Apr 262011

Comicpalooza, the annual comic… uh… palooza, takes place in Houston, TX this year from May 27-29 (Fri-Sun). Three sets of exhibition bouts will take place on Sunday (5/30) following Saturday night’s sanctioned bout between the Houston Knockouts and Harrisburg, PA Rollergirls.  If you’ve been waiting all your life, as I have, to skate as your favorite comic figure, register for one (or more) of three exhibition bouts, or email Grrrl Friday at inkslingertl@gmail.com. Registration closes 4/29! Refs are welcome, too. Further details at bottom of article.

When trAC/DC told me I could go to Houston for a comic convention AND skate there as a superhero AND see Houston take on Harrisburg, I nearly crapped my spandex.

See, I’ve had a long and confusing love affair with Captain America since the 7th grade, one that my family finds “interesting” and worthy of exploration. So let’s explore it together. Maybe you and I will look back at our superhero-laden childhoods and find that those old capes and masks laid an early, welcoming foundation for derby. Because, you know, everything has to do with derby.


It was a typically disgusting day in Kenner, LA, and I was what’s typically a disgusting age: 13. I sat in my elementary school’s humid cafeteria sweating through my see-through white polyester uniform shirt, looking out at the bayou’s concrete levee walls and the stupid heat-waving blacktop that anyone but a kid would pass out on. As flocks of the fattest seagulls you ever saw positioned themselves above our recess area for shit-on-kids time, I realized I’d had enough of this damn place as I stood in it. I’d been quiet for something like ten years, and though I excelled athletically and got good grades, no kids gave a shit about me. I was too grown up and introspective for my friends. I was always sweaty and only spoke up to stick up for Josh (he had elf ears). They knew me for being… tall.

I stared at my Cheez-It like it was a home video of a windblown grocery bag.

“Hey,” I said, looking up.

I slammed my fist on the cheap linoleum table.


The Clique looked up from their peas.

I had their attention. What was I going to say?

“I’m Captain America!”

There was a long pause.

They looked at me with a singular question in their eyes, one that I, too, was now wondering. What the hell did I just say?

I thought quick: “Callie, catch this Cheez-It in your mouth and you can be my sidekick.”

I threw it at her. She caught it.

“Julianna, what’s the capital of Mississippi?”

“I don’t know.”

“Good. Me neither. You’re in.”

And so it went. I had no idea what I was doing. I had no control. It was like years of pent up hysteria were pouring out of me, and as long as The Clique thought it was good fun, I was gonna sit back and watch me unfurl.

I commanded that damn lunch and recess. By the end of it, I had five of the cliquiest bitches following me around, waiting for orders, laughing hysterically with me and my alter ego. I was brand new, funny.

“Where did you come from?” Kelli asked me by the end of the hour-long break. “We had no idea you were funny.”

I was smug as all hell.

“You know, my mom’s vagina.” Man, I was on a roll.

But I had no idea where it had all come from. I didn’t even know Captain America was a superhero. I’d seen a patriotic car round town with the words sealed on its rear window, and they had stuck in my brain. My sidekicks got names, too. Derby names sorta. Like Sergeant Stripes, Mr. Flag, and Uncle Sam. I assigned them. We wore secret patches on our gym shorts beneath our plaid skirts. There was a handbook and a handshake. I was dope. I was Captain America!

Now, as a weird, grownass bitch, I salute you, Captain America, for coming out of my open mouth that day, for transforming my peer relations, and scaring my mother. I salute you, today, by vowing to wrap your name and colors around my derby-loving bod at Comicpalooza, even if your blue tights make me look like a sausage.

Thank you, thank goodness(!) I didn’t wait a day longer to get weird. Thank you, Comicpalooza, for letting me honor the kid, the superhero within who propels me forth.



*$10 registration fee per half-hour scrimmage includes team shirt with name and number!

What: Comicpalooza Derby Exhibition


George R. Brown Convention Center
3rd Floor
1001 Avenida de las Americas
Houston, TX 77010


Sunday, May 30: 1 pm, 2 pm, 3pm

Mar 302011

Slimenem, Schexorcist, Madie Sans Merci, and Villainelle - different names for very different ladies

What’s your name?

That’s a complicated question for a derby girl.  Every time I meet someone new, hold out my hand for them to shake, I pause and wonder What name am I supposed to give?

My boyfriend calls me by my derby name when he’s around my derby friends.  But I doubt he’d ever use it in private.  I’ve never talked to my parents about my derby name specifically, but in the video my father took of my first public scrimmage, it’s clear that he starts calling me “Vill” halfway through, without any prompting.  When I introduce myself to fresh meat, I give them both my names; after all, they don’t have a derby name to give me yet, so I feel like I’m only greeting them on an equal playing field if I hand them my parental-given moniker.  In my home, where I live with another derby, and where other derbies can always be found hanging out, we use a hodgepodge of different epithets – I’m Vill and Villainelle and my other name too.

But I don’t have to tell you any of this.  Because you know.  It happens to you too.

Unless you’re one of the number of girls beginning to form teams that play with their legal names blazoned across their jerseys.  I didn’t know about these teams until our discussion, a few weeks ago, about derby fashion and choosing an appropriate team image.  When Moxie introduced the topic of derby dress, several commenters participated in the discussion, letting us know that their teams have eschewed all the traditional trappings of derby – including the nicknames.

In the ensuing weeks, I’ve thought about this every time I’ve had occasion to use my derby name.  But the issue finally came to a head for me when, after a bout last weekend, my boyfriend pointed out that he’d spent a good deal of time during the first half explaining my name and number to his friends.

I have one of those names that most people don’t get right away.  It’s not that it’s inherently complicated; it’s just that the things it references are highly personal and relatively obscure.  And I did begin to wonder, at first, whether it’s really worth the trouble.  After all, it could be argued that skating under an assumed name – a false identity – distances the players from the fans, and from each other.  It could be argued that as long as derby girls insist on playing under wild names, their sport will never be taken seriously in a world of sports players known by their familial nomers.

But this week, I started reading something that solidified my dedication to derby names:  9lb Hammer’s new novel.

9′s book, Pivot (go buy it here!  I’m reviewing it next week!), is the story of a girl finding freedom through her derby identity.  In the narrative, the dichotomy between the narrator’s “real name” (Clementine Byers) and her derby name (Xana Doom) is crucial to understanding her transformation.  Clementine’s journey to becoming Xana raises the question of how “true,” really, our given names are.  As Clem begins to distance herself from her mother, she finds new family with her derby team; in that sense, the name she takes on when she joins the team IS a family name – a name that signifies the creation of a new identity.  When Clementine introduces herself as “Xana,” she’s making a choice about the girl she wants to be and the life she wants to lead.  She is taking control of something that seems largely uncontrollable.

I can identify with Clementine’s transformation, and I recognized myself immediately in her.  My “real name” is suited to me in a number of ways.  It has an old-fashioned feel; it’s longish and formal-sounding.  It sounds stoic and responsible, like it might smell of roses and dish soap.  And in many ways, that’s appropriate for me – or at least for a version of me.

My derby name is different, though.  My derby name represents the things I am and the things I want to become.  It’s about identity, but it’s also about aspiration.

I was a bit uncertain when I first chose it.  I knew I loved the name, knew that it represented an appropriate sentiment.  But I wasn’t sure it would make sense to anyone.  So the first time I uttered it at practice, I mumbled it quietly.  People aren’t going to get it, I thought.  It’s not tough enough.  It doesn’t sound DERBY.

What I failed to realize at the time, though, is that there are different kinds of toughness in roller derby.

Some  of the girls in my league have names that immediately suggest their strengths as players.  Unholy Horror is, literally, a horror if you step up to jam and realize she’s sharking in the back.  Turbo Tyke is fast as fuck, and Tank Goodness plows through the pack like a (super limber) tank.

Other girls’ names suggest as much about their off-the-track personalities as their game-day personas.  TrAC/DC is always rad and ready;  Bout Love is bountifully good-natured.  Little Miss Maggot and Ocean’s Motion both adopted names that speak to their careers off-track, and Zoom Tang… well, Zoom Tang likes pussy.

But Villainelle?  Nobody even knows what the fuck it means.

The answer is that it’s a kind of poem.  Specifically, it’s a brainy, complicated form that appeared a lot in the 19th century.  You probably read villanelles in high school, although you likely don’t remember them as such.  Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” is one.  And for the Plath fans out there, “Mad Girl’s Love Song” is another.  I love both of those poems.  But neither of them has anything to do with the reasons I chose my name.

When I joined derby, I knew I wasn’t obviously tough.  I’m not a commanding physical presence.  But I AM a commanding vocal presence.  And an even more commanding written one.  I can navigate words with grace and precision.  When I stare at a blank page, I’m filled with fire and intensity – and with the settled confidence of a woman who knows exactly what she’s doing.  Even if I doubt myself momentarily, if the words don’t spill forth right away, I can rest in the knowledge that if I concentrate and focus, if I place myself in the proper mindset, I’ll eventually conquer the doubts and discover the path to the ideas inside my head.

I’m nothing like my poetic self on the track.  I get jittery and anxious; I get angry when I can’t see a path through the pack.  I lose my voice, and sometimes I lose my mind.  But when I look at the back of my jersey, when I see my name and my number (19LN, for 19 lines), I remember who I really am.  And my confidence returns.  I remind myself that even at my most frustrated, I’m in control.  All I have to do is concentrate and navigate – put my body in the places the words should go.  Manipulate my limbs the way I would a set of lines in a poem.

Derby names are important – whether we skate under our family names, sporting pride in our inherited identities, or under a name chosen to reflect our place on the track – the monikers we choose remind us who we are and what we can do.  They remind us where we belong.

Jul 102010

No, but really, y’all. Live Derby Girls has its very own theme music and its very own music video made by our very own fabulously multi-faceted Rock Bottom. It stars some of your favorite live derby girls, including the blonde ultra-hottie with the bad attitude, Tricky La Rouge and, well, me, trAC/DC. Check it and spread the gospel far and wide.

A big fat shout out to the lovely ladies of RSRD for putting their ass-kicking to music.

May 152010

(This was written for myself after my first full bout as a skater.  It means a lot to me.)

I have bruises. Substantial bruises. Bruises of some substance. They are located on both my right and my left upper arms. The right arm is by far the most artistically done, bruises seemingly watercolored on my arm with deep blues, greens, a bit of stipled red, violet. Dotted on like a series of swirling islands covering nearly my entire upper arm from shoulder to elbow. The left arm may be less magnificent overall, but what it lacks in grandeur, it makes up for in location and creativity. A brilliant purple and green bruises is located on the underside of the arm and curls around the outside. It’s shaped as if someone had tightened a rope around my flesh and tightened it. I cannot fail to mention the massive, unholy yellow bruise on the ball of my shoulder.

I show off my bruises. They have a life of their own, while they are with me. They are an ice breaker, so I can talk about how I got them with people I don’t know. My coworkers look at me differently, not necessarily because I am bruised (often women are bruised), but because I grin and I am proud that I am bruised. I know It’s not common for a woman to show off her bruises-usually, they are kept hidden, a dirty secret, considered ugly. Not mine. I earned mine and I am proud. I have a pride about me as I marvel at how my body reacts to stimulus, blooming with color and pain. Nothing in my life could have prepared me for loving my bruises or loving the pain they bring. I am a roller derby girl. Sometimes, when I am feeling saucy, I refer to myself as a roller derby queen, which is a completely unearned title, since I am a new derby girl. I am only 5 months in and it has been a rollicking ride. I thought it would be something I would just do-roller derby, I mean-like a softball league or a sand volleyball team. You know, you just show up for games and the random practice. I thought I could compartmentalize it into my life to fulfill my exercise need and my companionship need. Sweating my ass off? Check. Female bonding about non-work, non-family stuff? Double check. It didn’t happen that way. It didn’t play out like that at all. This shit infiltrated my life.

The women on this team literally force you out of complacency and involve you. When there are bout production issues and we need to go get another cooler of ice for the away team’s water cooler, you bet your ass they are pushing some girl out the door to go get it. Feeling like you should quit during the 45 minutes of intense endurance skating? There’s a senior skater there singling you out to work harder. Need tickets sold? Need to find a team sponsor? Sell ads for the bout program? These things have to be done because we are not owned nor are we coached by an Other, an outsider- male or female. We are always reminded that if we want to roller derby, we have to do it: participate, help, create, donate or step up and fucking lead! Normally, I reject being pushed. You push me and I push back. The other Derbies (an affectionate term for roller derby girls) pushed me to challenge myself-to take myself to task and be responsible for being happy and proud of who I am on the team. They urged me from a place of female support and sisterly love that, I am saddened to say, has been absent all my life. They encouraged the individual, unique, square-peg part of me that doesn’t fit into any of the round-hole roles of that I play-wife, mother, coworker. And I push back, mirroring this fantastic support and love for my derby family. My derby family and I, we’ll all be having a great time, whether at practice, an afterparty, a bout, fundraiser, or jersey making party and we’ll look each at the others-the student, the hairdresser, engineer, phlebotomist, the mom, grandma, 18 year old, the 40 year old, the lawyer, the waitress the accountant-and we’ll wonder, with a pang, “What if I hadn’t found this?” What if I hadn’t seen these girls at the Whip It premiere? What if I hadn’t met that girl skating on the levy in her hot pants and fishnets, or come across the Red Stick Roller Derby website? Who would I be today? Clearly not me. Certainly not the wonderful me that I am now.

These women, they are helping me to become a version of myself that is galvanized; a more concentrated, incited version of myself that I wasn’t sure existed. I have chosen to be this galvanized version of Kayla Aylward who has transformed into the balls-out blocker Ms. Kittie Fantastik. I choose everyday when I put on my skates and pads. When I go one hundred percent during endurance-not ninty, one hundred percent!-even though my legs are trembling with exhaustion. I choose to be the me that is Ms. Kittie when I religiously check our team forum to be up on what I need to do for derby. I choose to be myself. The best version of myself. When I put myself out there to practice hitting and blocking and especially jamming, even though I am reasonably sure I will look like an idiot and fall and generally be terrible. On faith I do these things, so that I can continue to grow and revolutionize myself.

At the bout this past Saturday, (my first, by the way)I got my beautiful sleeves of bruises. I probably got them from being hit by Rock Bottom, or Heidi Volatile or especially Tricky La Rouge, not from me hitting them. I’m ok with that. My bruises are an outward sign that I’m in the game, taking the hits and giving ‘em when I get a chance. I’m not coasting, I’m not compartmentalizing, I am working my ass off for something that I don’t even know what the end product will be-if there will even be one. There are few things in my life that I have simply approached on faith. Derby is my most unexpected experience with faith. Faith is that thing you can’t see, but you know it’s there, you just know. That’s what I see when I see my bruises and grin. Faith. Faith that from now on, I will always be in the game, mixing it up.

Apr 292010

Dolly Rocket of Charm City Roller Girls doing some amazing pivoting. (photo credit: www.fracturemag.com)

So last week’s post was all about the jammer, who often gets the most attention anyway so I move on. This week I’m going to tell you more about the Pivot.
Now I’ve said multiple times but for those who are behind, the pivot is the lady with the helmet cover (panty) with a single stripe down the middle. I also discussed the privilege that pivots have of being eligible to become a jammer if for some reason the current jammer cannot swing it.
But this isn’t the only thing that differentiates the pivot from the rest of the blockers in the pack.
Often you’ll hear of derby girls referring to the pivot as the last line of defense but only after being around for a few months do you truly get the understanding of what the purpose of this position is (or at least it took me a while to truly grasp the understanding). Luckily for you though, I’m here to impart my knowledge.
Okay, the pivot is pretty much like the captain away from the bench. The pivot calls out the plays and helps to control the speed of the pack ALONG WITH being the last line of defense against a jammer who has just busted through the pack. But being a pivot is not just about having the mouth guard that’s easiest to talk around. It’s about being able to take in the situation and call what play needs to be done right there on the track.
From what I’ve seen with my own team, the captain, Sigga Please, and co-captain, Zarathrustya, do tend to play pivot a lot not only for their abilities to scream at their blockers but for this insane skill we derby girls like to call panty chasing. First they put their hips square in front of those jammers and try to

In the photo Zara is squaring her hips in front of jammer Rock Bottom and even though Sigga does not have the pivot panties on, she is getting the pack to slow down and force Zara out of the zone of engagement. (photo credit: Skunk Rolla, RSRD)

keep them in the zone of engagement. If for some reason this fails, they haul ass and swing their hips around in front of the jammer and slow her down. The hardest part about this is that most of the time, pivots are at the front of the pack. This is their rightful place, so when they take off to engage in some good old fashioned panty chasing, the pack is busy doing other things; and the pivot ends up out of play and has to let the jammer by.
Another two fellow Red Stick Roller Derby ladies who make amazing pivots are Sour Patch Kid and Rock Bottom. Whenever they are pivots, I know what is going on with the pack and where I should be. My team was playing against Magnolia Roller Vixens and they have this badass blocker named Kamdemic and she and I were out for blood from each other. At one point we both completely passed the pack up and just kept hitting each other. I still remember the sound of Rock Bottom screaming “MADIE LET HER GO, FALL BACK! SLOW DOWN!”


This is that moment that will live forever in my brain. Kamdemic and I going at it while rock yells at me to let her go. (Photo credit: Cajun Eject Her)

That’s how a pivot works, you should always be able to hear her mouth, she should always be barking commands at you, and you should always be trying to keep her in the zone of engagement as she tries to nail the jammer. After writing this I’ll never be able to get this out of my head.