An Anonymous Conversation on Discrimination, Body Image Issues and Boutfits for Transgender Athletes

In honoring a request for anonymity from today’s interviewee, their name has been changed and league affiliation and location has been omitted. None of these details will be made public and they WILL NOT be provided upon request either.

My conversation with Lady X was an enlightening one as it brought up a lot of things I hadn’t necessarily considered before. While some topics are revisited, such as “competitive advantage” and the importance of league’s developing inclusive Gender Policies, Lady X addressed a few issues new to Trans* Awareness Week on the blog such as body issues, the awkwardness of boutfits and the harmful effects of discriminatory comments made on social media. Our discussion, albeit brief, really shed light on some of my own inner conflicts over my gender identity and expression and helped me better understand the anxiety, stress and fear that a transgender or intersex person must feel in a bouting situation.

Just to emphasize a key point that Lady X raises is in regards to how we all interact with one another on social media: keep in mind that as your friends list grows from the addition of new derby friends, what you say or share on your wall can affect those who read it. Making transphobic, homophobic, or any other discriminatory comments to a broad audience will do more harm than good in a sporting community with such diverse membership. Be conscious of what you are posting and think about the impact it may have on the well-being of others. Harking back to the Comment Guidelines here on Derby Frontier:

THINK 2

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KEVLAR: Thank you so much for agreeing to speak with me! You had mentioned in your original email that you didn’t want to openly out yourself and engage in conversations about it with your league mates. Why is it that you feel uncomfortable opening up about yourself to your league mates?

LADY X: For me it’s not that I don’t want to open up to my league mates specifically about being transgender, it’s more that I’m not very open about being transgender to the general public. Most of the time people don’t notice I’m transgender unless they observe me closely or I’m all sweaty and my makeup has washed off. I guess for me though I’m just not very open about it because I don’t want to be treated as anything less than a woman which is the gender I present and identify as. I don’t want to viewed as a “trans girl” I want to be viewed as a “girl”. Also once I start to become open about my transgender background then it starts to invite lots of questions which I don’t always feel comfortable discussing. There is no reason for anyone to have to know my personal or medical background unless I want to tell them.

[…] It’s kind of like if you have some kind of defect with you’re genitalia you wouldn’t go around announcing it to everyone. It’s incredibly embarrassing and very personal. I just don’t feel comfortable entering into those conversations with league mates. Often times I feel like it’s just not anyone’s business. Being transgender is very different from being gay where you want to be open and out about it. I feel like the only reason I ever have to tell anyone I’m transgender is if I’m going to be intimate with them. Otherwise there is never a real reason they need to know I was born with a body that didn’t match the gender I identify with.

What I can suggest though is for all leagues to make a transgender policy involving how they can participate and protections for transgender women if they are interested in playing roller derby. I know that the WFTDA Association that my roller derby league is affiliated with has an established transgender skater policy and I commend them for putting it into action. I feel that for individual league policies, they should probably be even more inclusive. Having a good transgender policy will make transgender skaters feel better about belonging to the league, will give them less fear that the non transgender skaters will gang up on them and make them leave which is a horrible fear because then it means they can’t play Roller Derby anywhere. Most transgender women would never degrade themselves to play with men if asked to leave the woman’s league. There are some co-ed leagues but transgender women are women and should be accepted to all female roller derby leagues.

 

KEVLAR: From your experience, how inclusive, welcoming and understanding is the roller derby community in your region toward trans*, gender nonconforming and intersex (TGI) athletes?

LADY X: There have been a few transgender skaters who have worked to make others in the community understand that they are just like any other woman. Brave skaters who have made it easier for others to accept a transgender skater like myself. I feel like in general the community is welcoming but there are always some skaters who firmly believe transgender skaters should not be in the same league. Sometimes I’ll even see some skaters make transphobic posts on their facebook without even realizing it. Or maybe they do and they forget were friends.
Each league is very different and some are more LGBT friendly than others. I feel like my league in particular is very inclusive although again it’s always hard to tell for sure if others are really accepting of you or just putting up with your presence because they feel like they have to. Roller Derby as a whole is a very LGBT friendly sport so often times there are many in the “queer” community who are very educated on transgender issues. I feel that this inclusion really helps derby players as a whole to understand how transgender women should be accepted as women even on a competitive level assuming their hormone levels are on the same level as the other competing skaters.

 

KEVLAR: What do you feel are the most pressing issues that TGI athletes in Roller Derby face today?

LADY X: I can only speak for transgender women like myself when I say this. I think in general the hardest issues are dealing with the ideas that transgender women might have some kind of physical advantages when playing roller derby. Personally as someone who knows what hormones can do to a body I feel that after 2 years of hormone replacement your body goes through drastic changes and you lose any competitive edge you may have had. Often times it may look as though muscle mass a trans woman may have had before transition is still strong but most of the muscle has grown soft due to fat redistribution of taking estrogen and other hormone blockers. Obviously as an athlete I’m still muscular but I know that much of my appearance is deceptive. Also Roller Derby is a team sport and you may be the strongest athlete on the planet but if you can’t play with your teammates cohesively all of that strength is going to do you no good.

I feel that for me too I am constantly having body issues when on the track because of the outfits that many of the skaters wear which often involve tight shorts. As a transgender woman who can’t afford a sexual reassignment surgery I am left with the sexual parts that belong to another gender. I detest these parts of myself but can’t currently do anything about them. The fact that most of the skaters are wearing booty shorts and I can’t due to my extra parts it makes me hugely uncomfortable sometimes at practice. You learn to deal with it and wear clothes that hide those parts but at times it’s still becomes difficult to deal with. It’s like having a terrible disease between your legs that no doctor wants to help you get rid of, like a horrible birth defect that pumps unwanted testosterone into your system.

I think the final issue I deal with sometimes is finding connections with some of the skaters and not being sure if others are distant because of my transgender status. In roller derby there are some skaters who do not think very highly of men and to them you as a transgender skater are not considered a real woman, so they may have some disdain for you. This is not always the case but I think it contributes to some skater’s perception of me. All I can do though is be myself and hope that they will see I’m just like any other woman. I’m not a male trying to invade a woman’s space. I’m a woman looking to be in a woman’s space. I’d like to believe everyone is welcoming to all transgender women but you’re constantly unsure if they truly respect you or talk about how they think you’re not a real woman behind your back. You do your best to not think about it and hope they accept you but it’s an on going struggle.

 

KEVLAR: What advice would you give to a transgender, gender nonconforming or intersex person new to roller derby?

LADY X: I would suggest that you be yourself and don’t worry about how others treat you or things they may say. As long as you are kind and show that you are in it for the sport others will learn to respect you and they will forget that you are transgender. The thing with Roller Derby is that you do have to identify as a Female to play the sport so I’m not sure where a gender nonconforming person would sit in most policies. I think as long as one isn’t on testosterone they could probably play Roller Derby.

Although I am very closed about talking about my transgender status to most skaters I’m open about it when it comes to my qualification to compete on the Travel Team due to WFTDA Transgender Policies. If you want to be completely open about your transgender status that’s great, many skaters are, if you aren’t at least tell a few of the leaders. If the leaders are not accepting then honestly it’s probably not a good league for you to skate with anyway. Also if you are interested in playing on a high competitive level make sure you’re hormone levels are at the same level as most non transgender woman’s levels. You will also have to have been living as a woman for at least 2 years.

 

KEVLAR: What have been your personal, biggest struggles as a trans athlete in roller derby?

LADY X: I think for me it’s mostly just been around dealing with my body and how it might be shaped differently from some of the other skaters. Learning to deal with this difference and also literally dealing with it when competing. As a transgender woman my hips are not as wide as my shoulders and so sometimes I have to perform certain moves differently. Not all woman’s bodies are the same and some are vastly different, especially in Roller Derby. There are many non transgender women who have broad shoulders as well and honestly this sport is great for Women of all different shapes and sizes. My problems with my body mostly come from not having completed my surgery yet and feeling like an incomplete woman sometimes. Again this is mostly a product of the outfits that many of the skaters wear which includes tight shorts. I usually end up having to wear short skirts or very loose shorts. I might even wear several pairs of tight underwear to compensate.

I hate the idea that I might be making another woman uncomfortable especially since there are many times when I have to press closely to the other skaters to push them forward on the track. It’s not like I’m thinking about it in a sexual way at all I just want to play the sport. I think this struggle in my head is probably worse than it needs to be but sometimes it leads me to have some serious self loathing. I want nothing more than to just play the sport and feel comfortable. Generally I’ve learned to not think about it anymore and hope that all the other skaters are comfortable with me but sometimes it still bothers me. There really isn’t anything I can do other than try not to think about it and move on. I’m not as bad as I used to be with feeling uncomfortable about playing but it’s still on my mind sometimes. I wish there was more respect for the medical needs of transgender procedures but unfortunately it’s still thought of as cosmetic and not easily accessible due to it’s expensive nature.

 

KEVLAR: For those who have a TGI athlete as part of the team, what are 3 do’s and 3 don’ts that you would recommend in terms of how they interact with the skater?

LADY X: I think that this varies depending on the skater’s gender identity and how open about it they are. If they are doing a lot of transgender activism and comfortable talking about being TGI then I feel that you could probably ask them questions about their experience and what it’s like. You can probably be a bit more open with them. I think many questions with open TGI athletes however can still be big no no’s including questions regarding surgery or genital parts. Generally these questions are always off limits unless you are very close to the skater and they wish to disclose to you. You wouldn’t want a TGI skater going around asking about everyone else’s genital parts so why would you ask them.

I would respect at all times what the TGI skaters likes to use for pronouns. Treat them as you would any other girl on the Roller Derby team. Ideally you want to forget that they are transgender at all and that they are just like any other girl. One thing I would recommend never doing is asking a transgender skater if they are transgender if they are not open about it. Even if you know they are, don’t ever ask them about it. Wait till they feel comfortable to tell you. Don’t ever ask them about their sexual parts either, this is way off limits. I would also suggest avoid asking them questions regarding their past because it may be very painful for them to share. If a skater is not open about being transgender like myself it’s incredibly awkward to be asked things about my past since I don’t want to share it or elude to the fact that I wasn’t born with a body that matches my gender. As an example, asking everyone to bring in baby pictures for a promo shoot might be really weird for that transgender skater. Another example is talking about the first time everyone got their period. Try to avoid putting that skater in such awkward positions and you will get along with them much better.

Yeah... don't do this.

Yeah… don’t do this.

 

KEVLAR: Have you ever felt marginalized and/or discriminated against through your involvement in this sport?

LADY X: Not really to my face although sometimes I feel that some of the other women give me some negative energy for no reason. It could be related to any number of reasons but being transgender could certainly be one of them. I think in general I really lucked out with a pretty accepting league. As I said earlier though, it’s taken the struggles of past transgender skaters to get Roller Derby to be so accepting.

 

KEVLAR: Is there anything else you would like to add about your struggles, experiences or achievements within Roller Derby?

LADY X: One thing I struggle with is deciding to open up about being transgender or keeping it to myself. I literally never talk about it with my teammates. Sometimes this can lead to strange conversations but I think as a whole I would rather just be thought of as any other woman then to suddenly have to explain myself as transgender to everyone. I was even a bit hesitant to talk about any of these issues in this interview but I thought it might be good for other transgender skaters to hear about another perspective. As a whole I generally feel like any of the other girls at practice and at the games. I have grown a lot as a skater and hope that I have many more years to come. Sometimes I feel irresponsible for not being open about being transgender and doing more activism but at the same time I just want to be perceived as a woman not as a man that thinks he’s a woman. Not that that’s what transgender women are because they are 100% women but sadly society and not all the skaters view them that way. I just personally feel more comfortable if I keep my transgender background to myself and keep living as I am, a brave strong Roller Derby woman. Maybe one day I’ll be willing to open up about all my experiences but generally I don’t feel the need.

 

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Please feel free to share any questions, comments, suggestions or thoughts you may have in the comments below! If you’d like to catch up on previous posts from Trans* Awareness in Sports Week or you would like to see what is still to come, check out our official Event Page.

 

Kev 01Written by Kevin ‘Kevlar’ Dennison

Learning more and more each and every day!

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