KRR, my roller derby team, asked me to write an article for the Helsinki Pride blog on their behalf. I did, and it was published there. I’m quite proud as it’s the first time I write for something else than a personal blog! I’m also publishing the article on this blog because… well, because I can 🙂
“What makes roller derby so queer?” someone asked me the other day. Well, I’m not a sociologist or any type of expert, so I cannot really answer this question. Roller derby is mainly played by women and, unlike “traditionally feminine sports” like ballet or gymnastics, it has a very strong, violent and painful (#derbykisses) image, so I understand why it’s closely linked to feminism. But the LGBTQ community? Apparently being a badass on roller skates attracts a certain crowd, because the fact still stands: roller derby is hella gay!
We have a reputation (“Oh, the lesbian sport!”), and as a skater myself I can only confirm that the reputation doesn’t lie. In my league alone, Kallio Rolling Rainbow (one of the two Helsinki leagues), most of our skaters & officials stand somewhere on the queer spectrum. Between the trans kids and the lesbian couples I’m genuinely surprised when somebody turns out to be straight & cisgender. Maybe it’s the rainbow in our logo which attracts them – I know it worked for me. Seeing a team with such a proud queer image somehow made me think that it would be a safe space for me. And it is, to an extent I could never have imagined!
In KRR, we have this work group named “Equity and Queer Feminism”, which aims at promoting a safe environment for all, especially queer people who are too often overlooked in traditional sports. A few months ago, we received an official note from this group reminding everybody that when we don’t know for sure the gender of a skater or an official (not based on their looks or name), we should always use neutral pronouns to refer to them. We were also asked to not call skaters using some generic gendered expressions like “Girls!”. Even though I don’t identify as trans myself, I felt overjoyed to see this note for all my friends who get misgendered on a daily basis.
It makes me happy to know that you can practice a great sport, meet new friends and have fun in an environment where people will respect you for who you are. For me, it means not having the spike of fear before I casually mention my girlfriend, for others it means not having to explain what queergender means (or hiding it altogether) and instead being comfortable asking people to use their preferred pronouns.
Of course nobody is perfect, and some KRR members admit that they still struggle to use neutral pronouns as the default option, but the fact is that everybody is trying. In a world where people are sometimes ridiculed for simply acknowledging the existence of queergender people (see: my last family dinner), it’s already a giant’s step.
And of course, the fact that my team put queer feminism at the core of its identity does not reflect all roller derby teams’ ideologies. But hopefully it will make it a safe place for more people and it will inspire other leagues to be more welcoming to all their members.
So maybe this is the answer. Maybe queer people are attracted to roller derby, at least partly, because it is a safe place for them. Which is quite ironic considering the high risk of physical injuries! I talked at length about my team in this article, but we’re not an isolated case. Even the official Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Association clearly states that trans women, intersex women and genderqueer people are welcome in its ranks. So even though there are a lot of straight & cis people in roller derby too, I feel like there’s a common “queer culture” that encourages LGBTIQ people to join because they know they will be more welcome here than in traditional sports.
The picture is KRR during the Helsinki Pride 2016, and taken by me.