Tag Archives: transphobia

Roller Derby: Women of All Sizes, Shapes, and Birth Genders

a fraught roller derby moment

Laurie and Debbie say:

We were struck by @frogmouth_inc’s Twitter rant about transwomen in sports. Frogmouth, Inc. makes roller derby uniforms and related stuff, in an extraordinary range of sizes (3XS to 6XL!).

We keep hearing this idea that anyone assigned male at birth, e.g. trans women, non-binary people, gender non compliant people, is automatically bigger and stronger than anyone assigned female at birth and that anyone assigned male at birth therefore has an automatic, and potentially dangerous, physical advantage over anyone assigned female at birth. …

Roller derby is predominantly a women’s sport, and has welcomed anyone who identifies as a player of women’s sports—e.g trans women, intersex people, and others—for a very long time. Because we make all those uniforms, we have excellent data on what the size distribution of roller derby players is, both worldwide, and on a team-by-team basis. That size distribution is extraordinary. …

Some people playing roller derby are much shorter than average, some people are much taller than average, some people are more muscular, some people are less muscular, and every possible permutation of those variables you can imagine, and that big, multi-dimensional spectrum of shapes and sizes has exactly no correspondence with sex assigned at birth.

How do we know? Because we also make uniforms for men’s roller derby teams—i.e. teams where most players were assigned male at birth—and we see demand for the same wide range of sizes.

We are especially pleased to see this ar in the context of roller derby, perhaps the most violent and physical female-dominated sport. Watch any roller derby video and you’ll see physical contact that would not be out of place on an American football field. You’ll also see competitive energy to the max, and no shortage of injuries, some of them very serious. As Frogmouth states, this style permeates the whole sport, not a few identifiable trans women somehow dominating a “weaker” field of cis women.

For a good history of roller derby from the viewpoint of inclusivity, see Gabriele Puglise’s article last year in Folklife, “Roller Derby for Everybody: A History and Culture of Inclusivity.”

Derby has been a more inclusive sport than most since its beginning. The leagues were always co-ed, welcoming openly gay players and all ethnicities. Each game was played by men and women in alternating periods, with their combined scores determining the winner. Although men and women only competed against their respective genders, they were always playing by the same rules. This was unique for the time, and still is today, as many women’s sports are modified versions traditionally male ones.

However, early derby could not escape systematic sexism, as the yearly salaries of men eclipsed those of women by $10,000 to 15,000. Despite this, derby women remained the highest paid female athletes for decades, often earning between $25,000 and $30,000 a year.

Puglisi knows what she’s talking about:

During the first few practices, coaches repeat the phrase, “Derby is for everybody.” Many prospective skaters assume they don’t have the “right” body type to play the game. I quickly found that such a thing doesn’t exist. I’m barely five feet tall and had never played a contact sport before, and (on a good day) I can push people twice my size. I’m low enough to the ground to drive my shoulder into their thighs and destabilize them.

But leaving roller derby aside, Frogmouth Inc. puts other sports on the spot:

What we see in roller derby, is that, even at the very highest levels of the sport, sex assigned at birth makes little to no difference, and certainly not enough to be a decisive advantage by itself. Most of the greatest roller derby players are people who were assigned female at birth. They play with and against trans women all the time, without difficulty.

And, as for safety, if your sport is so poorly organized that you cannot protect people with different body types from one another, than you have a problem that is not about gender. In short, trans women are women, trans girls are girls, and roller derby proves that trans women belong in women’s sports. Do not be fooled. People attacking trans women in sports are not defending sports; they are just attacking trans women.

Volleyball, track & field, basketball, we’re looking at you. If roller derby can demonstrate this, you can follow suit.

Thanks to @notimnotandrei for the pointer to the Frogmouth piece.


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Trans Rights are Human Rights


Debbie says:

One of the right wing’s most potent strategies against us is their ability to keep moving the needle, and make it so hard for us to focus. The outrage of the day is surpassed by the outrage of the next day, and everyone’s eyes follow the action.

Thus, I want to be really sure not to lose track of the current administration’s claim that it will erase the existence of trans people altogether, using an executive order to declare that “genitals at birth” are a permanent marker of a person’s legal gender.

First, this hasn’t happened yet, though I have no doubt that it’s a genuine plan and they will try to make it happen.

Second, it’s impossible. Sports oversight bodies have been trying for decades to clearly and fairly identify sex and gender, and they have never succeeded. And they are dealing with adults. When the White House uses genitals “at birth,” they erase all kinds of intersex people, including those who are identified female at birth and then have testicles descend at puberty. It won’t work.

However, if enacted, this policy will cause endless pain, suffering, and discrimination to many of the one million or more trans and nonbinary people in the U.S., and will inevitably cause a large number of unnecessary deaths: from people who are unwilling to seek medical attention, from suicide, and more. It is a disgusting, inhuman policy–exactly what we expect from the current people in power in our country.

Since doing nothing is perpetuating evil, I commend Christianna Silva and Lucy Diavolo’s article in Teen Vogue, How to Help Transgender People Fight the Trump Administration’s Policy Memo.

First, they say, Vote! If you feel like you’re hearing this message a lot, it’s because (whether or not your heart is with the American two-party system), it’s the most important thing you can do right now to fight the nationalist, authoritarian movement trying to completely take over our country.

Next, reach out to your transgender and nonbinary friends:

If you have trans friends, cook them a meal, buy them a present, or visit their house to help with chores like laundry and cleaning — things that can fall by the wayside when you spend all day in bed crying. Demonstrating tangible support for trans people is a way to let them know they’re not alone.

Here, I’m going to depart from the order they present, because I think this is crucial. They say, donate directly to trans people, especially trans women of color.

Rewire.News reporter Katelyn Burns put out a call for crowdfunds on October 21, and it’s a great place to start looking for people whose lives you can impact now. Similarly, hashtags like #transcrowdfund on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr are full of folks brave enough to ask for help.

Note that last sentence; it does take courage to ask for help, and courage deserves response.

Then, call your representatives at the federal, state and local levels. This doesn’t work so much for me, because I live in the heart of the blue bubble (and to the left of the blue bubble) and all of my elected officials are in at least basic sympathy with trans people’s right to exist and thrive. But it might work for you, so take it seriously.

Educate yourself, then educate your friends and family.

Read up on transgender rights in the U.S. and across the world, and then send some of your favorite resources over to your friends and family. Call and text the cis people in your life about accepting and supporting trans folks. Talk to your cis peers about how you can support the transgender people in your community.

Learning the language is a key step toward being able to effectively advocate for trans people’s rights, and getting to know the issues trans people face on your own will save them a lot of explaining.

Donate to trans-led organizations, especially local ones. They offer good links which you can go find, if you haven’t spent all your disposable cash on the #transcrowdfund sites.

And, finally, stay involved, especially as the new federal policies enter public comment periods.

“Many proposed changes to federal regulations, like the one written about in today’s New York Times, have to go through something called ‘notice and comment,’” [ACLU attorney Chase] Strangio explained. “So, through mail, people are able to say what they think about a federal rule. This is a huge opportunity for citizen engagement, because even if it doesn’t impact the administration’s decision, it will be easier for pro-LGBTQ+ organizations to argue in court that the measure is discriminatory.”

We are connected human beings who owe each other thought and care. If you’re cis, this is your chance to be part of the response. If you’re trans or nonbinary, you’re in my heart.

Follow me on Twitter @spicejardebbie