no image

Published on December 18th, 2011 | by DerbyLife


FiveOnFive Sneak Peek: Transgender Policies: My Story

Read this and so much more in Issue 14 of FiveOnFive. Subscribe or order now!


When I started training with the DC Rollergirls in May 2008, I was required to sign a code of conduct that stated, “transsexual women are allowed to join if it has been at least two years since surgery, per International Olympic Committee rules.” In signing that document as a then pre-operative transgender woman, I was forced to live a lie that would haunt me for years, and nearly cost me my place on the league. Even after being drafted to a home team, I still lived in constant fear of being “outed” as transgender, and my need to remain closeted made it extremely difficult to build the kind of trust with my teammates that a sport as intense as roller derby often demands – both on and off the track.

My team, Scare Force One, provided an extremely welcoming atmosphere, which meant a lot to me, having often felt like a social misfit. We bonded over our passion for roller derby, and a shared drive to win. Our different backgrounds didn’t matter; we all were family. Yet I found myself frequently holding back.

I always felt extremely uncomfortable whenever discussions about childhood came up, or even casual references to how cool it was to play an all-women’s sport. At overnight events, I was overly nervous and very cautious. I could never let my guard down, in fear that a single word or action might cost me my right to be counted as a DC Rollergirl, and force me to lose the family I held so dear. It took months before I came out to even one teammate as transgender, and only then because I knew she had seen the
devastating effects of transphobia on her friends.

However, despite all my precautions, my worst fear nearly came to fruition midway through my first season. After winning a particularly vicious bout, an anonymous complaint was filed with my league’s Board of Directors demanding an investigation into my medical history to determine whether I was woman enough to skate with the league. My captain, whom I had never come out to, took it upon herself to educate herself on transgender issues before she relayed the complaint to me, and she made it clear that she believed I was under no obligation to come out to her or anyone on the league. She also made me aware that vicious rumors had been circulating behind my back alleging that I had an “unfair advantage” as a transgender skater.

One day shortly after this all came to light I was cornered at practice by a transphobic rollergirl who spent nearly twenty minutes harassing me with questions about my medical history, and when I refused to answer, continued spouting reasons why transgender rollergirls had no place in derby until finally our two captains physically separated us. As for the anonymous complaint, thanks to the efforts on my behalf by my captain, my co-captain, my team’s Board representative, and the league president, it was rejected as a breach of my right to privacy. Furthermore, their continued transgender advocacy efforts led to a more inclusive code of conduct for the DC Rollergirls no longer centered on surgery.

Inspired by their hard work, I went on to serve as a Board representative myself. I also later joined DC’s travel team, the DC All-Stars, for nearly a season until a career change forced me to take a temporary break from inter-league bouting.

credit Pedro Alicea.jpg

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 is 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 that the Philly Rollergirls’ protest brought to potential problems with the gender policy will lead to revisions in the policy to make it more inclusive.

While ECDX 2011 was the first time I spoke openly and publicly with other rollergirls about being transgender, in 2009 I wrote a story, “Talk Derby To Me,” for the anthology “Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation,” which also told the story of the transphobia I faced on my derby league. Fearing possible retaliation and not wanting to represent DC Rollergirls in a bad light now that they have evolved into an incredibly transgender-friendly league, I wrote that story under the pen-name Uzi Sioux. At one point, I fought for my right not to have to be out, and I still think it’s important for transgender rollergirls to have that option. However, because I know how high the stakes are and I’m choosing to out myself now – I’m done hiding.

At a recent DC Rollergirls bout, a troop of Girl Scouts was in attendance, and afterwards one came up to me and said, “When I grow up, I want to be just like you!” What could I do but encourage her? I never thought I’d be a role model, but that one eager Girl Scout is not the only woman who has told me that I am an inspiration to them – I am now a proud “derby mom” to two other skaters, including another transgender rollergirl. Through roller derby I have found a loving family like nowhere else, and a sport that has inspired me and countless others to re-shape their lives in incredibly positive ways. I can’t imagine my life without it.

fans credit James Calder.jpg

Kayley ‘Lenore Gore’ Whalen joined the DC Rollergirls in 2008. She skates for Scare Force One and has also been on the DC All-Stars and the Board of Directors. Roller derby gave her the confidence to leave her career in finance to pursue her passions for activism and writing. When not skating, she is an advocate for humanism, drug policy reform, LGBT rights, and the Occupy movement.

The following two tabs change content below.


About the Author

Back to Top ↑