Written by Kevin Dennison
Body By Derby, a photo series which documents the various body types of active skaters and the physical effects that the sport of roller derby has on players, is heading to Chicago, Illinois this upcoming January 3, 2015. Hosted by the Windy City Rollers, the shoot will not only focus on the league itself but will also include a set for any actively skating transgender or Gender Non-Nonforming (GNC) athletes who want to participate. So, whether you identify as a transwoman, transman, transmasculine, transfeminine, genderqueer, genderfluid, androgynous, bigender, non-binary, or anywhere else outside of cisfemale or cismale, you are welcome to sign up as long as you are an active skater who has meet all of the requirements of your league to be eligible to bout!
For Cory Layman, the creator and photographer behind Body By Derby, this shoot will allow him to interact with a community that he isn’t as familiar with and he hopes that the photos will truly capture these skaters for who they are as strong athletes within the sport. “The GNC set is about interesting people and compelling images. It’s also about extending the types of bodies I have documented for the series. It’s about doing something for the first time,” explained Layman. “This is just adding another layer to the series to include people who have not yet been represented.”
Organizing such a shoot has also allowed Layman to reflect upon what gender identity and gender expression is, as well as how they relate to one another. “One thing I have struggled with is the notion of identity versus outward appearance. Yes, a butch woman and a Transman are different in some fundamental ways. In much the same way a femme man and a Transwoman would be. However, from the visual presentation perspective, they were both born with a certain body and now choose to present as the opposite to some degree. So, they are visually similar and that is the commonality. But, I have asked myself if it’s right to put the two together? Is it a disservice? However, do they both face similar challenges because they do not fit into the little box that society thinks they should?”
Perhaps, in some way, this shoot will aid Layman and others in further understanding what gender is and the role it plays in not only this sport but all across other aspects of society as well. These are certainly difficult concepts to comprehend for anybody outside of the trans* community as everyone’s outward gender expression and internal gender identity, even within those existing labels across the gender spectrum, can vary tremendously and there really is no right or wrong way to be trans* or GNC. However, Layman’s goal with the Body By Derby shoot for GNC athletes is not to illustrate the identities of those who participate, but rather present them as he has with those photographed in every other series. “One of the key elements of Body By Derby is that I try not to manipulate the impression of the viewer. Every image is intended to be flattering and rooted in power. Then, let the subject’s personality come through. I want the viewer to make the final determination if the image is beautiful, sexy, striking, or just nice,” he explained. That being said, Layman does hope that anybody who participates in the shoot is also able to challenge the negative self-talk we all too often subject ourselves to. “I would like people who are butch, trans*, gender non-conforming, etc. to see themselves in the images and maybe have a moment where they see themselves differently, and hopefully positively.”
The first Body By Derby photo shoot happened over two-and-a-half years ago with the Cornfed Derby Dames out of Muncie, Indiana. The entire series was started as an expansion of his other work, The Rollergirl Project, which allowed him to branch out into shooting things outside of bouts and annual headshots for his home teams (Bleeding Heartland and Demolition City) by exploring other aspects of the derby community outside of the league’s he is was primarily involved with. Since that initial shoot, Layman has photographed many other leagues across the states of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, and Tennessee, as part of the Body By derby Series.
If you would like to sign up for the GNC photo shoot in Chicago or would like to book a Body By Derby shoot for your league, contact Cory Layman through the Rollergirl Project Facebook page.
*Feature image from the “40-And-Over” Body By Derby set courtesy of Cory Layman.