Apr 122011
 

We need to talk, ladies.  We need to talk about roller derby and injuries.

CupQuake loves the team that gives her bruises

When we signed on to skate, getting hurt was a thing we considered possible – maybe even probable.  We’ve all seen other girls go down with broken ankles, strained knees, fucked up shoulders.  We’ve taken a knee and cringed as one of our teammates hit the floor with a thud and maybe even sometimes a crack or a pop. We’ve crouched there on the ground, wondering will she be able to get up again?  And if she does, will she still be able to play?

In derby, your body is a vital asset.  But the very same activities that help us to train and develop that asset are activities that could take us out of the game forever.  Players walk (skate?) a constant and extremely thin line between rigorous physical training and overexertion.  And, unlike in other sports, we come to the track with a variety of levels of physical conditioning and capability.  Some girls are marathon runners; others were dancers or gymnasts; others take on derby as their first major physical challenge.  So the line between exertion and injury is different for every single player, every single day. Because of this variance, our coaches and captains and trainers can’t always be expected to know the difference between “Fuck that hurt! Let’s do it again” and “Oh shit, I think I just pulled something.”  And since we can’t rely on someone else to tell us when we’ve gone too far (since “too far” is different for everyone), we have to maintain a consistent level of self-awareness; our team leaders count on us to tell them when we’ve been pushed to our limits.

The problem with this, though, is that derby is a sport that values toughness.  It values bounce-back and recovery.  One of the first things we teach fresh meat is that taking a fall is fine, as long as you can get up again.  And we all want to see ourselves as girls who never NEVER go down for good.  So when we’re faced with a choice between playing it tough or playing it safe… it’s obvious which one we’re likely to choose.  Especially when we’re new, we want everyone to know we can make a comeback.  We want our teammates to see that they can rely on us to be always ready, always present when we’re needed.  We don’t want to fucking give up – because there’s no giving up in derby.

In a way, the physical conundrum represented in derby is part of a larger conundrum that women face everyday.  Our bodies are expected to perform a multiplicity of tasks with little rest or recognition.  We give birth.  We menstruate.  We go through menopause.  We run households, carry kids on both hips, and work full-time jobs.  We play basketball and soccer; we endure heartache and heartbreak; we fall down and get up again; we fly planes; we grout floors and write masters theses.  We do everything we’re supposed to do – and more.  When we’re first starting out, we think our bodies can do anything.  But as responsibilities pile on and we collect years on our bones, we begin to learn that we’re destructible.  Bones break and tendons tear.  Hearts break too, and accidents happen.

Through all of it, we stand our ground.  But part of standing our ground is knowing when to take a pass – when to stand aside and keep ourselves – and our tough-but-delicate bodies – out of harm’s way.

The balance comes in learning that being tough has more than one definition.

Sometimes being tough is about making hard choices.  It’s about standing down when you’d rather be playing.  It’s about taking care of yourself, for the sake of your team, and for the sake of your beautiful body.

When we tell our derby sisters that they’re expected to keep going no matter what, what we’re really doing is buying into the myth that action = power and inaction = weakness.  Not so.  Sometimes it takes more skill and strength to stand down, to sit this one out.  Sometimes being part of a team means encouraging our friends to stay down, just this once.

If we can teach ourselves how to achieve that balance, we’ll be learning a lesson we can use off the track too.  When I was in graduate school, I was a do-it-yourself kind of girl.  I rarely asked for help; I always needed to be in charge and in control.  One spring, I served as chairperson (read: overworked crazy person) for our department’s graduate student conference.  I spent months preparing, driving myself insane with the workload, never asking anyone else for help.  Because I thought that’s what a good academic was supposed to do: be a lone wolf, do all the work, never ask for favors.  People began to shy away from even TRYING to help me because of my reputation for doing-it-all (read: reputation as a selfish bitch).  And so, on the day of the actual conference, after months of solo prep work, I found myself completely alone once again.  This time, though, I was alone with an ENTIRE ROOM full of furniture that needed to be rearranged before the next speaker.  Finding that all of my colleagues had taken an hour for lunch, I assumed I had only one choice: to move several large conference tables on my own.

You can see where this is going.  No matter how tough you are, if you’re 5’3″ and have scrawny arms, you’re really no match for a 20-foot conference table.  Shortly after I began my endeavor, one of the tables slipped from my grasp and fell to the floor, crushing the big toe on my left foot.

Still, I refused to give up.  Hobbling and wincing, I kept trying to slide furniture around the room until finally, FINALLY, I realized I wasn’t going to make it.  I called my boyfriend at the time and begged him to come back from lunch to help me out.  When he arrived, he stared at the mess – the fallen tables, my broken and swollen toe, the tears streaming down my face – and said, “Why didn’t you call me BEFORE you dropped a table on your foot?”

And he was right.  Of course he was right.  But it took a toe broken in 3 places to make me realize I’d taken on too much.  And in taking on too much, I had been putting my entire department at risk.  If the conference wasn’t a success – if the tables didn’t get moved, if the speaker’s room wasn’t ready, if anything else went wrong – I wasn’t the only one whose reputation would be on the line.  Rather, my entire department – all those colleagues I’d ignored and shoved aside in the months previous – would look like we couldn’t get our shit together.  I thought I was doing everyone a favor by taking on all the responsibility; but actually all I’d done was fix it so that my friends and classmates felt alienated from a conference that was supposed to belong to us ALL, not just to me.

The same is true when we play derby.  The game belongs to everyone – and none of us want to see another player so hurt that she can’t skate.  We don’t want anyone to sacrifice themselves for us.  As players, we care about the game.  But we care about each other too.

So take care of yourselves, ladies.  Remember that your team is there for you, and that someone can always step in if you need them to.  The game isn’t your responsibility alone; it’s ALL of our responsibilities – from the fresh meat to the players to the refs and NSOs.  As individuals, we’re tough.  But as a team, we’re tougher.  We help each other out – and that’s what makes us TRULY scary bitches.

 

 

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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 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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