Roller derby prides itself on its inclusiveness. We’re open to all body types, all orientations, and increasingly to all genders. We even have places for people who can’t stand the idea of putting on a pair of skates (NSOs rock my world).
When I joined derby I was struck by two things (three, if you count being literally struck on my target zones). One was the way that derby changed how I looked at my own body. My body was no longer something that was supposed to look a certain way that would always be found wanting. It became something that I could train to do more stuff, and instead of being always failing to reach a mark it was always learning and able to do more. That change was a revelation.
The other revelation- one I didn’t expect- was about my queerness. As a bi person, in public spaces my acceptance has always felt conditional. In gay spaces, I’d better be relatively quiet about my different-gendered attractions. In the rest of the world, the usual negotiations every queer person makes between outness and safety. That sense of always having to be careful of what I say, of feeling like the only spaces where I’m not an outsider are the ones I create myself, was something so ordinary as to be entirely unremarkable.
You don’t know what you’re carrying around until it’s lifted from you. When I say that in derby, nobody gave a rat’s ass, I don’t mean that they didn’t give a rat’s ass but they were really assuming I was straight (or gay). I mean that they genuinely didn’t give a rat’s ass who I fancied and that I never got the sense anyone was assuming anything. It was the first time in my life that I’ve been in a public space that wasn’t bi-specific where I felt like it honestly didn’t matter one bit either way. It wasn’t that it was the first time I didn’t feel like the only one in the room. More that it was the first time I felt like it didn’t matter if I was the only one in the room or not. We had other stuff to think about.
To say that the inclusivity that derby prides itself on means a lot to me, then.. it’s not something I say lightly. I adore this space.
When a space’s inclusivity has meant to much to a person, it’s a hell of a blow to find out that it has been harming other people.
A story has recently come to light of a skater being rejected for a place on her national team. Because she is Deaf. Seriously- here’s what the head coach of Team New Zealand, the aptly-named Pieces of Hate, had to say about Meat Train, one of the 30 skaters from which the final squad of 20 for the World Cup was picked. This is from Hate’s public Facebook page, by the way- the post’s since been taken down, by the way:
“What I do not like is that everyone has to walk on eggshells around someone because they have a disability… These players have so much to take on. Expecting them to learn sign language in nine months on top of that is just not fair. I’m real sorry, but it’s called a disability for a reason.”
One quick tip for people who want to get away with doing something ridiculously discriminatory: you probably shouldn’t post on your public Facebook page that the reason you did it was totally to discriminate against someone. I hear plausible deniability is all the rage among bigots these days. And another quick tip? If people question, say, why the hell you did what you did and said what you said, it might be a good idea to put down the metaphorical shovel and not, say, keep digging by saying something like this:
“It was a silly off-the-cuff comment. It meant no disrespect. It was just trying to explain to people the thing you go through when you are looking at considering people for teams.”
Yep. Apparently the thing you go through when you are looking at considering people for teams isn’t actually their skills at all. It’s their hearing impairment- which, as they it stop Meat Train from getting into the final 30 candidates for her national team, are obviously not something that has any negative impact on her game play whatsoever.
Actually, it’s not her Deafness at all. It’s Hate’s assumption that learning enough NZSL to play derby with is a task too massive for nine months of the team’s time. We’re not talking proficiency here- although, y’know, some skaters might want to give that a go, ’cause that’s precisely the kind of thing that people do for their teammates. Just enough to discuss plans, plays and strategies. The sorts of things that we communicate about visually all the damn time, even when we use spoken languages. This isn’t about Meat Train’s hearing. It’s about Hate’s audism, plain and simple.
In response to this blatant, unapologetic bigotry, the New Zealand Roller Derby Association (NZRDA) published a weak-ass sorry-not-sorry statement, where they talk about how discrimination is unacceptable, how Hate was directed to say sorry for what she had said, but also how any kind of sanction (such as selecting a new coach who could be relied upon to act fairly towards her skaters) would be “detrimental to the final 20 squad”. A few days later they released another statement saying, basically, that they’re investigating things and it’s gonna take a while.
Either way, though? There’s a skater who, by the sounds of things, isn’t getting to represent her country and take her game to the highest level she can. And that’s not because there were simply 20 better skaters than her in New Zealand, but because she is Deaf. It’s heartbreaking enough to miss out on something incredible for entirely legitimate reasons. But this? This is simply not fair. And the fact that the person who did this is currently still in her position, with no signs of being removed or facing any meaningful sanctions? Simply not fair.
I want roller derby to be better than this. The community that I know and love is one where we take people as they are and where the only damn thing determining how far you’ll go is how good you can be. It’s the one where inclusiveness is taken for granted, because it is granted. The community I know and love is one that goes out of its way to take people in from the cold and give them a home. If that is to matter a damn, then we need to get off our asses and show that we’re better than this. That audism and ableism- and any kind of bigotry- are not things that we accept, and not things we shove under the carpet.
We need to be better than this. We are better than this.
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