by Rachel Warren | photos by Terry Christian & Rachel Warren
The sport of roller derby has always attracted a diverse mix of people. Since its inception in 2006, Memphis Roller Derby (MRD) has been committed to accepting all people, especially those that identify under the umbrella of LGBTQA+. MRD decided to take this commitment even further in 2016 by ensuring all written and verbal communications within the league reflect gender-neutral language.
In 2008, MRD became a sanctioned league under WFTDA (Women’s Flat Track Derby Association), one of the largest governing bodies of roller derby in the nation. In 2016, WFTDA also furthered its dedication to supporting LGBTQA+ (https:// wftda.com/wftda-gender- statement/), stating on it’s website that the organization is committed to “inclusive and anti-discrimination practices in relation to all transgendered women, intersex women and gender expansive participants.”
It’s not uncommon to hear attitudes on the roller derby track such as “It doesn’t matter if you’re straight/gay/ bi/trans/queer as long as you can skate!” The unique and DIY quality of roller derby has a legacy of attracting and accepting a wide variety of different people, different body types, different cultures and attitudes. It is LGBTQA+ support and inclusion like this that is attracting new people to the sport every day.
“Roller derby, whether games, practices or otherwise should be a safe space for people to come and be themselves. By using gender- neutral language, we make a statement that we stand by siblings in the LGBTQA+ community. It is a come-as- you-are environment,” Julia Waters a.k.a Juggernaughtie, said. Waters is an active “fresh meat” skater who has been with MRD since January 2017. Fresh meat is a derby term for new skaters who are not team placed.
Waters identifies as queer and is vying to be team placed. She is excited about the gender-neutral pronoun change, saying, “While I use the pronouns ‘she/her,’ there are people in MRD that use gender-neutral pronouns. I think using gender-neutral pronouns is a much better way to address the league as a whole. It is a step to make sure everyone feels included.”
Julia Juggernaughtie Waters is an active “fresh meat” skater who has been with MRD
since January 2017. Fresh meat is a derby term for new skaters who are not team
placed. Waters says that she uses the she/her pronouns, she likes the league’s
use of gender neutral pronouns.
MRD saw the need to update its policies regarding gendered language when it began to put together its Gender Inclusive Boot Camp, a biannual, six-week clinic offered by MRD for those interested in learning how to skate and play roller derby.
Sarah Stroupe a.k.a Nora Epinephrine, a seven-year team-placed MRD veteran skater, noted that the shift to gender-neutral language was largely due to MRD’s non- binary members suggesting they advertise the boot camp as gender inclusive. Stroupe is also the MRD Skater Council Director and uses they or she pronouns.
“I went back to look at MRD policies. Sure enough, it was all ‘she/her’ pronouns. Leadership had decided that all genders were included in our boot camp, but this attitude was not reflected in our documentation. We agreed then to officially use gender-neutral language in all MRD communications. We set up our member directory so that individuals could record what pronoun they use, if they so wish,” Stroupe said.
She added that MRD has always accepted trans, intersex and gender expansive people, but “words are just as important as actions when it comes to acceptance. Saying we accepted everyone while using ‘she’ for all of our communications and official sport documents was dissonant and careless at best.”
Alexa Zabella a.k.a shoPAO!, a fresh meat skater with MRD since August 2016, is also aiming to be team placed and identifies as queer and non- binary. Zabella’s preferred gender pronouns are they/ them. They are also the MRD
Secretary and Treasurer.
“Since changing the language of our policies and procedures to be gender- neutral, I’ve noticed MRD trainers actively trying to incorporate the same language at practices. I’m so happy we’ve made this change. As the league grows to include a multitude of people of different identities, it’s important to reflect that in our official structures,” they said.
Zabella added that although they are happy to see these changes, there is still work to be done “at a micro-level.” They recounted a memory of an out-of-town roller derby clinic they attended last year where some of the trainers used female pronouns when referring to attendees. “I understand that it’s not intended to be exclusive or harmful. It’s just something that will take time across the board.”
As for the future, MRD is committed to continuing its drive to change for the better, empowering new skaters of today to perform their best and take charge. “In addition to the use of gender neutral- language, we are currently striving to have our less experienced skaters taken as seriously when it comes to training and inclusion as compared to our more experienced skaters. Today, the amount of care that our Training and Coaching Committee has when it comes to treating new people as the future of MRD has been fantastic,” Stroupe said.
Want to learn more about roller derby and MRD? See MRD in action at a roller derby bout. MRD home bouts are played at 940 Maxwell Blvd at the Tiger Lane Pipkin Building. MRD home bouts this season are March 10th, April 28th, June 2nd, July 7th and August 25th. Interested in playing roller derby? MRD’s 2018 Gender Inclusive Boot Camp will take place this April, starting with the info session on April 26th. All info session attendees receive free admission to the April 28th bout. Follow Memphis Roller Derby on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and at memphisrollerderby.com