Congratulations! It’s a Girl
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!