses with spaghetti straps got popular, I had to continually insist that wearing a t-shirt underneath the dress kind of hurt the look.  The same held true for wearing biking shorts underneath a skirt.  My mother didn’t breathe again until I got into grunge and started wearing figure-masking flannel shirts and overalls.

It took me years to understand why clothes that looked so cute and fun on my friends somehow looked slutty on me.  Things started to even out a little as I got older and my peers began catching up to me.  My body didn’t stand out quite as much outside an elementary school classroom.  But the weird feeling that there was something wrong or immoral about my shape never quite left me.  My breasts and hips were intruders that made my life confusing and complicated, that asked people to read my body separately from my personality.  They had their own grammar, sent their own private message to the world.  And I hated them.

By the time I hit my senior year of high school, I was a full-blown anorexic.  I had dropped from around 130 lbs (about what I weigh now, for those who know me) to 100.  My freshman year of college the numbers climbed lower, first to the lower 90s and then, after a bout with stomach flu, the lower 80s.  I bottomed out at around 82 lbs before I finally got some help and started the slow crawl back to normal.  And although I can’t guarantee a causal relationship, I can’t help but think that my early experience with T&A helped push me over the edge.  If I could just lose a little more weight, just a few more pounds, maybe my hips would disappear.  Maybe my breasts would dissolve and never return.  Maybe I could live a life where the clothes I draped myself in didn’t matter so much.  Maybe I wouldn’t look like a slut.

Me, parodying "sexy", at the 2010 Running of the Rollerbulls in New Orleans

I had to begin dealing with my body dysmorphia in order to get healthy again.  I had to learn that food is good and starvation is bad, that my body is my friend, yadda yadda yadda yadda yadda.  But it wasn’t until I joined derby that I really became friends with my body again.  I learned that giant asses are tools of power, that tits can be used in strategic positional blocking, and that thunder thighs help me get low and gain stability.  So when I dress for practice, I wear outfits that highlight my most valuable assets.  As Moxie mentioned in her post yesterday, derbies have long been proud of their hot pants and fishnets and low-cut tops.  But they’ve also been criticized for them, taken to task for not dressing like “serious athletes.”  So when I don my hot pants, I’m sending an important message to the world.  I’m saying “fuck you” to all the people who made me feel ashamed, who tried to teach me that asses and tits and hips were nothing but sex tools.  I’m reminding myself and my audience that women’s bodies – no matter their shape – are powerful.  I am proud, not ashamed.

So if the world wants to keep staring at our hot pants and telling us we’re nothing but sex kittens, that’s their own damn fault.  I know better.  I know that my body – while sexy – can do a lot of other things besides fuck.  And until the world learns that women have a right to display their bodies however they choose, without judgment, I’m going to keep skating – hot pants and all.

Mar 032011

Tuesday night, as I was squinting across the rink at my teammate (and fellow LDG author!) Moxie Balboa, all I could see were the words “SEX” and “ROLLER DERBY” written across her shirt.

Makes sense, I thought to myself.  They’re obviously the same thing.

Later, I would realize that Moxie’s shirt ACTUALLY read “The only things I think about are SEX and ROLLER DERBY.”  But the amount of space the two items occupy in my brain is not the only thing they have in common.  And so, inspired by Moxie’s practice gear, I bring to you:

“Oops!  I Didn’t Mean To Do THAT:” Lessons Learned In Bed and On the Track

1. Your first time will get you sweaty and messy – and you’ll probably kind of suck.

I wish someone had told me this before I learned it for myself.  Like Mannie Freshmeat, I watched my first bout imagining myself whooshing around the track, scoring a million points and knocking down the other players like bowling pins.  I would be the 6 Million Dollar Woman on Wheels, a faster, stronger, better model than anything anyone had ever seen.  But fantasies and reality just aren’t the same thing, whether you’re on the track or in the sack. (Someone should hire me to write a cliched sex-self-help book.  I’m really good at this rhyming catch-phrase thing.)  I just might be willing to admit that, as an inexperienced preteen, I imagined myself as the Lady with the Magic Vagina.  When my “first time” came, I would please my partner and myself simultaneously, a pure concentration of vulvic power.  (Note: WordPress thinks that “vulvic” is not a word.  Should it be “vulvar?”  Who wants “vulvar” powers?  That doesn’t sound nearly as awesome.)  When I finally actually managed to get in the same room with a real-life naked dude, things weren’t quite that explosive.  While points were scored, I was definitely not lead jammer.  And there might have been a handful of major penalties involved.

2.  Size doesn’t really matter.

Sure, there are people who try to tell you that big girls can’t skate fast enough, or that skinny minnies won’t be able to take (or give) a hit.  But for every single skeptic, there are at least 5 derby girls out on a flat track right now, proving her wrong.  We derbies are proud of the diversity of physical bodies that inhabit our ranks, and we know that the human form is beautiful in all its incarnations.  People who use their beds as size-ist war zones should take a lesson from the derby rule book.  Bodies can do amazing and unexpected things, no matter their shape or size.  Haters are missing out.

3.  Fancy shit is fine, but if you don’t know the basics, you can’t get far

The night my friend Q lost his virginity, he accidentally learned that he was fantastically adept at performing in a backbend-intensive position called “London Bridge.”  His girlfriend, also a virgin, loved the position and claimed it made her cum every time.  Consequently, Q started to believe that London Bridge was some kind of lady-pleasing secret that his sexually active bro-friends just hadn’t uncovered.  After all, he could make a girl climax every time!!! Like my pre-cherry-popping self, he assumed he was some sort of sexual superhero.  About six months later, he and his girlfriend broke up, and -eager to try out his super-secret power – he found a new partner.  During their first encounter, he almost immediately folded himself into a backbend, trying to initiate London Bridge.  His new orgasm-candidate glared questioningly at him and said, “Are you doing a BACKBEND?”

“Yeah!” he answered, “It’s awesome!  Go ahead; climb on top.”

She didn’t.  Instead, she pushed him back onto the floor and – in a moment far more forceful than anything I experienced as a teen – said to him, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.  Don’t you know how to just FUCK?”

Don’t be like Q.  Don’t limit your repertoire to the most complicated trick and believe it makes you the Super-Secret Power-Skater.  One day down the road, you’ll get your ass kicked by a girl who can do a mean t-stop.  Learn the basics.

This is not the end of the SEX and ROLLER DERBY comparison. I’ll be back next week with more, if I haven’t thought of something more urgent to say.  In the meantime, submit your own comparisons!  I’ll write up the best ones in next week’s entry.

Feb 162011

You can learn a lot about Derby Girls by looking at the pageviews for LDG.

Know what derby is NOT? It is NOT the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants...

Sometime Monday morning, TrAC/DC’s post about the Dark Side of Derby received so many hits that our servers went down and we had to call our Trusty Web Advisor (aka my Derby Widow) to get things up and running again.  In the entire history of the blog, no other post has received that level of attention.  The only one that even begins to come close (but not THAT close) is my first post on the blog – a post detailing the ways that derby really and truly may have been the thing that saved my life.

What this tells us, sociologically, is that derbies view their sport simultaneously as a force of creation and destruction.  It builds us up even as it tears us down.  It supports us, even as it sucks us dry.  It’s the good, the bad, and the in between.

And maybe there’s nothing wrong with that.  Derby isn’t perfect?  So what?  Neither am I.  That’s why derby feels like home to me – because I’m fucking sick of perfection.

As TrAC says in her post, we derbies are fiercely protective of our sport.  I’m no exception to that rule, and when I first started playing nothing brought out the defensive side of me more than the mean-spirited jokes about how derby was just a giant cat-fight, a place for women to take out their exclusively feminine aggression on each other.  ”It’s not LIKE THAT!” I kept wanting to scream.  ”We’re friends!  We’re good to each other!  We help each other out!”  As an ardent feminist, I couldn’t stand watching people use my sport as fodder for their misogynist mythology.  The argument that female sports are breeding grounds for “lady drama” is one of the primary weapons in the arsenal of those who suggest that girls are Strictly Emotional Creatures who couldn’t use logic to save their lives.  I didn’t want any part of that argument.  Derby wasn’t about fitting the script – it was about busting negative stereotypes.  It was about being a DIFFERENT kind of woman.

I believed that in order to prove we were worthwhile, we also had to prove that we were perfect.  I was asking derby to participate in the same fucked-up script I’d been acting out my entire life – the script that tells you you have to put on a nice outfit for company, that tells you that your kids and your lover and your parents and your dog and your fish are all more important than you are, and that it’s your job to keep them happy.  I wanted my team to be all things to me at all times: family and lover, friend and mentor.  I wanted them to redeem me, to prove that a woman really could be everything – and that she could look hot in her jersey while doing it.

But the thing is, we aren’t perfect.  And the people who expect us to be are just assholes.  We fight sometimes.  We backstab and nitpick.  We form cliques and break confidences.  We mess up. But I hope — with every ounce of my scarred and fragile derby heart, I hope  that we don’t turn away from each other in those moments.  I hope that we don’t give up.  Because the moment we give up on each other is the moment we give in to the worst of the myths about women.  If we overthrow our derbies because they don’t fulfill our ideals, we’re setting them up for failure.  Expecting women to be perfect – to be everything and never fall short – is not a feminist act.  (For those of you unconcerned with the feminism, I’ll put it a different way: it is not a productive act.)  In fact, it’s actively harmful.  Because no one can fulfill your dreams for you.  And if you ask them to, your disappointment is inevitable.

When I say I love my team no matter the mistakes they make, I am committing a feminist act.  I am throwing dirt in the faces of anyone who ever implied that women are only worthwhile if they’re perfect, polite, and quiet – if they always get along.  I am saying that I love and care for the women in my life as they are, not as I hope for them to be.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive to be better.  At its core, derby is about ALWAYS striving to be better.  But in the meantime, we also have to learn to live with the Dark Side of Derby – maybe even to embrace it, and to recognize that when we give other women the space to be imperfect, we’re really just giving them the space to be themselves — and hoping we get the same space in return.

I love you all.  And no matter how my relationship with derby ends, it won’t be perfect – and for that, I am eternally grateful.

May 312010

In my real life I work in the consumer electronics business – I represent different tech companies in North America and help their products, sites or apps get into the hands of editors and bloggers to get written up (hopefully in a favorable light).

I spend a lot of time on my iPhone and keep track of all the top apps and am constantly checking out new apps and basically putting them through their paces to see what’s cool about them, what sucks and what is just plan hype.

I was ecstatic to see that app store currently has a few roller derby apps – some free, some paid and some just plan horrible.

DISCLAIMER: I generally like everything derby related and actually have a hard time writing anything negative, but there are standards and being the tech/app expert I am, I have to keep it real for my readers.

Intro to Flat-track Roller Derby

Made by Germaine Kol, Flat-track Roller Derby is a well made derby 101 type app. Do you ever found yourself drawing out a track on a cocktail napkin with little X’s and O’s , trying to explain to Joe Shmo how derby works? No longer needed my friends.

This app has a great basic demo of how derby works including an interactive ref signals section (always good to review as a player) and FAQ section with great questions like:

Why do the blockers let the jammer go?

Why isn’t she lead jammer?

What does the pivot do?

And many more.

This is a great free app that any derby girl with an iPhone should download.

Raven’s rating: Grand Slam – get it and love it!

Roller Derby

Made by Elyzium Entertainment, Roller Derby is a game-style app that puts you in the jammer’s seat with nine laps to beat the other jammer. Sounds fun right? Well think again. The app itself sucks – sorry to say. I was very disappointed with the crappy graphics and the jammer avatar is super hard to control. Plus it feels impossible to win. I’ve played numerous times and continually get my butt kicked. I play a lot of video games and love having games on my iPhone, so it’s not like I’m the suck-factor in this case.

Having worked with companies that go through Apple’s mysterious app approval cycle, I’m super surprised this app got approved to be in the app store. If I had paid for this app, I would be writing someone stern letters to get my bucks back! Being that it is free to download, I’ll just live with my disappointment.

Raven’s rating: FAIL – don’t waste your time.


Made by Fearless code this app does exactly what it says it does. It’s a penalty timer. You can run one side of the bench or even run six seats at once, with easy to control timers and color coding.

This is a simple but great app for scrimmage nights (just be sure and put your phone on airplane mode so you do not get interrupted by calls or text messages).

Even though I am not a fan of paying for apps, for $2.99 this one is worth the price!

A must have for all you refs and NSOs out there!

Raven’s Rating: Yippee-Skippee – worth the bucks and good to have on hand.

One app I have downloaded to watch derby with is the app – This app is not specific for derby, but being that streams games it is perfect for when I am away from my computer and want to watch a killer bout I might be missing.

I would love to see more derby apps in the iTunes store, but I think developers have to keep the standards high and think about the niche they are filling. Us derby girls love to see derby-specific anything, but do us proud :)

As always, if you have questions, comments or tips for me, drop me a line:

Images courtesy of the iTunes Store.

May 212010

When I was approached some months ago by the founders of Live Derby Girls, they told me they wanted me to write their Derby Cult section and it was pretty much up to me what I could write. I’ve done a few reviews, some fashion pieces and tried to encapsulate and chip away at all that is derby culture.

Derby, as most of us gals know, has very rich culture and very deep history.  I was on my way to work this morning when I turned on NPR to get my dash of the morning news when I caught the tail end of a very moving roller derby feature.

Renowned sports writer Frank Deford narrated a very cool, three minute derbyrific piece mainly focusing on Joanie Weston. Probably important to note here is that Joanie Weston is my FAVORITE classic derby player.

Joanie was the Bay Bomber with class, beauty, style and above all else mad skills. Deford touches on this in his feature, but it is well know that Joanie was an amazing athlete. Back in her time it was hard enough for women wanting to be independent and have any career let alone a career in professional sports.

Women like Joanie and Ann Calvello skated as a way to make a living while staying out of the typing-pool. Could you imagine getting paid to play roller derby? Having it as your main career, not just something you did on nights and weekends? Heavy stuff, right? Women joined the derby as away to be independent and bring in money on their own effort, not relying on a man to support them.

Roller derby was different in those days. It was a traveling road show with owners, choreographed and scripted bouts and a new town every couple of days. Part of me likes to image myself with those ladies and gents, traveling around, playing a different kind of derby, but getting paid for it – would it be worth it? To sacrifice a “real life” and a family to play derby professionally?

I had the  opportunity a couple years ago to talk with gentleman who was at that time coaching the Redding Rollergirls – Eric Darnell Anderson was his name and it turned out that years before he had skated professional men’s roller derby for some time. Back in the day he was a close acquaintance on Ann Calvello and spoke lovingly of the sport’s origin, it’s growth and it’s potential. I’d say he thought it was worth the sacrifice, but loved the way the sport was going now.

Back to Frank’s story and the origin of this little slice of derby history, there was this one tear jerking quote in his story that really tugged on my heart strings:

One night, somewhere out on the road — because the derby was always somewhere out on the road — Joanie held her little dog in her lap, and she sighed, and this is what she told me, wistfully: “All I want out of the roller derby is to make good money, get out of it in one piece, and years from now, when I say I was in the roller derby, I want people to still know what it is. I want that.”

It just paints a vivid picture. I think the reason I was touched by this is because not only has Joanie’s wishes come true, but I truly feel that in every derby girl’s heart we all wish the same thing. Roller derby is really taking off and who knows what the sport is going to be like in five years – We could very well be paid athletes. The sky is really the limit.

Frank ended his report by saying there are now over 500 women’s leagues in 16 countries, from North America, to Europe, to Australia, to Brazil, to Abu Dhabi. That alone blows my mind.

One day when we are all wrinkly old biddies and roller derby is a true professional sport, we can all tell our grand daughters that we were apart of not just the resurgence of the sport, but the birth of professional derby. Joanie would be proud.

Photo: Derby Memoirs