Remember how on Monday I said I would have really liked to waffle on about roller derby for a bit, but ended up dismantling some antichoice arguments instead? Today we’re going the other way ’round. Yeah, the government finally announced that we’re getting a referendum on marriage equality the year after next. I could talk about that, and I’m sure we’d have an interesting and productive discussion, at the end of which we all agree that equality is good, and waiting another year and a half isn’t. So let’s pretend that’s done, shall we, and talk about something fun?
Can’t we just skip all that? Can’t we just be talking about derby now?
Let’s talk Derby Names
I love derby names. I’d say that they were one of my favourite things about the sport, if I weren’t so head-over-heels with skating fast, hittin’ people, taking hits and staying up, damnit, those fleeting seconds when I’m on the track and I actually have the faintest idea what’s going on, that moment when I get my jammer through the pack, and- oh yes- that moment when I am the jammer that just got through the pack and I see the ref signalling lead right next to me. When that jammer is behind my butt and she isn’t going anywhere. Oh, and new wheels. And freshly-washed pads. And the four (hopefully!) women on the track who’ve got my back. And the five I’m pitting my nascent wits and my skills against. And how much I love becoming stronger, faster and smarter skater. And… let’s just say that there’s another post or six to be dedicated to things I love about derby.
If it weren’t for all of those things, derby names would be one of my favourite things about derby. Always clever and often nerdy, I never fail to get a kick out of reading through a team’s lineup. And they serve a practical purpose too- creating a division between the mundanities of our everyday lives and this sport where we can be strong and aggressive women who take what we want, never, ever ask permission, and (literally) knock over anyone who dares to get in our way or try to get past us. It’s all part of the ritual- strapping on your pads, tying your laces and checking your toe stops, you put away your responsibilities and let out (what you hope is!) a clean, focused predator. Fuck, yeah.
I love derby names. I love changing into my derby gear. I love crossing the boundaries between real life and track. I just wish that this wasn’t such a cliche.
Derby Skater In Shocking Having-A-Real-Life Revelation
I’ve seen a few derby documentaries. Scratch that- I’ve seen a lot of derby documentaries. I love ’em. Love seeing how much this sport means to the women who play it around the world. Love watching them train and play and hearing them talk about what their teams and bouts and training are like. What can I say? I’m kinda in love with this game, and any chance to get to add to my (long) list of derby crushes is a chance I’ll snap up in a heartbeat. And while I love a derby documentary, and I love learning more about the different lives of the women who skate, I’m not in love with how derby names are portrayed.
Tell me if you haven’t heard this one many times before. It goes like this: “By day, she’s a mother/student/doctor/accountant/engineer/programmer/PA/etcetcetc. But by night, this everyday lady becomes something extraordinary: InsertCleverDerbyNameHere from SkatingLeague”. And then it talks about her alternate lives as if they were totally different things. Sometimes they go further, with voiceovers asking things like “would you believe that BadassMcSkatesAlot is a regular person who does ordinary things in the daytime?”
Well, yes. Of course she is. How do you think she affords those skates? I’m sure she’d love to devote herself fulltime to skating, but, for the moment at least, nobody’s getting paid to play. It’s the opposite, in fact- we pay for the privilege. We buy all of our gear, pay our membership dues, and volunteer our time to keep our leagues going.
That’s not surprising. What is surprising is.. well, that anyone thinks that it is. Sure, I think that roller derby is the best damn sport on the planet. I’m sure that people devoted to a different sport- from football to hurling to tennis to synchronised swimming- feels the same way about what they do. And the vast majority of them have day jobs, too.
Why is it considered weird that BadassMcSkatesAlot does regular-person things? It is because derby is new and different? Or is it because full-contact women’s sports are rare, and it’s simply not expected that everyday women might want to let their hair down for a few hours a week and knock some people over? Is it, perhaps, that that is considered subversive in a way that a bunch of guys knockin’ each other over in a rugby game isn’t? It is related to the aesthetic of roller derby- which is all about celebrating and playing with the artifice and decoration that women are expected to engage in every day, and making it something powerful and ours? Is it just another rehashing of the tired old Strong Female Character cliche? Or is it just that some people who make documentaries and reports are a bit lazy and inclined to grab an easy take on something, run with it, and then call it a day before popping out for a couple of pints?
That’s not to say that the day/night trope is always a terrible thing, though. This London Roller Girls promo, which pretty much relies on that, is brilliant. It takes the day/night thing and turns it on its head- we start off at work. I also love that it shows Vagablonde actually checking her gear (although I’m a bit mystified as to why she puts on her skates and pads before her makeup..). Safety first, y’all! Either that, or it could just be that I love everything LRG do, ever.
Here’s why it bothers me so much, though: while derby is different from our day jobs, the things we learn from derby stay with us throughout our lives. Yeah, I put away my gear and go back to my everyday life after training. Of course I do. But- and yeah, this is gonna sound cheesy- I’m not the same person I was before I skated. Derby taught me that I’m stronger than I think I am. It taught me that asking permission is overrated and sometimes you’ve just gotta take what you want- and that about 7 or 8 seconds later, you’ve gotta do it again. Derby taught me to not be scared of screwing up or looking ridiculous- that you need to fall over a couple of hundred times before you learn a new skill, that there will be people watching you fall, that you won’t always fall small and gracefully, and that throwing yourself into it anyway is the only way to be amazing. Derby taught me to open my mouth, shout out when I need a hand, listen to the people around me, and if you fuck up? There’s another chance to do better speeding ’round the track to meet you in, oh, a couple of seconds- so hustle, damnit. And derby taught me to get up off my ass and do something now, even if it isn’t perfect, before I lose my chance. (I also, er, learn an awful lot on a regular basis about sitting in a box and keeping my mouth shut for two minutes that I’m pretty sure last several years but the less said about that the better, amirite?)
I love derby names. They’re funny, they’re clever, and there’s something delicious about calling your teammates by their favourite puns every day. I love how the simultaneously create a separate derby world where different rules apply, and give us something to live up to and carry around with us. And while they’re fun for spectators and fans too, at the end of the day, our derby names are ours.