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Transgender Bodies

My fiveonfive article on playing roller derby as a transgender woman is now available online as FiveOnFive Sneak Peek: Transgender Policies: My Story

Ever since the article came out in print, I’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response from both fellow rollergirls and my many friends in the LGBT community.  And when Derby Life made the article available online last weekend, encouraging comments starting pouring in through facebook, twitter, email, text messaging and on Derby Life itself from longtime friends, new friends, as well as acquaintances I hadn’t heard from in years.

The response has included the requisite “I had no idea [you were trans]!” from a few friends, which has generally been well-meaning but has also been a source of anxiety. The first DC Rollergirls practice I showed up after my article made it online was a rather stressful ordeal where I kept analyzing every glance from other rollergirls, wondering to myself what had changed–were my tiny hips now under more scrutiny than before?  What about my breasts? My butt? My ass?  What about my skating stance? How many people were having an “aha!” moment were they felt they had “figured out” why my skating stance was so unique–my hunched-over stance has been compared to a spider, a pterodactyl, and yes, men’s derby players on multiple occasions.

The anxiety continued at practice the next day, and really only broke this morning after I re-read a poem that my lover, a genderqueer individual like myself, had sent to me two months ago. After kissing her goodbye as she left to catch a plane to see her family for Christmas, I found the poem hanging near her stove, and read it out loud. The poem, How To Make Love to A Trans Person, by Gabe Moses, really captures what it’s been like to come to terms with my body as a post-operative transgender individual (who also identifies as genderqueer), and what it’s been like to find love and acceptance despite all the pain, anxiety, and misunderstanding.  I’m re-posting it here in part, although the full version is available at the blog Genderqueer Chicago:

….
When you peel layers of clothing from his skin
Do not act as though you are changing dressings on a trauma patient
Even though it’s highly likely that you are.
Do not ask if she’s “had the surgery.”
Do not tell him that the needlepoint bruises on his thighs look like they hurt
If you are being offered a body
That has already been laid upon an altar of surgical steel
A sacrifice to whatever gods govern bodies
That come with some assembly required
Whatever you do,
Do not say that the carefully sculpted landscape
Bordered by rocky ridges of scar tissue
Looks almost natural.

….

Realize that bodies are only a fraction of who we are
They’re just oddly-shaped vessels for hearts
And honestly, they can barely contain us
We strain at their seams with every breath we take
We are all pulse and sweat,
Tissue and nerve ending
We are programmed to grope and fumble until we get it right.
Bodies have been learning each other forever.
It’s what bodies do.
They are grab bags of parts
And half the fun is figuring out
All the different ways we can fit them together;
All the different uses for hipbones and hands,
Tongues and teeth;
All the ways to car-crash our bodies beautiful.
But we could never forget how to use our hearts
Even if we tried.
That’s the important part.
Don’t worry about the bodies.
They’ve got this.

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Secular Humanist Water Bottle

Secular Humanist Water Bottle

I spent all weekend trying to come up with one post on Christopher Hitchens and gender, but ended up with enough material for four or more separate posts on feminism, atheism and gender…which I’m now working on editing.

In the meantime, here’s a picture I took on the way home from roller derby practice.

That’s the sign in front of the US Conference for Catholic Bishops, and the logos on my bottle are for the Secular Student Alliance and the American Humanist Association.

Let me just say that while I may personally have never been a fan of Christopher Hitchens, I am thankful for all the atheists, secular humanists, and other non-religious Americans he inspired to get involved in political organizing. The so-called “New Atheist” movement he helped inspire has done a lot to fight back against the Religious Right’s attacks on LGBT rights, reproductive rights, and basic civil liberties.

As an HIV/AIDS activist, I am keenly aware of how damaging the influence of the Catholic Church has been to proper HIV prevention, education and treatment worldwide. Did you know Washington, DC has a 3% HIV infection rate? That’s 15,000-20,000 people. What would happen if that many people held a protest in front of this building?

the musings of a rollergirl activist

This is where I test if I’m as resilient a writer as I am a skater. Knock me down, I’ll keep getting right back up until you break both my knees. It’s Jam 1. Let’s go:

When I joined the DC Rollergirls in 2008, I immediately broke the league’s code of conduct just by signing my name.  In it’s opening paragraph, the code of conduct stated “transsexual women are allowed to join if it has been at least two years since surgery, per Olympic Committee Rules.”

I find the idea that someone’s gender should be determined by what surgeries they’ve had to be appalling. I also prefer to refer to my gender with the term “transgender” rather than the more medicalized term “transsexual,” but as someone who was assigned male at birth and now expresses my gender as female, both terms apply to me. In 2008 I had not undergone any form of so-called “gender reassignment surgery,” but I signed up to be a DC Rollergirl anyways–because I knew I was a woman, and I wanted to be a part of the amazing sport of women’s flat track roller derby.

In the Winter 2011 issue of Five on Five magazine, the official magazine of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), I published the article “Transgender Policies: My Story.” In the article I describe what it was like skating under such a transphobic code of conduct, and how my team helped change that code of conduct to be more inclusive. Here’s the most important part of my Five on Five article, which takes a look at the bigger picture–how my story is related to WFTDA’s Gender Policy:

WFTDA is now about to implement a gender policy for inter-league play that is far more inclusive than DC Rollergirls’ original code of conduct, a policy that is a testament to the increased visibility and acceptance of transgender rollergirls within WFTDA since I began skating in 2008. WFTDA’s policy for the first time officially recognizes the contributions of transgender women to the sport of roller derby, and should serve as an example to other sports as well. By not relying on surgical status in its definition of “female,” and instead relying on the testimony of an athlete’s healthcare provider as to whether or not that athlete’s hormone levels are within a “medically acceptable” range for a female, WFTDA’s gender policy leaves a lot of flexibility in its definition of gender, and is far more inclusive than that of almost all professional sports. But it also far from perfect, and it is my hope that it will be revised after implementation to be more inclusive, and furthermore, that any policy regulating hormone levels will apply equally to cisgender and transgender women, rather than singling out transgender women over concerns about how hormone levels affect athletic competitiveness.

When transgender inclusion has been discussed in other women’s spaces, it’s fairly common to see strong opposition based on prejudice and ignorance.  It is remarkable that no such voice has emerged within WFTDA.  On the contrary, the Philly Rollergirls have emerged as vocal critics of WFTDA’s Gender Policy arguing that it isn’t inclusive enough and that it “may potentially lead to wide-reaching problems regarding hormone testing,” leading to possible “witch hunts.”  In June 2011, at the East Coast Derby Extravaganza, volunteers from the Philly Rollergirls asked participants to sign a petition asking WFTDA not to implement the gender policy as written and furthermore asked rollergirls in support of their petition to wear temporary tattoos with the transgender pride symbol to show solidarity with their cause.  Hundreds of rollergirls responded favorably to their cause, and transgender pride tattoos were visible everywhere you looked—on arms, faces, even cleavage.  It was a heartening sight that brought me to tears more than once.  It began healing the anger I had harbored for so long from the witch-hunt that I had faced within my own league.  The atmosphere their protest created made ECDX 2011 the first time I ever felt comfortable talking publicly about being transgender with other rollergirls, coming out to many DC Rollergirls for the first time and also sharing stories with other out transgender rollergirls including Rita “Jacquelyn Heat” Kelly from Philly and Melanie “Nameless Whorror” Pasztor from Montreal.

I am proud to be a transgender rollergirl, and I am optimistic as I look forward to the implementation of WFTDA’s gender policy in January 2012.  I firmly believe that WFTDA is better off with the current gender policy than without one, and I sincerely hope the visibility the Philly Rollergirls’ protest brought to potential problems with the gender policy will lead to revisions in the policy to make it more inclusive

My article concludes by summarizing how roller derby has allowed me to be a role model to other women, including young girls, and how “through roller derby I have found a loving family like nowhere else, and a sport that has inspired myself and countless others to re-shape their lives in incredibly positive ways.”

I’m happy to share the full text of my article with you if you contact me.  And I hope you come back to this blog.  Because I have many other stories to tell.

I’m not just a rollergirl, and I’m not just a transgender woman.  I’m a human being obsessed with human rights and humanism.  I’m a geek obsessed with Gothic Literature and Gotham City.  I’m a feminist obsessed with MichFest and Michel Foucault.  I’m a poet, a pundit, and a Poe fan.

I’m a jammer, and I’m calling off this jam.

It’s Jam 2.

Time to rest, scheme, strategize.  Think back on what has come before.  Assemble my experiences.  Next post: Christopher Hitchens, humanism, and links to my writing published by the American Humanist Association.  I hope you leave here with something meaningful. If have something to add to the discussion, I’d very much appreciate it if you could leave a comment.  Thanks.