United Kingdom Roller Derby Association’s Transgender Policy a Mixed Bag

The United Kingdom Roller Derby Association (UKRDA) officially released their new Transgender Policy yesterday and while I was initially extremely excited and impressed with what I was reading, upon further reflection and discussions with other members of the Trans* community I came to realize that it is, unfortunately, an mixed bag. On the upside I genuinely feel that the UKRDA’s policies and procedures in regards to gender are in many ways better than those of the Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Association’s (WFTDA). It’s a good step in the right direction… so long as you identify and live fully as a woman or man, that is.

UKRDA LogoWhat I Feel It Gets Right

The first thing I feel the UKRDA’s new Transgender Policy improves upon in comparison to WFTDA’s document is with their definition of “female”. It states:

“7.5 In this policy, ‘female’ refers to an individual living as and identifying as female on a full time basis.”

– UKRDA Transgender Policy, Definitions

What makes this noteworthy to me is that it actually addresses gender whereas other “gender” policies, such as that of the WFTDA’s, discounts gender in favor of biological sex. The WFTDA’s Gender Policy defines female as:

“Living as a woman and having sex hormones that are within the medically acceptable range for a female.”

– WFTDA Gender Policy, Section II: Definitions.

Since its release in 2011, some have argued that the WFTDA policy is actually NOT Trans* inclusive and that the above mentioned definition of “female” is transphobic. Personally, I have to agree. The WFTDA definition of “female” completely invalidates an athletes gender by saying that their gender is not valid unless it matches the biological features of their sex. That is, the WFTDA’s definition of a woman is based upon her hormone levels being medically acceptable according to her healthcare provider and that she needs to undergo a rather invasive procedure to PROVE that she is a woman (by sex, not gender) to whomever requests her to do so. Their policy states:

“3. Transgender or Intersex athletes who meet the definition of Female, as defined herein, are eligible to compete provided that, upon request, the athlete can produce a signed original statement, on office letterhead, from the athlete’s attending healthcare provider. The statement must include:

a. Healthcare provider’s full name;

b. Healthcare provider’s license or certificate number;

c. Issuing jurisdiction of medical license/certificate;

d. Address and telephone number of the healthcare provider;

e. Language stating that he/she is the attending healthcare provider for the athlete and that he/she has a doctor/patient relationship with the athlete; and

f. Language stating that the athlete’s sex hormones are within the medically acceptable range for a female. It is solely within the healthcare provider’s judgment to determine what range is “medically acceptable” for a female.”

– WFTDA Gender Policy, Section III: Policy and Procedure.

When it really comes down to it, it is in my opinion that that the WFTDA’s Gender Policy is not a gender policy at all. At best it is a sex policy. At worst… it is transphobic. I feel it is unacceptable that a trans woman must PROVE she is a woman upon demand, whereas those born biologically female are just taken at face value and do not need to divulge their hormone levels despite the fact that hormone levels can change due to a variety of things such as menopause, pregnancy, stress, menstruation, poor eating habits and over a variety of endocrine disorders which may cause hormone imbalances. For all you know, there are a handful of individuals in your league who were born biologically female yet right now, for whatever reason, their hormones are not “within the medically acceptable range for a female.”

Does that give them a competitive advantage? Does that make their participation an issue in fair competition? No? Then why does all of that apply to a trans woman who may have the same hormone levels as a biological woman with a hormone imbalance? Honestly, if you are going to require a trans woman to provide medical documentation of her hormone levels then you should be requiring the same of ALL of your skaters.

This is where the UKRDA’s new policy really succeeds in my eyes by making it an offense to request or demand that a skater divulge her gender identity and/or medical history. Member leagues are expected to respect the privacy of their skaters and to welcome them with no questions asked:

“16. The UKRDA recognises it is the right of every individual to choose whether to be open about their gender identity and history.  To ‘out’ someone without their permission is a form of harassment and also a criminal offence.”

– UKRDA Transgender Policy, Protection Against Harassment and Bullying

“16. Transgender skaters starting within a league should be welcomed on a ‘no questions asked’ basis.  If the skater chooses to discuss their transgender history, this information must be treated with the utmost of confidentiality and only shared with the permission of the skater.

In the event that a skater starts with a league and is ‘suspected’ of having a transgender history, the skater may not be approached to be asked about this. Transgender skaters must be allowed to live in ‘stealth’ if they wish, and if they are joining a league they should be taken on face value that this is their identity.”

– UKRDA Transgender Policy, Evidence of Identity


My heart really started to sink when I got to the section on The Current Legal Position for Transgender individuals In Competitive Sport (though I admittedly jumped the gun on that one) and began reading about how the Equality Act allows for sporting events and organizations to restrict a transsexual person from participating under strict guidelines. Essentially, the act states that if the organizers can prove that a transsexual person’s involvement “poses risks to safety or fair competition” then excluding them is permissible if the “legitimate aim is to secure fair competition and the safety of other competitors.” The section states:

“9. The Equality Act 2010 does however include three types of exception that *may* be applied in relation to transgender skaters involved in competitive sport:-

  • For sporting competitions where physical strength, stamina or physique are significant factors in determining success or failure, the Act permits separate competitions to be organised for men and women.
  • If the physical strength, stamina or physique of the average person of one sex would put them at a disadvantage compared to the average person of the other sex as competitors in a sport, game or other competitive activity, it is not unlawful for those arranging the activity to restrict participation to persons of one sex
  • The Act permits the organisers of competitive activity to restrict participation of a transsexual person in that activity only if this is necessary in a particular case to secure fair competition or the safety of other competitors.”

– UKRDA Transgender Policy, The Current Legal Position for Transgender Individuals in Competitive Sports


Expecting the worst, I thought to myself: “Oh no… here it comes.” To my surprise, the UKRDA sticks to their resolve even here by saying that they “[do] not consider roller derby to be a sport in which these particular exceptions are required to be applied.” They clarify themselves further in stating:

The UKRDA do not believe that we can prove that transgender skaters experience a physical advantage or disadvantage over cis-gendered (non-trans) skaters.  In order to maintain fairness and equality, and as well as to avoid legal challenge, the UKRDA feel that we cannot categorically state that skaters who identify as a different gender than that which they were assigned at birth experience a physical advantage and we cannot therefore utilise the legal exceptions. Legislation states that evidence is required in order to claim ‘unfair advantage’.

In a roller derby team, there exists a spectrum of heights, weights, natural abilities and existing or gained fitness levels. Each skater on a team utilises the strengths they have – whether it be a speedy, explosive jammer compared to a more powerful, offensive style jammer, or a super-agile blocker compared to a powerhouse blocker.  It is not therefore relevant to deem a transgender skater ineligible for inclusion in roller derby on the basis of what stage of gender transition they are at or how their physical body presents.”


Where I Feel it Stumbles

Unfortunately, though I do feel much of the above is certainly more progressive in regards to inclusion and respect toward trans women, just like the policies that came before it this new document excludes individuals of a non-binary gender identity in clearly stating that “skaters in female leagues should be living as and identifying as female on a full time basis, and similarly with male skaters in male leagues”. So, once again, what of individuals who identify as gender fluid, bigender, non-gender or androgynous, among many other identities that are not strictly female or male? Do they not have protections and rights should they get involved in a UKRDA member league? Does a league have the ability to exclude them on the basis of not “identifying as woman/man on a full time basis”?

For a sport that is often praised for being so accepting, I find myself consistently disappointed by the insistence of governing bodies to police and segregate gender. What will it take for roller derby to REALLY take the plunge and stop classifying sex and gender into two distinct and opposite categories?

The UKRDA had a tremendous opportunity here to be truly groundbreaking and progressive but it instead fell back upon the gender binary and I can’t help but worry how intersex, genderqueer, genderfluid, gender neutral and/or bigender skaters will once again be affected. All the UKRDA’s policy says on the matter is:

If individuals with these identities have joined a female team, presumably it’s because they are happy to be seen as female in the context of roller derby. Similarly with someone who joins a male team.  It’s important to note the pronouns that individuals with a genderqueer/fluid/neutral or bi-gendered identity prefer, and not to make assumptions about this.  It’s simply a case of asking people how they would like to be addressed – eg he/she/they etc.

– UKRDA Transgender Policy

So, despite the promise on page one that the document will “provide guidance for people who do not wish to transition permanently into a new gender role, but who identify as genderqueer, gender variant or intersex or who choose to live permanently with a more fluid gender identity”, that’s all they get. A small little blurb about how all of these individuals must clearly be happy with being seen as “female in the context of roller derby” and that you should ask for their preferred gender pronoun because that would be polite. Wait, so, don’t make assumptions about somebodies preferred gender pronoun, BUT it is the UKRDA’s assumption that individuals who joined a female team are likely happy being perceived as female… or, could it be that they have no other choice but to join a female or male team because those are the options. Men’s derby or women’s derby, take your pick and accept whatever perceptions comes your way.

In the end, as much as it improves upon some definitions and it really impresses in regards to respecting the privacy of transgender people, non-binary Trans* identities are once again just tossed into the traditional gender binary and expected to be okay with it. I personally find the notion that “if individuals with these [non-binary] identities have joined a female team, presumably it’s because they are happy to be seen as female in the context of roller derby” to be rather ignorant. Gender identity is an extremely sensitive topic for people and I, for one, would feel a great deal of stress and anxiety by being expected to forget about my identity and just accept being a woman or man in roller derby. In this sense the policy potentially allows for non-binary individuals to be discriminated against through exclusion due to not identifying full time as women or men. This current document could easily allow for somebody to argue for the exclusion of a gender fluid skater due to there actually being no CLEAR rights or protections for non-binary individuals.

Of course, I understand this is certainly a new frontier for sporting communities and I know it will take a lot of trial and error. Perhaps my hopes for a truly inclusive sport is not realistic today. I’m essentially wishing for the eradication of an entire social boundary that has been in place for generations upon generations. While I do applaud the UKRDA for making great strides in ensuring that transwomen, transmen and transsexual individuals are protected, I do wish they hadn’t of left out everyone else who is Trans*.



Kevlar 2Written by Kevin ‘Kevlar’ Dennison

We still got a long ways to go!



    1. Hello Dave!

      I guess the very title of the policy and constant use of the word “transgender” is what gets to me because the policy does not feel like it is for transgender people so much as it is for transsexual individuals, transwomen and transmen. Transgender is generally considered an umbrella term that refers to individuals whose self-identity does not align with or conform to the conventional notions of male or female, man or woman, masculine or feminine. A transsexual person is an individual “who, through experiencing an intense, long-term discomfort resulting from feeling the inappropriateness of their assigned gender at birth and discomfort of their body, adapts their gender role and body to reflect and be congruent with their gender identity.” While a transsexual personal can be transgender, not all transgender individuals are transsexual.

      In fact, there are MANY gender nonconforming identities under the transgender umbrella that do not want to transition or live 100% entirely as man or woman such as gender fluid, gendequeer, bigender, two-spirit, non-binary, genderless, androgynous, third gender, and so on and so forth.

      Unfortunately, I feel that the UKRDA Transgender Policy in many ways actually undermines the transgender community by misuse of crucial terminology. Namely, “transgender”. The original document (referenced in the article above) assumed that if a transgender person gets involved with a league, be it a men’s or women’s club, then they are clearly okay with being perceived as and aligning with, and/or conforming to, the traditional notions of the gender binary… and that’s just not true.

      As such, transparent and correct usage of terminology is a very big thing to me. Calling this a Transgender Policy while only taking one sub-group of individuals from the VERY diverse transgender community and giving them explicit protections, while ignoring everyone else who is transgender, is disappointing. So, for starters, I’d personally have taken it a little better if it was called what it really is: a gender policy.

      I think a big first step toward more inclusive policy making in terms of gender would be to stop defining ‘female’ and ‘male’. The UKRDA’s definition of these terms is frustrating because both exclusive to other transgender people and yet at the same time manage to also be very vague. Like what does living full time as a woman even mean? Who decides what is, and isn’t, considered “living as a woman”? Is it determined by how one looks? How one speaks? How one acts? How one dresses? Is there a jury to decide whether or not skaters are living as a woman enough to be covered by the Transgender Policy? Is it up to leagues to decide? Is it up to the individual?

      It just raises more questions than anything else for me. Admittedly, the WFTDA’s definition is worse in my opinion because it dictates that only those who’s “gender” matches the medical and biological characteristics (namely: hormones) of the female sex are permitted to be chartered team skaters in sanctioned interleague games. It strives to “provide intersex and transgender athletes with equal opportunities to participate in athletics” but resort to what I feel is discriminatory practices (such as directly feeding into the very serious Trans* issue of “competitive advantage” and requiring individuals to divulge very sensitive, personal medical documentation) in the pursuit of “maintaining integrity as a women’s sport”.

      Let’s try just not defining the genders. If your policy is going to say female, have at it, but don’t define it. Let the athletes decide what it means to be a female athlete for themselves.


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