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.

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Feb 242011
 

Me, making my way around the track as the RSRD jammer least likely to actually score any points

So.  This past weekend (Sunday, Februrary 19th, 2011 for those who are keeping track) I played in my first match against an opposing team.

It wasn’t a bout, exactly.  It was a scrimmage.  We were in front of families and a few close friends, skating in our normal practice space rather than on the intimidating floors of the Baton Rouge River Center.  But we were skating together, as a team, against girls from another city.  And as anyone who’s bouted before can tell you, being up against a real opponent makes a difference.  For the first time, I was skating against girls who wouldn’t tell me how to improve, wouldn’t pat me on the back after I survived an especially hard hit.  I was up against people who wanted to get their jammer past me at all costs – people who wouldn’t know the difference between me and any other girl in a purple uniform.  They wouldn’t know that I was new, wouldn’t know how hard I’d been working in practice or how much I’d overcome to be on the floor that day.  They would know only that I was their opponent, an obstacle to be eliminated.

I’m not used to being an obstacle.  I’m one of those “how can I help you” people – the girl who always wants to know what else she can do, how she can facilitate and instigate and accomplish.  If I ever stood in someone’s way, in the everyday world, I’d probably have a heart attack.  Or cry.

Originally, I was going to spend this entire post telling you about the process of becoming an obstacle – explaining how I found my footing in the midst of a game and learned to stand in the way of my opponents and their goals – WITHOUT feeling guilty about it.  I was going to tell you about our 117-76 win, about my unsuccessful jams, and about the way I made peace with those jams and realized that, in the process of failing to become a better jammer, I’d accidentally succeeded in becoming a better blocker.  A solid blocker.  I was going to say “aw shucks, isn’t derby grand?”

But that post-bout feeling subsides.  Obstacles cease being positives, and the desire to score more points returns.  I know that we here at LDG are fond of enlisting derby as a metaphor for all the great challenges we face in life.  But there are times when the answers I find on the track just aren’t applicable to the situations that bombard my everyday world.  Sometimes they aren’t even applicable to the situations I face within my own team.

Racing up to form a wall with teammates Schexorcist and Summer Squasher

Our league, like every league, has its disagreements.  We always bump through them together, but that doesn’t make them any less painful when they’re happening.  Right now we’re in the midst of a debate about shifting our long-standing practice time by an hour or two.  I won’t bore you with the details.  The point is, we’re putting some changes to a vote, and we’re discovering that even seemingly small alterations have far-reaching consequences.  While setting an earlier time might help some skaters with babysitters, early next-day work hours, and late-night study sessions, it would also potentially prevent other skaters from making the required number of practices each month – forcing them out of bouts and eventually off of the team.

When the question was originally put to a vote, I voted for the earlier time.  Because it suited me best, and I was voting for my own interests alone.  When it came to light that other skaters would be severely affected by the change, I wondered whether I’d made the wrong choice, whether I was a selfish bitch for going with my own interests.  I wavered and began to wonder if I should change my vote.  And then I wavered again, wondering whether there were others who would be equally affected by the later time, whose feelings I might not be taking into consideration.  I sat in front of my computer, staring at the debate on our skater forum, and froze.

My entire life I’ve been caught between the desire to perform for others and the need to perform for myself.  When I was on the track on Sunday, I thought I’d found the answer.  Something inside of me had snapped, and I had suddenly forgotten about trying to do what I thought I was supposed to do and had instead done what I knew I could do.  I had gone from being the waffling girl, the one who asks everyone’s opinion before she makes decisions, to being the blocker who thrusts herself firmly in other people’s paths.  I hadn’t worried, even for a second, wether my moves were the right ones.  I simply made them, automatically and definitively.  But now, post-bout, I was right back in my pre-derby headspace – fearing that following my own instincts and acting in my own interest was only going to hurt other people.    I was an obstacle, and I was certain that I ought to move out of the way.

Ultimately, I assume that we’ll reach some sort of compromise – one that will hopefully put everyone on an equal footing.  But in the meantime, I’ve had to realize that derby doesn’t give me all the answers.  Or maybe what it gives me are answers in the form of questions, like Zen Proverbs or something.  When I started skating, I was counting on derby to make me more assertive and less cerebral.  I wanted it to take me out of my head and teach me to assert myself as a person with needs and wants and boundaries.  But maybe wanting to euthanize my old identity isn’t the answer.  Maybe sometimes the girl who weighs people’s feelings, who waffles and is slow to make decisions – maybe sometimes she’s in the right.  Or at least not totally in the wrong.  And maybe neither one of us is the strong one.  Maybe the strength is in balancing two identities, knowing which to inhabit at the appropriate times, being able to shift between the two at will.

Maybe all the people who’ve been trying to convince me just to stand up for myself were reading me all wrong.  Maybe sometimes other people’s interests are my own, and the line between selfless and selfish is thinner than it seems.

Either way, I think I’m going to make a damn good blocker.

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Feb 232011
 

geared upSo, I’m new here.

Well, I’m new all around. But I’d really like to start making my mark in the wonderful world of derby. Or rather, I’d like the wonderful world of derby to start making a mark on me.

But let’s be honest for a second here. Derby has already started making a mark on me. In fact, it did the first time I saw a derby bout. Enough of a mark that I decided that derby was something I needed to get into, regardless of the fact that I was out of shape and that I’m a socially awkward and shy person. So I did. And I’m never going to look back.

I must admit, roller derby is not something I ever thought I’d be interested in. It’s certainly not something I ever thought I’d be involved with. After all, I’m not exactly the type of girl that would ever be seen in fishnets or hot pants. I don’t really do the “girly” thing, and I admit my first (incorrect) impression of derby was that it was a sport for girly girls. Yet here I am, two bouts in, anxiously awaiting the next time I strap on my skates, counting the seconds until I can leave my heart out on the flat track.

I’ve been involved with sports my whole life but I can honestly say that roller derby is the most physically and mentally demanding sport I’ve ever done. And there has not been a single second that I’ve regretted joining the league. The rewards I reap make it completely worth all the pain. Plus, because of this sport, I’ve been introduced to the most wonderful group of people I could have ever hoped to meet. These girls feel like family to me. No, scratch that, they ARE family.

When I entered the skating rink as fresh meat back in October, I was completely terrified. I’m not really good with social situations or engaging new people in conversation. Typically, I’m the kind of person that hides in a corner and fades into the background. Thankfully I was welcomed almost immediately. I was even invited out for post-practice drinks. I’ve never felt so accepted before. And I’ve never felt so sure that I made the right decision than I did after that first practice. Sure, it hurt. And I didn’t know if I’d be physically up to the challenge since I’d be mostly sedentary for ten years. But I knew I wanted to be a part of this. I wasn’t going to give up. I decided the first night that there was nothing I wanted more than to be a member of Red Stick Roller Derby. Now, just a few months later, here I am. And I couldn’t be more proud of myself.

lead jammer

There have been a few moments in my life that I have considered the proudest I’ve ever felt. Now I believe the proudest moment of my life so far is the first time I skated up to the jammer line in my very first bout. I get that feeling of pride every time I skate up to the jammer line. That’s a feeling I want to hold on to.

Becoming a member of the derby team was like a dream come true, even though it was a dream I never knew I had. Derby is the best thing I’ve ever done with my life, hands down. Thanks to derby I finally feel like I really belong somewhere. Even though it’s not easy (I’ve suffered a few minor injuries so far), it’s worth it. No matter how difficult it gets, I’ll never let myself give up. Because I am a derby girl. And nothing is going to stop me from being a derby girl.

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Feb 212011
 

This is me, feeling like I'm having an out-of-body experience.

“In the world of roller derby, our next reader, Sarah Perry, is known as Tricky La Rouge. Tonight, instead of kicking your ass, she’s decided to be nice and read to you.”

So went my introduction last Thursday, February 17, when I read my writing publicly for the first time. I’m in my first year in the graduate writing program at Columbia University, focusing on creative nonfiction and working on a book (more details to come later). I moved to New York this past August, leaving my beloved team, Red Stick Roller Derby, behind in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“Ohh, New York!” you might say. “Are you skating?” you ask, your breath perhaps catching as the amazingly kickass NYC league, Gotham Girls Roller Derby, comes to mind.

Sadly, no, I’m not currently skating. Transfer tryouts were in November, and after months of hemming and hawing, I concluded that school is just too important (and too damn expensive) to risk neglecting my writing because I got sucked into Derbyland. (For the moment, we’ll put aside the very real question of whether I would have made it onto such a high-level team to begin with). Life is about balance, sure, but on the other side of the equation, I didn’t want to convince those girls to take a chance on me and then shirk in my training because I was pulling all-nighters. It’s Gotham, for chrissakes. You can’t screw around.

What I am doing, every week or two, is getting drunk and yammering on about derby to anyone who will listen. I try not to do this, honestly – try to keep my love on the downlow, like when you’ve recently broken up with someone and you don’t want to burden your friends with your sloppy heartbreak. But I’ve found that writers are really interested in derby – it probably has something to do with all the time we have to spend sitting on our asses, muscles atrophying, frustration multiplying with no aggressive outlet. During a break in the reading last week, a fellow Columbia writer-friend came up to me and said that I had done a good job, but then said, “What was the deal with that intro?”

I’d hit the free wine pretty hard the second I got off stage, but somehow my brain made an insightful leap, and it occurred to me that she’d thought the derby thing was made up, which, I admit, would sound pretty cheesy. “Well, it’s true!” I said.

Ah, PBR. Neatly sitting at the intersection of my two universes.

My friend immediately brightened up and said, “Oh, then – that’s pretty awesome,” or something to that effect; the Cabernet and the subsequent $2 PBR’s have dropped a bit of a haze on the evening (not everything is expensive in NYC). She proceeded to tell me that she’d skateboarded a lot as a kid, and missed it. I was about to launch a nerdy conversation about helmets and wheels (I’ve been meaning to get those Kryptos or similar skateboarding wheels for outside), when another reader took the podium.

I miss derby so hard that discovering this girl was a skateboarder in her adolescence made me feel immediately more bonded to her. I miss derby so hard that I know when every Red Stick fundraiser or public appearance is, and no matter how tedious the event, I wish I was there. I miss derby so hard that when I see a Columbia undergraduate athlete chick hobbling along with one foot in a stabilization boot, I’m so jealous that she even has an opportunity to get injured in a sport, I could just about kick it out from under her.

You get the idea. For the record, I’m planning to go back – I’ll drag my nervous self to tryouts this year or next, when school settles down a bit, but I admit I’m worried that life will take over and divert me from the track. But all those drunken conversations would suggest otherwise. I had stopped writing for LiveDerbyGirls because I wasn’t officially skating any more, but it’s clear I still have things to say. Many of you out there might be in the same boat – laid up with a stubborn injury, tending to a newborn, launching a new career or tackling school as well. So this column will explore some of the issues that those of us on hiatus still obsess over, as well as bring you little nuggets of derby lore and suggestions for working those ripped fishnets back into your wardrobe and whatever else I dig up that seems interesting to current skaters, former skaters, future skaters, and even our cherished fans.

Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

Picture Credits: Writer’s own, taken by MacSweeney’s contributor Casey Plett; BillyBrew.com.

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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.

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