But What About Derby? On Finding Non-Binary Space in This Sport

But What About Derby? On Finding Non-Binary Space in This Sport Photo credit: Joe Mac

“But what about derby?”

That question has been, without a doubt, the hardest question to figure out an answer to through all of this. And the one question for which I built my life around over the last 5 years, to not have to answer.

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I went through my 3rd round of eating disorder recovery. I applied to jobs after school that would give me availability on nights and weekends. I went to school at OSU for a bachelor’s degree in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism with a focus in Environmental Education, interned at the local Metro Parks, and still didn’t pursue a naturalist job with my degree because I knew it would conflict with my derby schedule. I eventually opened Next Level Skate Shop in Columbus. I pursued healthy ways to maintain my income alongside my mental health. I started pursuing my personal training certification. I took on extra responsibilities with the league to help it grow and progress.

I put off testosterone. I put off top surgery.

Because, “what about derby?”

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Roller derby didn’t save my soul.
It motivated me to save my own soul because, if I didn’t, I couldn’t fulfill the potential that, somehow, some way, I knew was there. And so, I did.

Roller derby didn’t save my soul.

It resurrected me from some dark place where, honestly, I wasn’t sure there was any coming back from.

It motivated me to save my own soul because, if I didn’t, I couldn’t fulfill the potential that, somehow, some way, I knew was there. And so, I did.

Up until I started playing derby, I honestly hadn’t felt like I’d done anything in my life that felt like it was wholly mine.

From being a life-long Girl Scout (I graduated to adult scouting after having been a part of the program since Kindergarten) and international scouting, to AP Calculus and National Honors society.

From AAA travel ice hockey to track and field and swimming and softball and travel soccer.

Most everything I did was fueled by a deep, burdensome, painful belief that “I’m not good enough.”… “I am not enough.” … “There is something inherently wrong with me.”… “I have something to prove.” But I’ll spare you all my psychoanalytic thoughts on where these core beliefs stem from (that’s between my therapist and me).

I will tell you that, for the first time, derby asked me to take ownership for myself in ways I’d never experienced.

Derby told me, “You have to stop shrinking yourself if you want to succeed. You have to fuck up if you want to get better.”

There was no playing it safe in roller derby if I wanted to actually get to the next level of play.

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I did have something to prove. But only to myself.

And that was, “I survived. And I want to thrive. I CAN thrive.”

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One of the biggest concepts I took away from derby after my first year skating was “owning my space”.

It became bigger than just being strong in my position on the track. It translated to all aspects of my life.

To me, it meant –  Don’t apologize for being in the world.

“Owning my space” became bigger than just being strong in my position on the track. It translated to all aspects of my life.
To me, it meant –  Don’t apologize for being in the world.

It meant – Own your mistakes. Don’t hide from them… Just figure out what you need to change next time and do that instead.

Own the energy you bring to the room you’re in, your relationships, and the world around you.

Own your ideas and your thoughts.

It meant – Be sure in who you are.

It meant really seeing myself for the first time.

And for someone that constantly wanted to disappear and who couldn’t even look at themselves in the mirror or touch themselves in the shower, those were some pretty earth shattering concepts.

So I went back to therapy. I saw a nutritionist. I started focusing on eating disorder recovery, when an eating disorder was all I had known. A body that was “less than” was all I had become accustomed to living in.

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A year or two down the line, I was getting pretty heavily into the Tumblr community and I discovered something that I did not know existed in the world: the term, “non-binary”.

I knew what it meant to be transgender. I had a few transgender friends, even! But for some reason, the idea never resonated with me until I could look close enough and hard enough at my own experiences with my body that I found something that resonated.

It took a very serendipitous series of events to get to a place where I realized, “Holy shit. THAT’S what this is.” I realized that my incredibly painful and convoluted emotional and cognitive turmoil throughout my life transcended the world of eating disorder behaviors and thought patterns.

Something they don’t tell you when you get hospitalized for an eating disorder is that it could be for any infinite number of reasons that you ended up in that place.

Never once during my hospital stay and subsequent partial hospitalization/intensive outpatient stays did we take a deeper look at gender. Never once did we take a look at my home environment or the “root” of my eating disorder. What a world of difference that could have made for me for the next 10 years of my life.

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So now, today, in this moment, I am an out and proud trans skater with Ohio Roller Derby who, more or less, has their emotional shit together.

Most days.

And I am owning my space. I am owning who I am. And I am choosing to step proudly into that.

Even if it doesn’t align with what people think a trans skater in women’s roller derby might look like.

And I am owning my space. I am owning who I am. And I am choosing to step proudly into that.
Even if it doesn’t align with what people think a trans skater in women’s roller derby might look like.

It’s been a journey. And it will always be a journey. It’s never been about the destination.

And that, my friends, is why I said “Yes. I will finally start taking testosterone”, 9 months ago.

And why I also, just this morning, scheduled my date for top surgery in November

Because I am no longer going to put off who I am and how I need to live in the world.

And because I don’t think that stepping into those things proudly means that I need to stop skating competitively. On the contrary, I think it means that the visibility for skaters who are masculine of center is more crucial for me now than ever.

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I can’t say that derby itself changed my life.

I changed my life.

But I changed my life because I wanted to commit all of myself to derby.

I can’t say that derby itself changed my life.
I changed my life.
But I changed my life because I wanted to commit all of myself to derby.

Because when I skate, I know that I have finally, finally found the one place that feels like home.

Photo credit: Joe Mac

Photo credit: Joe Mac