Do I Actually Belong Here?
I'm on an adventure and I don't know my destination... I have always known that I didn't fit in my body. So, over the years I did things in hopes to present myself in a less feminine way. I always dressed in ways that I didn't think girls would dress. I cut off all my hair. Nowadays I bind my chest down in hopes to hide my boobs. And let me tell you - playing derby with a binder is not something I'd recommend! Some day soonish I'm going to get top surgery and finally be able to breath and not feel like I'm going to black out.
In the last two years I realized if I'm going to be comfortable in my own skin I should keep taking steps towards what I really want. I've started asking family and friends to use gender neutral pronouns with me. No more "she" or "her"! I have asked my peeps if they need to refer to me to say "they" or "them" or just use my name. I have mostly received positive responses and support. I've done these things so people don't see me and assume my gender. I've had mixed results. The people closest to me have done a really good job and it makes me feel really safe. But there is one place I usually feel really safe, one place that I love with all of my heart that is becoming harder for me. Roller derby.
I play for two women's roller derby teams who I love. When I first came out to my home league it was heartwarming. Everybody said all the things I would have wanted them to say. I remember how relieved I was when I knew that practices were going to be 100 times better for me. Next practice came and the coach yelled, "ok ladies let's get going!" I thought, that's ok, they didn't mean me when they said ladies. Next, we were learning a drill with partners and the instructions went as follows: Put your hand on her shoulder She will support you Make sure she is still with you. It went on. Every time I got "she'd" or her'd" it felt a little worse than before. I knew they weren't doing it on purpose, but it made me doubt my previous thoughts about how easy it would be to find a place that made me feel comfortable.
I do have to say there is a small group of people who transitioned over smoothly and only use the proper pronouns for me. You also have to laugh at points when the people who want to work with me and support me end up fumbling between her, he, and they in the same sentence. I think someone even said "it" once! They apologize and end up forgetting what they were even saying in the first place. I end up feeling guilty because I don't want to make people feel uncomfortable just so I can feel comfortable. I'm not going to correct someone every single time. It doesn't feel worth it. I have skated with some of these people for over five years. Of course it's going to be challenging for them to just switch to gender neutral pronouns. Not to mention all the amount of new skaters I regularly meet - how am I supposed to tell them? Some people don't even know what gender neutral pronouns are! When someone says "they" some people wonder how many people are being talked about, even when it's just about me. More often than not when someone mis-genders me, somebody else points it out. I very rarely have to correct people myself. It reminds me that I am loved, that they love me, whoever I am.
The second team I skate with is in a neighbouring province. I drive there every two-ish weeks for practices. As a result I get to travel with them and play other WFTDA derby teams from all over North America. I have skated against them for years, and have only in the last year and a half had the privilege to skate with them. These are skaters I've looked up to since I started playing derby and talking to them about my confusing gender stuff was really intimidating. I requested for them to switch pronouns. They were very supportive, but it hasn't been as successful as with my home league. I think it's because I'm not around enough and they don't have any other skaters like me. Outta sight, outta mind. My home league has a couple of skaters who don't fit easily into the "normal" gender spectrum, so maybe it's just more familiar for them. Plus, I'm always around them.
After my initial announcement to the other team I reminded them once more how it would really help if they could be aware of how they spoke and addressed each other to include me. Since then I've just given up a little bit. I don't want to disrupt practice every time someone says "hey girls, ladies, she, her, etc" instead of "hey folks, team, y'all, everybody, etc." Because really, how big of a deal is it? I say "hey guys" to people all the time - even when I'm referring to an entirely female identified group of people. But somehow it makes me feel out of place. Somehow it makes me feel uncomfortable. So, my forward motion has been put on hold.
Then there is the predicament of the rest of the Atlantic derby community. How the hell do I go about sharing my journey with them? I only see these people half a dozen times a year, yet they are such a super big and important part of my life. Also, what about fresh meat? I am an FM trainer in my home league and we get about 30-40 new skaters per year. How do I introduce them to my gender identity? It's not something you just announce to the group: "Welcome to ACR, my name is Nardin, please don't use female pronouns with me. Also, could everyone please check your toe-stops?" It just seems odd.
So let's just say that both of my teams' vocabularies magically adapt and the hundreds of skaters in the Maritimes accept me and start to address me in a way that make me feel comfortable in my own skin. Then comes the hard part. The part where the rest of me starts to change. Will everybody be so accommodating when I have top surgery? What if I start taking testosterone and my voice changes? What about a five o'clock shadow? I love the shit out of roller derby and dedicate a large part of my time, money, and energy to making myself a better skater and helping the sport grow. Will I still be able to play this sport with my friends? What if the place I find myself is past the border of "women's" derby? Is there even a line? Who makes that line?
Two of the things I think of the most (derby and who I am) conflict in the worst ways. "I am roller derby" - those words have come out of my mouth more than once. I am much more than derby, but those words are still so very true. I am going to operate and believe that as my mental and physical evolution continues, the sport and people in this with me will also evolve. I refuse to entertain the idea that I won't have a place in this sport that is very much a part of me as I continue on this gender journey. I don't know where I will end up and I don't know what it'll look like. I don't think that I fit comfortably under the umbrella of "Women's Flat Track Derby Association" but I know I belong in derby, I know I belong here.