What “type” of women play roller derby? Well, if you play then you know. All types. But there always seems to be some sort of intangible bond that makes us feel closer just knowing we share the sport. It isn’t broken down by “type”. For example, this weekend I walked into a ladies room at a bar in Las Vegas and saw a girl washing her hands. I recognized her jacket immediately as an American Apparel track jacket, so I creepily shimmied behind her to check it out. It was a derby team jacket! Ha! I wanted to ask her about it because I couldn’t read the logo from the perverted angle I’d adopted. I was wearing a fancy dress and had a pretty good buzz, but not enough of a buzz to fawn over a derby girl jacket and ask questions. But still. I thought about it. It didn’t seem unreasonable.
In my “real life” (there is no such thing) I am many other things besides a skater. Usually throughout the year I work as a baker. But I do not feel bonded in any way to other bakers, even if we have shared the same bakery and same recipes. I am a cyclist. There is a certain sort of code among cyclists to watch out for the bike lane, smile at each other, use hand signals… whatever, but it doesn’t feel tingly and warm. When I see a woman in the bathroom wearing the same padded butt pants that I have, I don’t find it to be a conversation starter. I also work as a commercial fisherman. Meeting other fishermen is usually pretty unspecial, because almost all of them are men (though meeting my husband was pretty special). Meeting other women fishermen? I feel the same privileged sort of bond that I do with derby girls, like I can ask for a favor or if they know so and so… there are not a whole lot of us. Kind of like derby girls in the athletic world… tons of basketball/soccer/volleyball players, but derby is smaller. It’s more intimate.
When I meet women fishermen at random I always want to know what they do and who they work for. I have no interest whatsoever in hearing some dude recount his best seasons, but it’s different for women. We put up with a lot of shit. And we don’t make things sound harder than they were, we are honest with each other (males tend to inflate the sense of danger). There are a handful or so ladies I have in my life who I have met fishing, after sharing a few stories we became friends for life! Some were born into fishing and introduced to it by their fathers, some married into fishing and kept at it with their husbands, and some like me just happened upon it and stayed for more (I say it’s because I love it, but it’s probably because I’m crazy – just like roller derby!).
It’s rough trying to get a job on a boat when you are a girl who doesn’t have any dock cred. Just about anybody will hire a 22 year old male who can’t tell his ass from his ear hole, but ladies have really got to pound the pavement. As a sad result I used to take any job that I could get and have ended up grossly underpaid, overworked and verbally abused. I have walked a boatyard asking strange men for jobs while they looked me up and down asking if I even knew what a salmon looked like. Once I overheard my skipper bragging to a crane operator that I was the best deck hand he’d ever had, that’s why he hired women “because they work harder to prove a point”. I had one particularly ignorant young guy tell me he wouldn’t work with a girl on deck, because “you know, we have to pee on deck and that could be weird”. He meant it would be weird for him. What about me? I’m the one who has to pull my damn pants down!
Well, it’s getting to be that time of year. I’ve got some extra special ladies stashed around the country and soon we will all be together in Alaska! Griping about one thing or another, poking fun at our testosterone pumped male counterparts, cringing at specialty porno stashes (I have seen things… wow), and sharing drinks at the end of the season. If only I could get those girls to put some skates on!
Derby is something I love and it is something that drives me insane. The work and the time that goes into it makes me feel crazy for staying. But we are passionate, dedicated, and I have made some amazing friends I couldn’t have met anywhere else. Fishing offers me freedom, but I have to go without seeing or talking to my husband for weeks on end. I have literally worked for 34+ hours without sleeping, eating only what I could get in my mouth standing on deck between sets. That’s what we have in common. We endure. When the going gets tough, the tough grab a power bar and say “this is what I fucking came here for!”.