Rollergrrls: Rolling bi…

BCN 101 cover

This originally appeared in BCN issue 101, July 2010

Descriptions of roller derby are as diverse as the women who play it. As part of the Birmingham Blitz Dames it strikes me as a combination of rugby and Mexican wrestling… on wheels. How does bisexuality fit into this combination of physicality and high camp?

In any game of roller derby there are two teams of five people. One person from each team is called the jammer; whose job is to get around the track as many times as possible scoring points. The four others on each team are called the blockers; their job is preventing the other team’s jammer getting around. Blockers may use any part of their bodies below the shoulder and above the knee for this – although elbows & fists are off limits, a smart hip check is enough to send anyone to the floor. It’s not a sport for the timid.

As much as men’s sport is a macho world that invisiblises any queer element, women’s sport works almost in reverse. If femininity is coiffed, perfumed and never breaks a sweat, then anything that has women training to be the fastest, strongest or most enduring is unavoidably going to be pretty queer. Any sportswoman will be quick to tell you that her sport is not a watered down version of anything men play. Rollergirls are no different: sit ups, pushups, squats and starjumps are doled out regularly for not listening to the coach or trying anything less than your hardest. Practices revolve around laps, drills and strength exercises. Injuries happen, and bruises are worn with pride.

The sheer brute force of roller derby is matched by the tendency towards high camp. Uniforms are rarely standardized as grassroots teams only have access to what they can afford, so customizations are as gaudy as scissors, fabric and a sewing machine will allow. Skater names are chosen for comedy as much as memorability. Within any league there are those who play with a mind to become an elite athlete, those who dedicate more time to costumes than squats at home, and everything in between.

Mimey Vice referees for the Blitz Dames, she recognizes the queer element as a major attraction of for the sport: “Perhaps that’s our particular selling point then, that you’re welcome if you’re LB or T, because the queer element IS definitely an aspect of the derby community.” In a contact sport touching is as much of the game as anything else. On wheels however, the safest way to move another team member quickly will usually involve hand to bum contact. Even though plenty of straight women play roller derby, practices are marked by a noticeably flirty atmosphere. Fear of touching other women just doesn’t work in a sport where in a pile-up you don’t know which part of whose anatomy might end up on your face.

In the Big Derby Survey, 24% of respondents identified as lesbian or bisexual. Mimey says “It’s not like there happen to be gay women in our ranks who just aren’t discriminated against, there is an actively queer element.”

Fritz Klein would have a field day at any derby practice session. With his definition of bisexuality covering sexual attractions, sexual behavior, sexual fantasies, emotional preference, social preference, lifestyle and self-identification, any practice session, with accompanying husbands and wives present immediately ticks two of his seven boxes before even asking in detail about most women’s self-definitions. Mimey sums it up when she says “I think what I’m saying is that everyone is accepted regardless of orientation and leanings, but in a Do Ask, Do Tell way. We are ACTIVELY accepting of diversity, and of exploration, of shades of grey.”

I know that when I joined the Dames I felt welcomed as soon as I came in. This was partially due to spraining my ankle in the first 20 minutes and therefore getting a great deal of attention at once. But in my time sitting out with an icepack I also gossiped about girlfriends (including swapping pictures) with another dame. This is a space where the sport is paramount, but the flipside of that is that who you snog doesn’t matter as long as you play your hardest on track .

“You know how it feels at gay events? That particular out outness? Such a relaxing justbeingme-ness? I get that feeling at the derby events, only with fewer actively gay peoples. Which must mean the intensity of the acceptance is even stronger in the derby world!!!” I agree with Mimey here. Except I’d say that it’s the feeling I get at BiCon.

 

The Purpletrator plays as blocker for Sirens team with the Birmingham Blitz Dames League. For more information on UK roller derby, go to http://blitzdames.com/links.php