On Tuesday, November 10th, 2015, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) announced an expansion to their gender policy for our sport. Whereas the original policy, progressive at the time, dictated how gender non-conforming players could qualify as female within the organization, WFTDA has now implemented non-discrimination rules for all transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming individuals who want to participate in women’s flat track roller derby.
This decision is important, but I don’t think I can speak broadly as to why — because I consider gender to be very personal. It’s individual, it’s fluid, and it defines itself as it feels it should. My sense of “female” can be similar or vastly different from another person’s. Roller derby played an integral part to my transition, so I wanted to share my story.
“Congratulations, it’s a boy!” the doctor declared.
Coming out was a time-bomb waiting to happen for over two decades. I never felt comfortable in my own skin growing up. I could never really express this because, growing up as a Southern boy in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, these kinds of things weren’t discussed. I remember nights when I prayed to God to change me, but life is never that simple. There was no divine intervention, so I did the next best thing: I buried it deep within me and was ready to take it to the grave.
Of course, this mentality was merely a Band-Aid solution used to fix a much larger leak. So, I turned to my primary outlet: writing online. On the internet, I had no picture or sound to conform me to this physical reality. I simply wrote and existed as myself with no inhibition or restraints. I was this crazed spirit whose hilariously bizarre plotlines and characters explored questions of identity, the chaos of the universe, and unachievable dreams. Eventually this online persona became simply known as “Craze”, coined by my longtime friend, Mak. “Craze” represented the part of me that stayed private and never saw the light of day.
Six months after coming out, I was back in my hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, having moved about four times in that interim. My therapist finally approved hormone therapy for me but, as we’re all told, hormones are only part of a solution. My body would slowly adapt and take on feminine characteristics, but I still looked in the mirror and saw this depressed, scared boy still coping with the chaotic reality of her current situation. Truthfully, I was terrified to express myself in public, not even with my (very supportive) friends and family. That deep-rooted shame I felt in my childhood was a wall too tall to climb and too thick to tear down. Honestly, at that point in my life, I couldn’t have told you where I’d be in a month. I couldn’t even have guaranteed you I’d be alive.
In June 2014, I was recruited by my first league, discovering I could play women’s roller derby if I wanted to, thanks to WFTDA’s gender policy circa 2012. I knew nothing of the sport, but I also had no reason to turn the offer down. The thought of being a participant in a women’s sport was too good to be true. The coaching staff was very supportive and kept my transgender status private, since I was going through training presenting as largely male. Until I felt comfortable opening up, I originally toyed with simply being a referee.
But then a strange thing happened: I began to… feel confident in myself? Although this is a common byproduct of team sports and weight loss, it took on new meaning once I came out to my teammates one by one. Hearing “she” out loud for the first time immediately brought the reaction, “Holy crap, am I being gendered correctly?” Then despite my anxiety, I started to wear leggings to practice. No one batted an eye. Any fear of being ostracized or criticized for being trans quickly ebbed away the more I confidently tested the waters of my identity. Finally, I went to the coaching staff and declared:
“I want to be a skater.” A female skater.
All of the milestones in my transition are connected to derby. The first time I presented female in public was my first derby bout in Lafayette, Louisiana. The first time I felt comfortable using a women’s bathroom without the (outlandish and silly) fear of others’ screaming and pointing fingers was at a practice. By the time I was graduating fresh-meat-training, I came out to the world publicly.
My old league even created their own discrimination policy wherein, if anyone gendered me incorrectly (which, to be fair, occasionally happens to the best of us), the initiator had to do 10 burpees per male pronoun. If there were a few stragglers still struggling to see me as a woman, they got on board pretty quickly.
“I just wanted to let you know that I think you are a particularly tall girl” – an audience member who saw me play in Birmingham, Alabama.
The derby community is very inclusive, and this new ruling only helps strengthen this characteristic. I am surrounded by teammates, both near and far, who only want me to be the best “me” possible. It doesn’t matter I am playing in a warehouse in Louisiana or at a skating rink in Illinois; no team or audience questions my gender expression. They only affirm the woman that I am.
Thanks to roller derby, my gender was no longer in flux, stalling me from achieving my desired sense of self. In fact, my notion of femininity altered the more I played. I found that accepting myself as female meant that I wanted to be physically stronger. That’s why I chose “Craze” to be my derby name. That name used to represent the part of myself that I hid from the world. And now “Craze” means the part of me that fights to stay true to myself. Derby had that effect on me. I want that to continue for the next scared individual, yet to discover the warm acceptance and nurturing atmosphere of our community.
A big thanks to EOS photography for the photograph too!
After the wildly successful Hambingo in July, we’re back at Hamburger Mary’s this month again for another Hambingo! It’ll be just as, if not, more fun than the last. There will be a lot of us, a lot of you, drink specials, jello shots, and fabulous prizes!
Join the Chicago Outfit at Hamburger Mary’s Bar and Grille on Sunday, November 15, 2015 for a Bingo Night!
Located at 5400 N. Clark Street, you’ll be able to play Bingo with your favorite derby girls from 8-10pm. Only $15 for 10 games, and an additional $10 for playing two tickets at once.
Proceeds from the night will help us with our 2016 Travel Season!
There will be drink specials, Jello shots, and pre-sale tickets available for the Chicago Outfit’s 2016 season, so come on down and try your luck!
See you there!
I once filmed a wedding in New Orleans that always stood out to me. The groom was from Brazil. The bride was from New Orleans. Where did they meet? In Italy. They just so happened to be at the same college for the same summer program during the same semester. People from two different hemispheres met in another part of the world.
At some point, we should take a step back and chuckle at the way life works out. The universe is funny like that. Who would’ve guessed that two engineers gave birth to a filmmaker? Or that two years ago I never knew that derby existed? Hell, I joined Red Stick Roller Derby based on the mere suggestion of All-Star captain and co-worker Little Miss Maggot. “You should join derby,” she said. “Okay,” I replied. That’s all it took.
Yes, but why did you join The Family? I’m not sure how to put it into words. All I see are random happenstance:
- An old college friend reconnected with me out of the blue. She suggested I move to the city, and 24 hours later I bought a plane ticket to visit.
- I messaged a few derby leagues in the area; Red from The Outfit was the first to message me back.
- The Outfit was the first practice I went to in Illinois. Immediately after, I canceled all other leagues’ visits.
- An old teammate took over my lease, allowing me to move to the city in September.
No really, why did you join The Family?
I never lived anywhere outside of Louisiana. I was always within an hour of my family. I had no reason to move, having found a successful career as a local filmmaker in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana. In January, I had no intention of leaving.
By September, I was here.
I’ve spent nearly two hours now trying to encapsulate why I moved to Chicago and became an Outfit skater, but it’s simply impossible to express in words. In a strange way, the universe brought me here because my gut always told me that Louisiana was not where I needed to be. I simply showed up to my first Outfit practice and everything clicked. It’s like a new friend that you immediately connect with. The pieces fell into place. Truthfully, it took moving across the country to finally hear and understand these words fully:
“Welcome home.” This was why I joined The Family
Tonight, 10/26, is our final night of the 2015 Bootcamps. We hope you all have had a great time learning the basic skills for the WFTDA and that you’ll hopefully come out to show them off for us. All details can be found below or on Facebook:
The Chicago Outfit will be hosting tryouts! Come see if you’ve got what it takes to join the family!
Dates: 11/1 and 11/2 (Come to one or both.)
Sunday 9pm – 11pm
Monday 7:30pm – 10:30pm
Location: Fleetwood Roller Rink
7231 Archer Avenue
Summit Argo, IL 60501
Skaters 18 and older are welcome to come and try out even if they didn’t come to the recent recruitment boot camps.
You will be tested against WFTDA minimum skills and additional skills that were taught throughout the boot camps.
WFTDA minimum skills can be found here: http://wftda.com/
All attendees will be required to bring the following items to each session. If you do not have all the required safety gear, you will not be allowed to skate:
-Quad skates (speed skates, not inline)
-Government-issued picture identification, such as driver’s license, State ID, or passport (first-time attendees only)
*must have hard protective shell or inserts
We require members of our league to purchase skater insurance through the WFTDA, but WFTDA insurance is not required for tryouts. Instead, there will be a waiver you will be required to fill out.
We hope to see you all out at Fleetwood Sunday or Monday or both! Good Luck out there!!!
At the end of May this year, I challenged myself to step out of my comfort zone and follow my dream of skating for the Outfit. As much time as I spent with my former league, I never truly developed a sense of belonging and I was no longer feeling challenged so I finally decided to pursue a league transfer. I received a lot of support from my teammates and friends, both new and old, and had an entire league of Outfit skaters supporting me through this very big, emotional transition. Transferring was a very difficult decision that took me years to commit to but I’m glad I did.
Joining the Outfit has been an amazing experience. From my first day, everyone has been very inviting, encouraging, and friendly. I am developing a strong bond with the women in this league and each one of them inspires me to push myself to be a better me. In the few short months I’ve been skating with the Outfit, I can feel myself becoming a stronger skater, a better teammate, and an all around more confident person. I have looked up to many Outfit skaters for most of my derby career and I am proud to say I am now one of them.
It’s coming up on my one year anniversary of meeting The Outfit. Life is so completely random, but sometimes you’ve just got to go with it! A year ago I found myself walking into Fleetwood to attend my first Chicago Outfit Roller Derby Bootcamp. I’d never seen derby except for that one movie that I like. I found the Outfit through a close friend and NSO, Tardis. At the time, I was pretty physically fit, and up for a little challenge. My work schedule was and is crazy and I never thought I’d actually be able to commit to going, but with bribery, I was able to commit to the next 4 weeks of Outfit’s bootcamp.
I walked into Fleetwood to Mimi Furst’s smiling face and Undead Miss Red being all about the business. I was nervous. Excitement didn’t come until after that first night, then it was all fear, nerves, and a lot of mental encouragement like, ‘fuck!’, ‘fuck it and do it!’, ‘Ok, Slow the fuck down bruh’, and ‘Uuuugh’. I came equipped with my fancy $67 Sport Authority skates, my borrowed from the Fleetwood closet elbow pads, Puck’s helmet (THANKS PUCK!), and knee pads that were really probably only meant for speed skating (I didn’t know). I thought I had everything until I realized I didn’t have a mouthguard. It was this moment that I knew I was here to stay, whether I made the team or not. While Mimi and a few others were trying to find this irresponsible puppy a mouthguard, I was watching these badass athlete’s run drills. One of the veterans skated over and let me use her mouthguard; this was family. After I watched her play I didn’t feel worthy, but that was the start of my first Outfit Roller Derby Bootcamp.
I didn’t know how to skate and I made sure I let every Outfit coach know that just in case they told everyone to go west and I went south. Getting me to bootcamp was me, but me coming back was them. They were all so nice and patient. Not to say I didn’t expect that, but I didn’t. They could’ve easily skipped over the girls with hardly any skill (like me), but they didn’t. Each one of the coaches took their time with all of us. Drills were split up nicely. I remember Shima working with me on my plow stops. We did them 3 times. The first one looked like a baby goat in mud but each one after that got better. I remember Crotchie trying to teach me checks then putting me and V.V. next to the Fleetwood wall to get shit right. L.D. having me jump over things and turns out that was one of the only things that came with ease for me.
Every Bootcamp I went to I felt myself getting better. In between Bootcamps I somehow found myself at Fleetwood almost everyday of the week during open skate. This experience could’ve ended differently if I had met any other team first. I am really grateful it was the Outfit I fell into, literally. Since Bootcamp I’ve improved so much, and played in 4 different games during this past season. No experience necessary really means just that, if you have the heart you can absolutely make it through.
All Bootcamp details can be found here