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.

Feb 132011

I’m about to do something taboo. Not like having sex with your twin taboo, but taboo nonetheless. I am about to admit, right here on the interwebs, that roller derby isn’t all camaraderie and fishnets. This may seem obvious, but we derbies are pretty protective of our sport and our teams and talking shit about either is just not what we do. Except when it is.

Don’t get me wrong. Roller derby is, indeed, one of the best things that ever happened to me. But it’s not just because it made me get into shape and gave me a brand new group of girlfriends. It’s also because my love affair with derby caused me to completely ignore and/or destroy other parts of my life and the lessons I’ve learned from my derby sisters, both positive and negative, have forced me to grow as a person. We derbies sometimes like to think of our world as this fabulous feminist utopia in which women from all different backgrounds get together to kick ass. Which it is. Except when it’s not.

Sociologists love derby for its sexy feminism, acceptance of seemingly contradictory ideas about beauty, femininity, and athleticism, and the way it bonds women over something besides stuff. Bigger girls are prized blockers. Skinny bitches can kill you with a can opener. These women actually want to have big booties, and they’re not scared to show them off in the tiniest panties ever. These women will be there when you need them. They’ll help you move, be your shoulders to cry on, and even hold your hair back while you vomit. Except when they won’t.

In my year plus playing, I have made more girlfriends then I’ve probably ever had before in my life. I’ve bonded with doctors, lawyers, hippie theater types, conservative engineers, Catholics, students, teachers, and motorcycle riding instructors. Every one of them has taught me something, and as a whole, knowing them has taught me how much difference can be brushed aside. I have never experienced such a profound sense of belonging with  a group of women.

On a personal level, I never would have survived the past year without my team. When my husband left and I needed a place to stay, where was it? At a derby’s house. When I totaled my car and needed a ride, who picked me up? A derby. When I had to move everything I own in twelve hours for under a hundred bucks, who helped me? Derbies. My team has been there for me in ways that are above and beyond the call of on-the-track camaraderie.

The thing is that that’s not the end of the story. There’s just more to it than that. Because who do you think it was that gossiped about the demise of my marriage and said extremely unflattering and unforgiving things about me? A derby. Who said she was a friend and fled at the first sign of personal weakness? A derby. Who made me feel like shit about my lack of derby engagement when my life was falling apart and I was sitting at home with a broken hand? A derby. Who made out with my girlfriend after the after party? You better believe it was a derby. Did these experiences effect how I relate to my team and perform on the track? I want to say they didn’t, but they did.

So, what does this tell you about roller derby? Not much, really. It’s a complicated culture is all. Just like it can’t be reduced to a catty little world in which attention-seeking sex kittens kick each other’s asses, it also can’t be upheld as a perfect example of what happens when women support each other unconditionally. There’s no unconditional in roller derby. There’s only conditioning. Roller derby is a world that you must be acclimated to. So, if you’re new and in the first blush of your derbyverse crush and you think the magic will last forever, it won’t. But if you’re a bitter pro who’s been around for years and can’t get it up to smile at the girl on the track next to you, you’re not just part of the problem. You’re also the solution.

Don’t worry, I’m not gonna get all rah-rah, “we can all get along if we just work together” on you. That shit is for cheerleaders. Recognizing that we are not all going to get along all the time is a step towards being able to work together. There is simply no way that women from physically, economically, socially, and politically diverse backgrounds are going to get along all the time. People are not going to fucking agree with you all the time. You are going to be on a team with people of varying ages, levels of ability, and commitment. Fucking deal with it.

At some level, being an athlete on a team isn’t just about working well together on the track, it’s about working well, period.  It’s hard to work well on the track with a girl who just bit your head off because her girlfriend didn’t call her back today or because you wanted a black uniform jersey and she wanted blue. It’s hard to respect the girl talking if she never shuts up when you have something to say. None of these things would be okay in any professional situation, and if you’re like most roller girls and you want derby to become a respected professional (or at least well-sponsored amateur) sport, then you’re going to have to start acting like it already is one.

That old saying that there’s no “I” in team is a load of shit. That’s the problem with teams, there’s a whole fucking bunch of  ”I”s and only the one little “we”. It’s simply not possible to ignore that teams are composed of individuals. But individuals need to realize that, in the team setting, everyone’s participation is equally important. Obviously, some players are better than others, but the best players are few and the spaces in between them are filled with girls who are just good. Shit, maybe they’re only okay. But, if only the best players on the team get props, they’re going to be the only motivated players. Do you really want your weaker players to also be less motivated?

Team practices should motivate everyone, and it’s your job to help make that happen, even if you’re not in charge. If you don’t think it’s your job, you shouldn’t be on a team. That’s not just about how you behave at practice, either. Talking shit about your team mates in a small social circle is fucking stupid. Save it for your derby widow. Save it for your mom or your best friend. Save it for your cat. Because that girl who you’re judging out loud to another team mate is gonna find out about it somehow. Hopefully, when she jams, she’ll still know she can trust you to block the big bitches from knocking her over and she won’t be all nervous about playing with you. Hopefully, when you jam and she’s sharking in the back she’s still gonna protect you to the best of her ability. But really, why risk it?

Roller derby is voluntary and it should be fun. But it’s the kind of fun that’s a lot of work. Not just physical work, either. It takes a lot of emotional effort to be part of something bigger than yourself. If you want it to work, then you’re going to have to let go of your ego a little bit. You’re gonna have to let go of some of your “I wish” and “I want” and take a look at what “we need”. We, your team mates, need you to shut up and smile sometimes even if you’re the kind of girl who calls it how she sees it. We need you to not call the new girl a bitch when she trips you. We need to know that if we’re not as good as you, we can only get better with your help. We need to know we can trust you, on and off the track, if not to be a friend, at least to not be an enemy.

That was a lot of words, my derby friends, and I’m not sure all of them were necessary. Sometimes I get on a rant and just can’t stop, especially when it comes to derby. I’m sure you know what I mean. If it seems like I’m trying to uphold myself as an expert on team mate-ship, I’m not. Honestly, I’m just trying to figure it out. I’m not a joiner and I’ve never been on a team before. And I am guilty of all the things I’ve ranted against. But I’m trying to be a better player, both physically and psychologically. So, if I snapped at you when you were new and just trying to be nice, I’m sorry. If you heard that I said that you were kind of a slut, sorry. Your sex life is none of my business. If I wasn’t welcoming when you were a clumsy new girl, sorry, I’m a bitch.

On the other hand, if I told you to stop apologizing or stop crying or to get the fuck up off of the ground, well, I’m not sorry for that. That, my friends, is just the game. If you’re not ready to play, you’re a liability. My goal this season is to support all the girls who come to practice ready to play and to try to ignore the ones who don’t. My goal is to try to have something nice to say and to shut up when I can’t. My goal is to not talk shit to anyone but those closest to me (gotta be realistic), and to make sure I don’t work myself up into any grudges that effect my behavior at practice. My goal is to let go of any grudges I already have. My goal is to keep my ego in check and to think not about what RSRD can do for me, but what I can do for RSRD.

Hey, also check out Villainelle’s follow up post, “Overcoming the Dark Side of Roller Derby, Pt. II: This Feminist Darkness“.

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Jul 232010

As I write this, I’m sitting on my couch after practice, wearing my Red Stick Roller Derby jersey for possibly the last time, after a photo shoot we had tonight. My house is quiet and rather sticky and hot despite the air-conditioning (which is never sufficient), and the Southern humidity clings to my sweaty limbs. Soon I’ll leave here for the bustle and chill of New York City, to begin an entirely different life, one which I hope, but can’t guarantee, will include roller derby.

My path here has been long. A year and a half ago, my friend Dee persuaded me to attend one of her roller derby bouts. I’d been to one before – in fact I’d seen Carolina Roller Girls play Arizona Roller Derby, which was no small scrimmage, I can tell you. I still remembered the grace and power and speed of Princess America and others, but it had never previously occurred to me that I could be one of those tough, beautiful, unstoppable women. When Dee Zasta asked me to come to her RSRD bout, it was with an eye towards recruitment – I’d just finished a half marathon, and she assured me, “Skating’s a hell of a lot more fun.”

Skating did look a hell of a lot more fun, and that night I pledged to attend the next practice, which was open to newcomers. Said pledge happened in front of an ex of mine, so even if I’d wanted to flake out I had to follow through to save face. I knew he didn’t think I was competitive enough, and I wasn’t sure I was, either, but I had to give it a shot.

By the end of my second practice, I was hooked. Within months, my team was like a second family to me. Eventually, I formed a pretty, erhm, intimate relationship with a teammate. These are all familiar details of the transition from civilian to roller girl. But what makes my time with RSRD really exceptional is having been part of a period of amazing growth and development for the team. When I joined, RSRD had a core group of around 10-12 girls, and most of those girls had been working their asses off for over a year to get the league off the ground. We had a coach and rented time at a professional rink twice per week. But we were still so fledging that I skated my first bout within five weeks of joining, and we brought a roster of 8 girls to that away game (which we won, btw). At each practice, we hoped enough people would show up so we could scrimmage. A pregnancy or an ankle injury could mean losing a tenth of the team, and hardly anyone in our city knew we existed. I was new and passionate, and I was in recruitment mode all the time. If I saw a nice round booty, I HAD to talk to the girl who owned it, to see if she liked roller skating. I even tried recruiting the dressing room attendants at American Eagle, until I discovered they were 16 years old.

And we all had this mindset – to help grow this amazing thing that we’d found, to share this source of strength and tenderness. We made some progress. And then Whip It happened, and the girls started coming to us. They wanted to be a part of us, and before they were even roster-ready, their families and friends came to ours bouts in droves. Word spread and roller derby became a rather glamorous thing here in Baton Rouge.

While we were gaining all this momentum, my graduate school acceptances started coming in, and I had to face the fact that I would be leaving. It was terrible at first; I even sort of wished I hadn’t gotten in, that I could just re-apply next year and have one more season with my girls. But the fact that RSRD is so strong now has helped me let go. It’s hard to leave when everything is so amazing, but it’s great to leave full of pride for the team that has given so much to me. Not only do we now have a travel team that we can rightfully call “All Stars,” but we have a home team, the Capitol Offenders, full of incredible skaters in their own right. Just recently, we were accepted as a WFTDA apprentice team, with incredible Houston Roller Derby skater Carmen Geddit as our mentor.

And then, last weekend happened. In my very last bout ever with RSRD, we beat our biggest rivals, Big Easy Roller Girls (their Crescent Wenches team, specifically). The score was 144 to 100. We had never before won against them, and prior to our very recent, overmatched bout with Houston, they were the only WFTDA team we had played. They were the skaters that the founders of RSRD has first seen, and they had always been the ones to learn from, the ones to envy. And I just cannot even begin to describe how incredible it was to skate that bout. Every single skater on that roster did her job, everyone communicated effectively, and the strategies that we had been developing in practice actually worked, over and over. I even felt perfectly happy about my performance, during which I got just what I wanted – mostly blocking as #2, with some jamming. And my team started the bout by having me skate a farewell lap while announcing my departure in words written by my amazing wife, Moxie Balboa (awesome photo of us here). The fact that the bout ended with a tearful, beaming, RSRD victory lap made it an absolutely perfect evening. It was a truly historic moment for RSRD, and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it.

Which makes me think, well, even if no one’s asking me to wear this jersey any more, I might just pull it out and walk around the city in it on those chilly nights when I know my girls are playing the 3-4 bouts that are left in this season. It’ll be close to me under my coat, and will keep me warm.

Photo: Writer’s own, snapped by Rowdy Reeta Ricochet of Magnolia Roller Vixens.

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 222010

Last Saturday, I was on the roster for a bout. I really didn’t doubt I would make the roster, but I was heartstoppingly excited when I saw my name on the list.

The day of the bout, which was against the Acadian Good Times Rollers (a fantastic group of women, by the way), I was pumped and shaky-excited, but not nervous. In fact, I searched myself to find some nervousness, cause I figure that’s healthy-to be nervous before a bout. I was throw-up-your-breakfast nervous for every other bout I‘ve been in. The fact that I wasn’t nervous started to make me nervous. I thought to myself, “This could be the awesomest bout EVER, or I could be going into a dissociative state and therefore will not be able to move off the pivot line on the track cause I‘m catatonic.” To make matters worse, my pride was hurt when I found out I was in only one line up. ONE. UNO. Granted, there are some awesome bitches on my team, I thought I would be needed at least more than once every 5 or 6 jams. My stomach knotted up as I started to have a vague feeling that I wouldn’t get to play very much. If you have never felt it, bless your little heart, cause it is the worst feeling to have to choke back the tantrum you want to have because you are afraid you won’t get to play as much as your little derby heart feels you should. Well, I choked back just such a *small* tantrum. Thank goodness, we definitly didn’t need that drama.

I was in my boutfit, all dolled up. I was in the most extreme boutfit that I have designed yet. My name is Ms Kittie Fantastik and my favorite color is green, so I let these details guide my hand: I chose a green belt, devised green, black, and pink foam ears for my helmet, green fishnets, used green duct tape for my pads, green eye shadow and green sparkles around my eyes, and to top it all off like a derby girl should, tomato red everlasting lipstick. I was dressed to the nines. Reason being, my family from waaaay out of state, not to mention they had been out of my life for years, was here to see derby for the first time, in their lives. I had to represent derby to its very derbyness.

All of my nervousness about being nervous was for nothing. This bout was the best one I have ever had the privilege to play in. Suffice it to say, I was noticed. It’s kinda hard to miss the derby girl with ears on her helmet. I played the best derby I ever have. I was in just about every other jam-or close to it. (My team needed me! Yay!) I jammed 3 jams (yes, I counted) and I was the lead jammer twice. I even scored points! All this seems like small potatoes to many blockers, jammers, blammers, whatever, but it is a huge deal for me. I am a non-athlete. I mean, I WAS a non athlete, but now I am a derby player. I skated my best at this bout.

I won’t regale you with all my little stories, memories, etc. But, I have to tell you this. Because it is my favorite part. So, I was lining up on the pivot line. I was the pivot. I was so high off of the adrenaline and endorphins from the joy of bouting, that I was grinning manically, have a great time. Maul-her Mae from the Acadian Good Times Rollers skated to the line and started to get set. She just looks at me and kind of sighs, “You’re just going to hit me, aren’t you?” I laughed and said something about this being all for fun or something. I felt supremely satisfied that I, a skater only since last October, could inspire such dejection in an opposing skater. I take Mae’s statement as one of the sweetest compliments that I could have received. Thanks Mae!

Photo Credit: Cajun Eject-her, RSRD Bout Poster