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:
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.
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.”
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.
Inclusion for all!!!!