Rough and tumble love of roller derby
It was at rollercon in glittering Las Vegas that i witnessed my first lesbian marriage proposal. At half-time of the Vagine Regime vs Caulksuckers’ annual face-off, a handful of the best roller derby players in the world gathered at the centre of the elliptical track.
Strumming ukuleles and guitars, they played for the small crowd at their feet and the thousands packed into the convention hall. Then one of the Vagine Regime skaters — who goes by the moniker Fifi Nomenon — dropped to one knee in front of her girlfriend — Sweethurt. The crowd erupted into cheers, and I stood there watching, teary-eyed, grinning into my hands.
I credit the roller derby community with helping me discover and nurture my queer identity and my inclusive politics. The strong and powerful role models I have had throughout my derby journey have made me the confident queer woman I am now — and I am far from the only one.
Often called ‘the sport for those who hate sport’, roller derby attracts a diverse bunch of people. Here, we find a welcoming home among the ranks of skaters, officials and fans that make up the world’s roller derby leagues.
Roller derby is popular Australia wide, with over eighty-nine leagues in women’s, men’s, co-ed and junior categories.
“The derby community is amazing, and I love the accepting and alternative vibe it has,” says Elliot Alder, who skates as Curly for the Canberra Roller Derby League. “It is a place where [people] can express themselves as they wish and be with people doing the same. It’s a place filled with amazing strong people. It’s a sport that is a little weird and queer just like them.”
“Honestly, I feel I learned about the majority of my identity through derby. Playing roller derby gave me a new pride in my body and the things it could do.”
While many consider roller derby to be a queer oasis, it has not always been that way, particularly for trans and gender-diverse skaters. Fifi Nomenon, now wife to Sweethurt, joined the WFTDA before any official gender policies regarding league members had been put in place. As a trans woman, she experienced every aching step the WFTDA took toward gender inclusivity.
In 2011, the WFTDA announced a gender policy which included a deeply problematic definition of ‘female’ that required trans women skaters to meet certain medical criteria regarding sex hormones. Disregarded were those skaters who were unable to access such interventions or did not wish to undertake them. Thankfully, this definition has since been trashed. As of 2016, a new policy is in place that says that skaters can join as long as ‘women’s flat track roller derby is the version and composition of roller derby with which they most closely identify.’
For those unsure of taking the plunge into the derby scene, Curly’s advice is simple. “Do it! Trust me you can do it, and it really doesn’t matter if you can’t roller skate. Yes, it is scary but so incredibly amazing and worth every single bruise! And if you can’t do derby, try getting involved by becoming a ref or a non-skating official.”
Roller Derby is a full contact team sport, played on roller skates. There are two teams of 5 skaters, FOUR of which are Blockers and 1 is the Jammer. Jammers score points by passing the opposing team’s blockers.
Sydney Roller Derby League
A dynamic, all-inclusive, full contact team sport striving for empowerment, athleticism and, above all, fun. sydneyrollerderby.com
Canberra Roller Derby
League Season starts April each year at Southern Cross Stadium in Tuggeranong. crdl.com.au
Victorian Roller Derby League
Consists of three awesome teams: All Stars, Queen Bees and Notorious VIC’s. vrdl.org
Photo: Canberra Roller Derby League by Brett Sargeant, D-Eye Photography deyephotography.com
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