3 Reasons Why the Men’s Roller Derby Association’s Non-Discrimination Policy is Incredible

It’s wonderful to see that the Men’s Roller Derby Association (MRDA) has clearly been paying close attention to the reactions of non-binary athletes and public discussion surrounding the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association’s (WFTDA) Gender Policy and the United Kingdom Roller Derby Association’s (UKRDA) Transgender Policy. While I have now come to appreciate the WFTDA for taking those first steps of addressing gender issues in the sport, and I recognize that the UKRDA’s subsequent policy greatly improved upon that foundation, I still stand by my opinion that both contain some pretty detrimental flaws.

In the case of the WFTDA’s policy, I feel that their approach actually fuels transphobic fears and stereotypes, such as competitive advantage, by insisting that transgender skaters must provide medical documentation proving their hormone levels are sufficiently woman enough. The UKRDA’s policy does a TREMENDOUS job of alleviating those invasive procedures by NOT requiring any athlete to divulge their medical history. Furthermore, it makes it an offense to demand such a thing. However, the UKRDA’s solution to non-binary individuals struck a cord with me as it was more of a non-solution than anything else: “Individuals with a genderqueer/fluid/neutral or bi-gendered identity […] may opt to join single gendered leagues on the basis that they are happy to be considered that gender in the context of single gendered roller derby leagues.” That is to say that a gender nonconforming, non-binary individual is welcome to play with UKRDA affiliated leagues so long as they agree that their gender identity is not valid in the context of single gendered, sex/gender segregated leagues (the vast majority of teams/leagues). To tell somebody who may have spent most of their life struggling with and feeling incredibly depressed and anxious about not fitting into the gender binary, that they will need to return to that state of being for the sake of their inclusion in roller derby is frustrating.

As such, I’ll admit that I was rather cynical when I heard that the MRDA was going to be releasing their own policy and that it would be the most progressive and inclusive yet. Would it REALLY be as “forward thinking” as a few had been telling me? Or was it going to be an instance of a baby step at best, a step back at worse? Having now read the very short document, allowing myself time to reflect upon it, I can now confidently say that their Non-Discrimination Policy truly succeeds in breaking new ground. The policy reads as such:

Policy Language:

MRDA, pursuant to its mission of promoting men’s roller derby, does not and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion (creed), gender, gender expression, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status, in any of its activities or operations. MRDA does not and will not differentiate between members who identify male and those who identify as a nonbinary gender (including but not limited to genderqueer, transmasculine, transfeminine, and agender) and does not and will not set minimum standards of masculinity for its membership or interfere with the privacy of its members for the purposes of charter eligibility. These activities include, but are not limited to, membership eligibility, disbursement of resources, and eligibility for office. MRDA is committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for all skaters, officials, volunteers, and fans.

Process:

In the event a MRDA member allegedly violates the Non-Discrimination Policy, notice must be given to MRDA Member Relations with details of the complaint. MRDA Member Relations will investigate and take appropriate actions.”

MRDA Non-Discrimination Policy

MrdaSo, what makes this so different from the gender policies from other derby organizations? Well, there are three key things

 

1. It Does Not Define Genders

Nope! Absolutely no gender identities or expressions are defined in any way, whatsoever! The MRDA takes a strong, admirable stance on not setting any kind of measurement for what will and won’t be considered masculine or male. No medical documentation or gender definition compliance required either. It gives that power of self-perception back to the athlete, allowing members the freedom to identify how they want to without having to fear being excluded because they are not “man” enough or “living as a man”. Honestly, it is incredibly refreshing to read! Can you tell that I absolutely love this policy yet? No? Well, I do!

 

2. It Genuinely Welcomes and Respects Non-Binary Gender Identities

I’ll be honest, I teared up and wanted to cry when I first read the MRDA’s Non-Discrimination Policy. It was the first document not only in roller derby but in ANY sport that I have personally been involved with that TRULY addresses a core issue faced by non-binary gender individuals: how often their gender is ignored or negated by official policy. None of that here! Instead, the MRDA both recognizes and respects the existence of  non-binary genders, choosing to welcome them exactly as they are. No gender conformity necessary!

 

3.  It Does Not Contain ANY Barriers for Inclusion

No genders defined, no insistence on people proving their biological sex, no standards for masculinity and no differentiation between those who identify as male and those who identify as non-binary makes this one of the single most welcoming organizations I’ve encountered in competitive sport. While other roller derby policies had all of these barriers for transgender and non-binary athletes to climb, this document flat out says that the MRDA refuses to create hoops and hurdles for people to clear in order to participate.

Social change can be painfully slow and the larger the scale the more impossible it can seem. Just knowing that a major organization like the MRDA has taken these great steps is wonderful, fills me with lots of hope for even bolder changes ahead and I would love to see others follow suit with similar approaches!

So, I would just like to say a HUGE thank you to those who were involved in forming this policy. Nicely done! I’m also extremely grateful for everyone across the derby community, blogosphere and social media who make every effort to speak out about important issues of all kinds in our sport. Do not allow yourself to be silenced by fear and/or intimidation! Each and every voice has the power to influence the growth of the sport in a healthy, progressive way.

 

Kevlar 2Written by Kevin ‘Kevlar’ Dennison

Inclusion for all!!!!

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24 comments

  1. Kevin, i’ve been involved in derby ever since last year, that i started to coach a women’s derby team with skating training here in Argentina, a country where the sport is less than 5 year old but still growing at an incredible pace, and where the Man’s Rollerderby leagues had just start about one year ago or so. This year i was lucky enough to start skating for Buenos Aires Conspiracy and short after that, the RD World Cup took place.
    In spite of being overwhelmingly gratefull of getting to know this sport, that somehow makes you grow in a lot of personal ways, it came to me one day a video that showed how mans rollerderby was being sort of “bullyed” by anyone who thought that it was a women exclusive sport. not only i found it annoying as a skater (i’ve been skating for about a decade now, and tried several skating disciplines) but it felt like something was really REALLY wrong regarding the women’s view of masculine (or any other gender) rollerderby, being the case that in almost any way women were excluded several times and in different ways from many sports world wide.
    it fills me with joy to know that there are people who fight against all odds in order to not only recieve but promote equal standards as for who might or might not enroll in rollerderby, regardless of his gender, and many other things that could be considered racist or sexist statements.
    i support the gender diversity in every way, i always supported the fact that ANYONE should practice any sport (or *do* any other thing) without having to worry about how he looks, how he acts, what he likes to do or even who they are attracted to.
    i look forward for the moment when everyone could see the skater next to him as what it is: a rollerderby skater, and nothing else. because, at the end of everything, that’s what we are. skaters. and this is what we love. so… what’s the point in struggling against genders, or stuff, when we’re all together trying to push forward this great community?

    i know my writing isn’t as neat as what i am trying to say here, but i hope anyone that reads this gets the idea.

    Let it be Derby! FROM all and FOR all =)

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on and experiences with gender, Nicolas! I couldn’t agree more with your sentiment that everyone should be allowed to practice any sport regardless of their age, gender, sexuality, spirituality, without feeling marginalized. It’s just all so frustrating because, as you say, we’ve all invested so much into this sport and we’re all in this together trying to push forward the community we’ve built.

      Kevlar

  2. Sounds like its a “Shut up and play Debry” type statement. Works for me…

  3. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely support the MRDA and the decision they have made on gender policy. It is incredibly progressive and is a beacon of hope for all people who find their gender identity doesn’t conform to traditional ideals.

    BUT.

    I don’t think it’s fair to be so harsh on WFTDA or UKRDA for their gender policies. I’ll put it this way:
    Do you think all sport should be mixed/co-ed? If the answer is yes, then the solution is simple; create a policy not unlike the one MRDA has released.
    If the answer is no, that there should be at least some sport that is single gender (and this seems to be a much more prevalent view for reasons that are extremely difficult to articulate without risking offense), then it’s a bit trickier. You essentially have to write a policy that discriminates between genders in some form or another. This is the direction that the WFTDA and UKRDA are going. Going down this path is an absolute mine-field when you start having to consider where you draw the line when it comes to gender identities.

    Honestly, for what currently exists, I think the WFTDA and UKRDA are doing a very good job with a very tricky problem. I absolutely trust that they want to be opening and welcoming for everyone, but it’s going to take a bit of time to get it all worked out, especially because, to a certain degree, they are breaking new ground in the context of a full-contact sport.

    1. Thank you very much for reading and replying, PB! I appreciate you taking the time to engage with this conversation!

      “You essentially have to write a policy that discriminates between genders in some form or another.”

      Why though? Why knowingly take 1 gender identity of the 50+ gender identities that exist across the extremely diverse gender spectrum and say that this 1 gender is protected and respected while the others are not? It just doesn’t make sense to me from a growth perspective for the sport.

      I think a big problem with all of this is that sex and gender have been confused with one another across these policies. Sex is biological, it includes physical attributes such as an individuals sex chromosomes, gonads, hormones, internal reproductive structures, and external genitalia. Gender, on the other hand, is the complex interrelationship between the physical traits of one’s sex and their internal sense of self as being male, female, both or neither. It’s also about how one outwardly presents themselves and behaves in relation to that self perception.

      The WFTDA calls their document a “gender” policy when, in my eyes, it is really a sex policy as it utilizes hormone levels as the determining factor for inclusion. A non-binary person who was born biologically female will likely not have problems with WFTDA charter eligibility because even though they do not identify as strictly feminine or a woman, them having the physical attributes of a female will protect them from having to prove that their hormone levels fall within the “medically accepted range for females.” However, a transgender athlete undergoing hormone replacement therapy and sex reassignment surgery is subjected to what I feel to be an extremely discriminatory policy that requires that they (and ONLY they) divulge sensitive, personal medical documentation upon request.

      I feel that if you’re going to require that male-to-female skaters need to prove that their hormones are sufficiently female upon request then I feel that you should require the same of ALL female athletes in this sport. Things like hyperandrogenism, a condition in which the body produces higher than normal levels of androgens (like testosterone) that can also lead to the development of bulky muscles, is very real in some females. Not to mention that some females simply just have natural testosterone levels in the male range. But the roller derby community is worried about a transgender skater who is using hormone blockers having some sort of “competitive advantage”? Moreso than a female with naturally high testosterone levels and/or bulky muscles hyperandrogenism? While it may not be the most popular opinion, I say require medical documents of everybody or nobody.

      When I really think about it, the UKRDA policy, while less invasive, actually just flat out confuses me because its definition of the male and female sex doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. For example; by saying that a female “is an individual living as and identifying as female on a full time basis” does this mean that the UKRDA recognizes “females” as being individuals whose biological sex is female and who identify as biologically female? Or are these definitions confusing the sexes with gender identities? The definition of male provided in the policy is equally as head scratching to me. It then goes on to say that not only is roller derby sex segregated but it’s ALSO single gendered. So not only do you have to be biologically male or female but you also have to accept being perceived as either a cisman or ciswoman “in the context of roller derby.” As in only cisgender females and cisgender males are protected and afforded a safe space in this sport and if you want to be a part of roller derby then you need to accept the marginalization of your gender. It just doesn’t sound very welcoming to me.

      All the sex and gender inclusion hurdles and hoops just feel pointless to me. So, my big questions are these:

      1. Why use roller derby to alienate and discriminate people that are already marginalized and alienated so severely in every day life?

      2. Why even bother policing gender at all? Do non-binary genders somehow threaten sex segregated sports? Does a female athlete who identifies as a tomboy jeopardize the safety and comfort of a ciswoman athlete?

      In the end, though it might sound harsh to be so critical, I certainly feel it is incredibly important and beneficial to voice and discuss thoughts, opinions and feelings, be they positive or negative.

      Kevlar

      1. What you’ve said doesn’t invalidate PB’s point. WFTDA and UKRDA are sex/gender segregated organizations. They are “for women”, but what that really means (or perhaps should mean) is that they are for “not-men”. What PB is saying is that if that’s the intent, then the line has to be drawn somewhere. PB isn’t saying that WFTDA and UKRDA necessarily have the line drawn in the right place or the right way, just that they had to draw it somewhere if they weren’t to allow everyone, men included, to play.

        MRDA have drawn a line too. Their policy can be summed up as, “if you’re not a (self-identified) woman, you can play”. That’s no less a barrier than the WFTDA and UKRDA policies, it’s just drawn where few people would find it problematic in the context of what is recognized as a sex/gender segregated sporting organization. Perhaps UKRDA and WFTDA would do well to follow that lead.

        But perhaps not. It comes back to the reasons for segregating in the first place and it’s an issue that all sports face. Like it or not, there are sex-based differences in both physiology and psychology. Yes, there’s overlap and outliers, but generally speaking women are not as physically large or powerful as men, are more flexible, have lower centres of gravity and a higher proportion of body fat, etc., etc. The list goes on.

        If those sex-based differences, particularly physical power, are the reason for segregating in the first place, then isn’t it reasonable to use those differences to draw the line in grey areas? A biological and gender-female may be a physiological outlier, but there’s no question she’s a woman. It seems to me that it would be unfair to exclude her just because she’s a natural outlier in terms of testosterone or muscle mass. You might disagree, and I would respect that point of view, given the context.

        But when it comes to the non-binary, it’s unquestionably a fair question – does this person fit the criteria for playing sport in a segregated-from-men-because-they-tend-to-be-more-physically-powerful context? Or, alternatively, if it’s social, not physical factors that are the reason for the segregation – does this person fit the criteria for playing sport in a segregated-from-men-because-they’re-rough/uncouth/predatory/icky/just…so…men! context? Whatever the reason for segregation, there’s a fair question to be asked and a line to be drawn. And note that this question also often involves the use of powerful hormonal drugs – exactly the kind of thing that can be used to gain unfair competitive advantage in sport – so it’s reasonable to be careful about the way their use is handled in a sporting context.

        In the physical power context, MRDA has it easier than the women’s organizations. Men are the more powerful anyway, so the non-binary are less of a threat to balance (at least on that score). Perhaps they should be more concerned about female-to-male trans-men being overdosed on testosterone and thereby gaining competitive advantage, or female-to-male trans-men gaining advantage from their feminine flexibility and lower centre of gravity.

        It’s hard. The great thing is that all of derby is aware of the issue and trying to be fair to everyone about it. Can the UKRDA and WFTDA codes be improved? Probably. But they’re trying, just as MRDA are. Let’s give them credit for that.

        For what it’s worth, I’d like to see all of derby under one governing body, which caters for competition on a variety of bases: women, not-men, men, not-women, mixed, open, non-binary-only, junior age group, masters age group, full-contact, low-impact, all of it.

    2. I value your opinion, but take offence in that my gender identity is described as a ‘very tricky problem’.

      1. “Perhaps they should be more concerned about female-to-male trans-men being overdosed on testosterone and thereby gaining competitive advantage, or female-to-male trans-men gaining advantage from their feminine flexibility and lower centre of gravity.”

        As an individual who describes themselves as ftm, this is ignorant. “Overdosed on testosterone” is an incredibly perjorative phrase. I’m not “overdosing on testosterone”, I’m being medicated for gender dysphoria. Do you “overdose” on paracetamol when you have a headache? As an aside, some people who are ftm are on incredibly low doses on testosterone, WELL below that which athletes take illegally. I don’t take testosterone at all.

        Are all people Assigned Female at Birth (AFAB) blessed with this mythological increased flexibility because of their biological sex? Are people who were AFAB that were born to grow very tall blessed with a low centre of gravity?

        As with all descriptions of people, the introduction of hormones into an individual’s body has an effect that cannot be generalised such as in the quote above.

        “It’s hard. The great thing is that all of derby is aware of the issue and trying to be fair to everyone about it. Can the UKRDA and WFTDA codes be improved? Probably. But they’re trying, just as MRDA are. Let’s give them credit for that.”

        It’s great they’re trying, but it’s still not great. They will just have to KEEP trying. My partner was a consultant on the UKRDA gender policy. Her points about people who are non-binary were deliberately (and even aggressively) ignored to make the situation easier for the person who was writing them.

        Also, men are not necessarily ‘more powerful’. UGH. If you watch some of the cis women I used to skate with in my past women’s leagues play, they are more than a match for their cis male counterparts in skill, strength and build.

        If policies are built on such rash generalisation as these, there will always be people who are vilified and oppressed.

    3. As an aside, I have founded a completely gender-inclusive team. We have people involved and who skate who describe themselves as ftm, mtf, cis male, cis female, on hormone therapy, off hormone therapy, genderqueer, agender, transmasculine, transfeminine, non-binary. We have over 50 members that have joined in two months. The world hasn’t ended yet, there are no disagreements, nobody has been injured as a result of their body size and strength (because everyone abides by the rules of roller derby and plays safely. They also wear pads.). People are training in a positive and encouraging environment with a safer spaces policy that’s very rigid against any kind of oppression and which encourages the self regardless of gender identity.

      I’m expecting armageddon any day now.

      1. Haha, I love it when people pull utterly bizarre gender “facts” straight out of their butts! This Geex Quad guy is a dweeb for sure. Finn I love you and am pretty much down with what you’re saying but “biological sex” is an extremely problematic term :/ … Weird thing about binary gendered roller derby at the moment is that, despite the fact that all this hocus pocus “biological gender determinism” stuff is bull, men’s style roller derby and women’s style roller derby are two very different looking beasts in terms of play-style… very odd

      2. Thanks for calling it out Joss, I don’t know how that got in there. I can’t edit it now, though. 😦

  4. I like the simpliciity of MADE’s policy which has been in effect for years. Play as you identify.

    1. I’m very unfamiliar with MADE as I haven’t been exposed to it at all. But that sounds excellent and I’ll look into it more as well. Thanks for the heads up!

      Kevlar

      1. MADE’s policy: What is your policy regarding transgendered athletes?

        “M.A.D.E. Releases Transgender Policy – July 21, 2011
        The Modern Athletic Derby Endeavor recognizes and welcomes transgendered athletes in our leagues/teams that are single-sex focused. If an athlete self-identifies as a specific gender, and wishes to play on a team of that gender, they are permitted to do so per this policy. MADE does not consider if the transgender athlete has or has not gone through gender reassignment surgery when determining eligibility to participate, and does not require the athlete provide specific proof of gender.”

        It still has the binary problems of most roller derby governing bodies. They also have specific rules in the co-ed bouts:

        “M.A.D.E. Co-Ed Game Structure – Oct. 25, 2007
        – Teams may not play more than two (2) male members per jam during co-ed play.
        – Teams will not play a male Pivot/Jammer combo in any co-ed jam.
        * Individual teams may modify sanctioned structure in private mutual contract prior to game day.”

        It specifically mentions ‘male’ members… what if a league has female and non binary members playing co-ed. Do the non-binary members have to play as male (for example).

        http://www.skatemade.org/#!faq/c1tu1

  5. Wow, this removes one of the mental barriers I have in place that’s kept me from seriously thinking about moving from derby fan to derby player. Very exciting.

    1. Very happy to hear this policy has removed some barriers for you! I think it’s incredibly exiting and hope it is a sign of changes to come across all the major policies of various derby organizations.

      Kevlar

  6. Being a transgender woman i can only say that your policy is the way it should be done. And im not talking only about gender related issues. Organisations like yours are the hope for the future.

  7. Being as I understand it it cismale, gender issues rarely are an issue. I’m only made aware of them through friends (skaters) whom identify other than cismale/cisfemale. What one feels/claims/believes/ they are and with whom they prefer to be intimate with is none of my concern. Be it derby or my blue collar job my concern is one “can you do the job”?

    I’m not gonna lie and say I’m for the rights of any gender or sex. My only concern is payday is Friday and there’s a lot of open road to ride my motorcycle. In the mean time find what you enjoy and if you have to fight for it.

  8. Dince I can’t reply to Geex Quad directly, I’ll leave a general comment instead.

    “Perhaps they should be more concerned about female-to-male trans-men being overdosed on testosterone and thereby gaining competitive advantage, or female-to-male trans-men gaining advantage from their feminine flexibility and lower centre of gravity.”

    This is bullshit and not actually how it works at all. I am roughly the same height and build as Daniel Radcliff. My hormone levels are in a typical male range. I guess we shouldn’t let Dan play derby either? I’m not that flexible either but I know a few cis guys who are more flexible than me. What I’m saying is that cis bodies don’t come in a regular, cookie cutter shape and endocrine make up so good luck trying to regulate that. It is often the case that trans women receiving hormone therapy actually have a slight disadvantage because their T levels become almost non existant.

    I applaud the MRDAs efforts and think their policy is great. If the WFTDA want documentation of a persons hormone levels, they should be demanding it off of everyone who plays. Anything else is discrimination. It’s shit like this which is the reason why we felt a need to create a fully gender inclusive team which doesn’t discriminate or care what your body shape or hormones are. All we give a shit about is what pronouns you like to use and whether you want to skate or not.

  9. Fun fact, the Men’s Roller Derby World Cup has decided to use the MRDA non-discrimination policy almost intact! We did have to take out the language about nationality, as it’s a national teams’ tournament.

    The MRDWC is more than happy to welcome any non-binary skaters who wish to skate for their nations, per this policy. We think it’s a great step forward!

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