The Smacktivist #365 of Ohio Roller Girls Weighs in on Identity Erasure, Gender Segregation and Gender Labels in Sports

Today’s interview is with Maxwell Schneider, aka The Smacktivist, #365 of the Ohio Roller Girls (OHRG) who has accomplished a great deal since becoming involved in the sport. Not only has Smacktivist been to the WFTDA playoffs two years running, but they were also voted tournament Jammer MVP of the 2012 North Central Regional finals in Niagra Falls, New York and made it to the second round of the 2013 WFTDA Championships in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Smacktivist isn’t JUST a roller derby athlete, they also played girls’ competitive ice hockey with the Ohio Flames (Midwest Elite Hockey League) for 9 years, played for the Ohio State Women’s Club Hockey Team, swam on a local swim team, played travel soccer and also played both co-ed ice and roller hockey. In their early ears, Smacktivist also competed in intramural basketball and softball for a short while.

“Waitaminute, Kevlar, don’t you mean ‘SHE was voted Jammer MVP’, ‘SHE also played…’ and in ‘HER early years…’?”

Actually, Smacktivist identifies as Transmasculine and prefers to be referred to through the pronouns of they, their and them, as opposed to she/her or he/his/him. “I use “transmasculine” as a descriptor of a non-binary, occasionally fluid gender identity that generally sits on the more “masculine” end of the spectrum,” explains Smacktivist of their gender identity. “This varies slightly on a day to day basis, but generally I prefer certain types of clothing that are traditionally considered “masculine” and presenting myself in what is perceived as a “masculine” way. I occasionally like to wear skirts and nail polish, and other traditionally “feminine” things when my body dysphoria is not particularly bad.”

I was extremely fortunate to speak with Smacktivist about their personal journey in understanding themself and their experiences with gender identity, identity erasure, gender segregation and labels in general throughout their involvement with roller derby and many other sports.

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Photo courtesy of Joe Mac.

Photo courtesy of Joe Mac.

 

KEVLAR: What was your personal journey like in terms of exploring your gender identity and when did you begin to better understand who you were and how you wanted to express yourself?

SMACKTIVIST: Unlike some of my trans friends, I did not always know that I was trans (which is also totally normal!). My gender and body dysphoria originally presented themselves to me in ways that were not so obvious, such as an eating disorder. I really felt like I didn’t fit anywhere for most of my life and I always felt like I had a hard time relating to others. I would try so hard to fit into molds that I thought I was supposed to, based on what I thought would make me more like-able and make it easier for me to relate to others. But that usually ended up back-firing and making me really hate myself, which fed into a lot of my disorders. It wasn’t until the last year and a half of my life that I started putting a lot of the pieces together,  in regards to understanding my gender and sexuality. And I started realizing how that affected my younger years and what it means for me now.

I started to figure this stuff out when I started reading about other people’s experiences regarding their gender identities, went back to therapy, and began eating disorder recovery. It has been really comforting to see that other people feel the way I do and have been able to give that a name and build community around that. It took me a really long time to figure everything out and I feel like I am still learning so much about myself and my identity, but finally knowing that I am not alone and that there is a name and a reason for everything has been an enormous comfort. Always growing!


KEVLAR: I also see that you have participated in other sports as well, such as soccer, intramural basketball and softball, co-ed ice hockey and you swam on your local swim team. How has your experience in Roller Derby specifically differed from other sports that you have played?

SMACKTIVIST: I guess a big part of all of those other sports and my experiences in them is that I played them before I really started to figure out who I am. There were many times in the other sports in which I just felt out of place. I have never really felt that way with roller derby. When I started playing I still (kind of) identified as a woman in my own way. I feel like derby and the family and community that I have found here has not only allowed, but encouraged my growth. It’s really fostered a positive environment for me to come into my own. And that has been invaluable for me and means more than anyone could ever imagine.


KEVLAR: Let’s talk identity erasure, gender segregation and general trans inclusion in sports. The majority of sports are either co-ed or mens’/women’s specific, gender segregated in a way that is not always open to binary or nonbinary trans folks. How has Roller Derby been in this regard in comparison to your experiences with other sports?

SMACKTIVIST: This is an interesting and difficult question to answer because I feel like we are kind of in the midst of this big discussion of “how can we be more inclusive but still maintain our identity as a woman’s sport?” I, honestly, have this fear that one day I won’t be allowed to play under WFTDA anymore, because of my identity. And that is a terrifying thought to me. But I also understand the need for women’s spaces in our society and the need to respect it as such. My number one hope for derby is that we can find a way to be inclusive of non-binary identities, and if that isn’t something that can happen in the future, then, at the very least it is IMPERATIVE that transwomen are included in the sport in a fair and equal way.


KEVLAR: How have the Ohio Roller Girls been with including TGI Athletes of various gender identities and expressions?

SMACKTIVIST: OHRG has been really great. It’s interesting being on a team with “Girls” in the name, because there is an automatic assumption about gender. And it all feels very gendered. Especially when dealing with the general public, fans, etc. But, that’s what I signed up for originally.

I came out to my team about being a gender weirdo (my term for my own identity, definitely not saying this about anyone else!) and about my pronouns, and everyone has been SO supportive that it has, at many times, brought me to tears.

I really have nothing but the best things to say about my league. We’re small, but close knit. We are definitely a family and I feel like everyone is just so accepting of all kinds of people, all kinds of gender expression, gender identities, sexualities, and personalities and we don’t let differences get in the way of working together or making the league the best that it can be.


KEVLAR: With there being so many different gender identities out there I have heard very differing opinions on even labeling your gender. Some say that it is empowering, makes you feel a part of a community, and helps you understand and communicate about yourself. Others say that they can also trap you into a specific way of thinking, feeling and/or behaving. What are your thoughts on gender identities and what advice would you give to somebody who is looking at all of the definitions of those identities while trying to understand themselves?

SMACKTIVIST: Ooh yes. This is something that I think about a lot. Because – right! – if gender is a social construct and social constructs are made up things, then gender is a made up thing! Which, I kind of believe to be true. Like. What IS masculine, really? Outside of a prescribed set of characteristics that people just made up to describe their world. So I personally really like to mess with that and say that painting my nails is masculine! And when I wear a skirt, it’s masculine. And sometimes when I lift weights, I’m being feminine. Or vice versa. Gender and gender markers/descriptors can be WHATEVER you want them to be.

For me personally, I just recognize that a lot of people haven’t has access to these ideas or learned about these things, so sometimes when I am describing things (especially my gender identity) I use words that I know people will understand in a way that I want them to. And then I open it up to a bigger conversation about how those words probably don’t even really matter, because just be whatever you feel you are and however you want to be.

I also do think that, for me, being able to put a name with my identity has been empowering and has helped me find community and helped me find comfort when, for the longest time, I just felt like I was an alien or something.

So, yeah, in our world, in our society, words are important ways to describe things so that others understand what you are saying and what you mean. And so words like transgender, transmasculine, transfeminine, masculine, feminine, etc. are all ways to describe traits. But I also know that there are so many good ongoing conversations challenging the ways we think about these words and the automatic assumptions that come along with them or the things they currently describe. And I would like to see those conversations continue.


KEVLAR: In the same profile mentioned earlier, you gave some amazing words of wisdom to young TGI Athletes out there: “Make a space for yourself. Because they world isn’t going to make one for you. Figure out where you feel comfortable and try to figure out how to make it work.” Can you tell us a little about the space you have made for yourself in Roller Derby specifically?

SMACKTIVIST: Hm. Yeah. I reflect on that statement and feel silly about it now. Haha. I think it’s important to remember that “make a space for yourself” doesn’t mean “take up space in the place of other marginalized folks”. Don’t be that asshole. But also don’t let yourself but put into a box that doesn’t make sense to you. Don’t try to make yourself fit into something that doesn’t feel good (clothes, or imaginary boxes, or small spaces with too many people, ya know!).

I guess, for me, in the derby community, I am (currently) trying not to think too much about this stuff and just trying to be myself and have fun. I think the most I could do was to “come out” to my league and be honest about how I feel about my gender identity and then just roll with the punches. I told myself before coming out to the league that if it wasn’t something that people would be comfortable with, that I wouldn’t play anymore, as heartbreaking as that would have been. But that hasn’t been the case and still isn’t, so I am trying to take things one day at a time and just do my best and be honest about who I am and how I feel and hope that others can do the same.


KEVLAR: Are there any issue or concerns that you see in Roller Derby, be they related to TGI athletes or not, which you would like to see people having more discussion on?

SMACKTIVIST: I previously mentioned the whole “how can we be more inclusive but still maintain our identity as a woman’s sport?”. Gender segregation is a weird weird thing. And a very complex issue. And as much as I’d like to say I have all the answers, I definitely do not. I don’t even really have some of them.

I think the invasiveness of the current gender policy in WFTDA is a problem, but I know it is being talked about and that is very important; that we continue to discuss that in a way that honors and respects transwomen.

Other than that, how about this new ruleset, huh??

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Kev 01Written by Kevin ‘Kevlar’ Dennison

With only two more days to go!

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