When we think about acknowledging and celebrating International Women’s Day in our sport, we might have a really specific and pre-determined idea of the people it ought to apply to. But it’s worth rethinking for so many reasons.
Let’s be real, though, at the core of our passion is roller derby – its play, its range and its community.
When WFTDA made an announcement about the shift in their gender policy last year, a bunch of things changed. It shifted how sports have acknowledged the ways that gender identity can inform the rights of people to access it. And it seemed to get to the heart of the issue, by putting to the front the people that need the support and potential safe space of roller derby most.
The statement has a few key points:
An individual who identifies as a trans woman, intersex woman, and/or gender expansive may skate with a WFTDA charter team if women’s flat track roller derby is the version and composition of roller derby with which they most closely identify.
This new statement means so many good things for our sport. For a start, it’s a statement, not a policy – which means that it sets core standards for action in the community of this sport, but it’s also not about policing or scrutinizing the gender identity of its participants. Which is a pretty crucial thing in fostering the kind of sporting environment that really encourages good game play, and safe space.
Which is why it’s also important that a commitment to ongoing education and putting in work to create that safe space goes hand in hand. In fact, I’d go as far to say that to not make that commitment would have left an empty promise hanging in the air it was spoken into, always inevitably letting down the people who need it most.
The WFTDA will actively work to promote a climate that is welcoming and inclusive of transgender, intersex, and gender expansive participants. Any conduct which fosters a hostile environment for any participant on the basis of gender identity will not be tolerated.
What it means, though, is that celebrating this day within our sport doesn’t have to mean we go from a ‘gynocentric-only’ approach, to a ‘hey we’re all humans’ universalism right away. In fact, this would be a huge mis-step that risks the care and safety that the people most affected by it deserve.
In part, this is because the ‘human’ move takes us back to the nasty little sleight of hand that ‘color blindness’ does – it doesn’t actually critique or remove the way gender (or in the ‘color blind’ instance, race) operate in the world, it just eliminates our ability to engage directly with it and so continues to allow it to operate in punitive ways.
But also because we lose all of the subtlety of differences between people that identify specifically as non-binary, intersex, gender-expansive, or any number of other kinds of identities as a category. They aren’t ‘just human’, these terms are actually incredibly meaningful for those people. They also allow people to be respected and acknowledged when we take up the pronouns and terms that they inhabit in the world – it’s really impossible to explain how important that can be for a multitude of reasons.
So when we look at the sport that is encompassed by the WFTDA with this new statement, we can see the ways that that shift that happened late last year has affected some people’s ability to play. A shift in identity, or a need to claim a new one, shouldn’t have to deprive anyone of the ability to play.
When I think about the people who now have the ability to access this sport, or to fully engage with a sport from the gender location they need to inhabit, it genuinely warms my heart to think that we’re no longer letting them down, but are committed to welcoming them on every front. These people are our teammates present and future, and they’re people who not only deserve the ability to engage with roller derby, but we as players should commit to supporting every teammate to be everything they are, and to do so on the track beside us.
But perhaps it’s worth taking a moment to return to the original intentions of the date; to focus on, to appreciate and account for, and to give a day for the specific needs and rights of people that play under the term ‘Women’ in our sport.
Under the broader term of those who identify with a sport played under the Womens Flat Track Derby Association, we can celebrate all of our achievements. And also the ways that we all need to be cared for and acknowledged. We can fight for and support and celebrate the full range of players, officials, and volunteers that make up the sport we know and love.
And this can be done in a range of relatively simple, but essential ways.
So let’s stop assuming pronouns – ask everyone. Let’s make sure our bathrooms don’t require a gender identity to pee safely – even if it feels hard in a particular venue. Let’s support people’s needs to take time off or pause to negotiate trauma or body dysmorphia or mental health or safety. Check in on the words that apply to different people’s bodies, and embrace the fact that none of our identities are static and never-changing things.
How about we aim for less alienation, and more affirmation. But don’t get lost in relentless positivity, when people might be trying to make the sport a better place by acknowledging the places that need more work. And while you’re at it, feel free to read and read and learn and ask questions (respectfully, and probably from internet searches, because no one’s life should have to be your teachable moment).
Meanwhile, we hope you have an incredible day honoring the many ways that ‘woman’ is constructed, de-constructed, and related to on this day, within and without our fabulous sport. Happy International Women’s Day, roller derby – whatever your relationship is to that term.