Apr 302011
 

This is not going to be a happyhappyjoyjoy post. It’s not going to make you feel all warm and fuzzy about the wonderous sport we all know and love and it’s not going to lead you to some revelation about yourself or derby.

This is a look at how I was (and probably still am) a total n00b.

For those of you who are slightly to moderately internet-dyslexic, according to “Lord Emperor” of urbandictionary.com, a n00b is “A[sic] inexperienced and/or ignorant or unskilled person.”

Ok, so anyone entering into derby would be considered a n00b, in a way. I remember when I first heard of derby I thought it was for badasses. And I don’t mean like, sassy women who “tell it like it is” or something, but women who were so amazingly confident in themselves that they didn’t HAVE to tell anyone how it was because it didn’t change the TRUTH of it all. “It,” as it was, existed with or without the telling of it. Women so amazingly confident in themselves and the other women they surrounded themselves with that they all got along amazingly because of this unspoken truth.

Right, so you see how I was n00bish, huh? Yeah.

So right off the bat, I saw how wrong I was. The women I skate with are amazing, make no mistake about that, but I made the mistake of buying into this mythical derby ideal that doesn’t fucking exist. Granted, my derby family is different than all of my “normal” friends and family and that’s why I love them. They love me because I’m not “normal” either. How can normal exist in derby anyway? It takes a special kind of girl to wake up in the morning and say, “Today’s a good day to get my ass handed to me in the rink.” And you always love your teammates for putting you there and making you stronger for it.

But we’ve already covered this, haven’t we? trACDC did a rock-solid job on the taboo involved in your derby family. But what about other teams? What about other leagues?

So you see, I learned early-on that I had a misguided idea of what a derby girl is, but I still assumed that other teams filled with similar-minded women could still uphold that sense of comaraderie I’d always heard about. If you’ve skated in even a single bout, you know exactly what I’m talking about: both teams skate their asses off, knock each other into next week, then party together like they’re long lost sorority sisters or something. I assumed every bout was like this since derby has always seemed like a left-of-center sorority to me. Fucked up chicks who are sisters because we’ve all taken the same beatings, bruises, broken bones, and rink rash. It connects us in a way that is unbreakable, right?

Until you meet the one team that doesn’t operate that way. A team that doesn’t adhere to this supposed code and plays, well, however the hell they want. And that’s ok. It’s the real world and we’re all big girls, so we can pull our glitter-panties up and be big girls about it. It doesn’t take away from the fact that unsportswomanlike conduct still pisses you off.  

See to me, that sense of interleague comaraderie is an important part of what derby is. And yeah, maybe that’s why I’m still a n00b, but if that’s the case, then I’m ok with that. I want to be friends with the other team (after the bout, of course). I want to be able to go up to the tiny girl who somehow managed to put me on my ass and say, “DAMN. That was awesome,” and I want her to be able to do the same thing. What I don’t want is to wonder if I’m going to have to defend myself from a fight-happy derby girl at the afterparty. I don’t want to wonder if one of their fans are going to jump me when I leave the bout. That’s not what derby is about.

I don’t know, I think my biggest rant here is that once you’re a “derby girl,” you sort of start assuming a lot of things about a lot of people. You assume that someone else who has earned the same title respects the sport as much as you do. You assume that she has also worked her ass off like you did and that she wants to play as fair as she can – like you do. We assume the best in all of these women because we want them to assume the same is true about us. The thing is – assumptions are for assholes because you can’t assume anything about anyone because we are not all cut from the same cloth, ya dig?

So yeah, I’m still learning. I’m still discovering the idiosyncracies of the women on my own team while also trying to figure out how to navigate the testy waters of other teams. I wouldn’t trade anything I’ve learned/bruised/broken in derby because, like every other experience in my life, it’s shaping who I’m becoming…. and I kinda’like that girl.

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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.

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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 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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Apr 172010
 

I need this attitude

I want to talk to you about commitment. Roller derby requires, nay demands,  on-skate practices twice a week, dryland strength training on Saturdays and additional extracurricular outdoor skates/workouts in order to be the best you can be-not to mention the derby bonding of going to see other leagues play, going to movies, going to the bars. When I say that roller derby demands this, I mean that it inspires an unavoidable imperative in me to do do do as much derby as I can whenever I can. And yes, it is as obsessive as that. I know this is not a rational impulse, nor, perhaps even an appropriate one to admit to. (However, it is a very very common impulse for us derbies. You know what I‘m talking about!) So, this imperative to go forth and Derby It Up! is a wonderful thing, that is, until it creates in you a monster of guilt.   

When roller derby happened to me, I fell in so far that my husband had to grab my ankles lest I be devoured by derby and move to the roller rink. So when I started to see derby affect my family life, my ever-present search for a writing career, even my desire to be with my husband, I knew I had to do something, cause my husband’s a pretty hot piece.  My all-or-nothing personality immediately lunged me into a depression because my first thought was that I would have to quit roller derby cold turkey. But that’s not reality. Life is not all-or-nothing. So I committed to the incessant, on-

The author in All-or-Nothing mode

going argument with J, my husband, to negotiate going to practices, after parties, away bouts, and outdoor skates as opposed to cooking dinner, going to the zoo, date night, going to his Tae Kwon Do events and generally being available to my family. It is a devilish, tiring task and it often makes me feel sick that I have to work so hard to do this thing, to be Ms Kittie Fantastik. But when I do finally get to practice, all that worry and meticulous calendar work goes away and I put in 120%.  I get to just skate. I get to haul ass in 50-80-100 endurance, hit some bitches with my killer hips, try new things during our scrimmages, talk derby to all the fresh meat skaters and of course spend time with my derby wives, whom I love.  

Me and my hubbs

The easy part is talking about how I’m trying to find a balance between derby and everything else. The hard part is in the doing. My wonderful husband is aware that I often talk a big game about being more present in our family life and missing some of the extra derby events, but when it comes down to it, I falter. Missing any derby practices or events hurts me; it cuts me to the quick. I feel a guilt greater than I thought I could feel for some hobby. I feel that I am letting down my team, I feel that I am showing everyone that I am not as committed the sport or that I don’t care about the team as much as my teammates do or even that I’m not as hardcore about the “Derby Dream” as they all are. I feel that my teammates sometimes look at me and don’t see my struggle but see a woman with a controlling jerk for a husband-cause really, that’s not it. It’s easy for them (and me!) to blame him, but really, it’s not him. He is not making me do this-I have to. I find it common in this game to sport the “stick it to the man” attitude, always cocking our heads saying, “Screw you, I do what I want, you can’t hold me down, I dare you to try!“ I embraced this attitude when I because a derby girl but soon I found this attitude to be not only reminiscent of my teenage years, but also very dangerous. I have come dangerously close to destroying that which I have worked hard to create….for a game. It is important for me to remember that I chose him. I chose him of all people and I love him, he is me-the same, only completely different-and impossible, at that! And then we have Imogen, our daughter, who also is the same, only completely different. These two people are the true things of my life and I cannot let them go for anything. Even though I want to, really want to, do the selfish thing and demand that I get what I want and be left alone, I can’t do it. However, I can demand that I get to have my own hobby and my own time, but I can’t let it consume me to the exclusion of everything else. I know my teammates, my sisters, my wives love me and support me as much as they can, but there are those looks that cut me, those off-hand comments that have bite. They are really no big deal, not an issue. They are just a reminder that I get to set my priorities, no one else. Oh yeah, and I need to grow a backbone.   

So yes, I have to miss practice. But I work my ass off to be good at this game and get my attendance to where is needs to be so I can bout. You got a problem with that? Too bad, I’m really trying not to care.   

Photo Credit: Image taken from “That’s Queen Bitch to You” by Ed Polish and Darren Wotz. Ten Speed Press, 2006., personal family photos.

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