CN: brief mention of relationship violence, and also for the entire post being about (consenting) physical aggression.
In roller derby, we talk a lot about hitting each other. I’ll be honest- we’re generally pretty gleeful about it. It’s not the only thing we do (god, not even a tenth) but there’s something deeply satisfying about landing a good hit. Some of my favourite memories are of taking down people twice my size, getting them in just the right spot to send ’em flying. And then there’s all the times I’ve been knocked over just to somersault back up again without missing a beat.. or the time someone sent me flying into some unsuspecting audience member’s full cup of coffee in a game. Good times, you guys. Damn good times.
Also, it turns out that hot coffee really does mask the stench of elbow pads pretty well, so there’s that.
We talk about hitting each other a lot, and we call it violence. But there’s a conversation I’ve had with a(n impressively insightful) friend of mine a few times about this, and I’m not sure that violence is the right word to use. This is gonna be a paraphrased version of their point and mine and the whole conversation.
Violence, you see? Violence is harmful. And violence isn’t just physically hitting someone. We can be violent in a ton of ways that aren’t physical. The vast majority of oppressive violence is nonphysical. In relationships, physical abuse is the tip of a hell of an iceberg- do you think for one second anyone would stay if there wasn’t a hell of a lot more going on? There’s the violence of economic systems that grind people down and take away their options to determine the course of their own life. There’s the violence of religious and cultural discourses that convince people that they are undeserving of happiness, love, or even the right to their own bodies.
I could go on. What all of these things have in common isn’t that they leave a bruise, because the vast majority don’t. They have in common the fact that they are imposed on us without our consent, and that they cause far more harm than the physical. Violence is destructive.
Then there’s derby. I woke up this morning aching all over after four hours of gloriously full-on training yesterday. A quick inventory in the shower showed all sizes of bruises and a generous distribution of velcro scratches, not to mention the invisible sorenesses that haven’t made marks, and the usual raw redness on my upper arms where I scrubbed and scrubbed the ink from my skater numbers off. Just like always, I smiled to myself as I saw ’em. Damn, girl. You worked hard yesterday.
Sure, in one sense those bruises were caused by destructive forces- I’ve got some capillaries that need to get repaired, and someone’s velcro sure did destroy the integrity of my skin in places. But a few capillaries and a strip or two of skin (let’s not even start on the toenails..) are nothing in comparison to the joy and satisfaction that come with them.
I think my friend was right. This may hurt, but it isn’t violence. The word they figure we should be using is aggression, and I can’t but think they have a point.
You see, there are a lot of reasons to hit someone in derby. Mostly, it’s ’cause they’re in your way and you want them to be somewhere else. Or they’re in someone else’s way and you want that someone else to be somewhere else. Sometimes it’s to distract them- nothing’s quite as distracting as a razor-sharp hip or shoulder jabbed squarely into one of your more sensitive legal target zones. Sometimes it’s even to piss them off, so their mind might be less on the game than getting revenge.
The one thing that it’s never about is actively harming anybody.
That’s not to say that people don’t get harmed playing derby. It’s a full-contact sport! On goddamn roller skates! We do everything we can to mitigate risk, but people break and twist and sprain and dislocate things all the time.
I’ve never heard of anyone wanting that to happen, though. While I’m sure there are some vicious asshats in the derby world- we’re a bunch of humans after all- in the couple of years I’ve been in this community it’s simply not something I’ve heard of.
Our aggression is about a lot of things. For me, it’s been about finding a space within myself to not hesitate or be scared, to know what I want and how I’m gonna get there and just do it. And I can’t begin to explain how healing it’s been to my catastrophising, anxiety-ridden self to get knocked over, again and again, and get right back up and do it again until I find a way through.
If violence is about destruction, maybe aggression is about uncompromising forcefulness. If violence is necessarily harmful, maybe aggression can be something neutral- something we can use in positive and constructive ways as well as neutral and negative. And I, for one, like the idea of using words that emphasise that.
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