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Published on December 20th, 2013 | by Guest Contributor

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Photo: Quick Draw Photo

How to Support Your Trans Teammate

By Gut-Her Punk

As a woman of transexual experience, roller derby has easily been the most positive experience in my life. Never before have I been a member of such a large powerful group of women that has taught me so much about myself and what i can accomplish. Too often in this world women who are trans are made painfully aware of how we are different and how we don’t belong, but not in roller derby. Derby is one of the few areas in this world where trans women are not just accepted, but are supported and welcomed on a fundamental level. In 2011 the WFTDA instituted it’s new gender policy. They did so to institute a policy that would “specifically include transgender athletes and protect against discrimination” as well as reflect the “WFTDA’s values and diverse membership”. This is why it is so important that all derby leagues know how to be supportive and welcoming to trans skaters. Not just to adhere to the policies of the WFTDA, but because women who are trans are important to derby. Derby girls are a different breed of woman. We are strong, powerful and confident. So are trans women. Everyday we face challenges because our mere existence shakes things up. We scare the status quo because we challenge everything the world tells us about traditional gender, femininity, and what it means to be a woman. That’s why derby needs trans women.

However, after growing up in a small town in the mid-west, I am painfully aware of the fact that not every city is New York, and in most places, the general knowledge about trans women is limited to Jerry Springer, and horrible Lifetime movies. So I have decided to give you all a leg up, and help prevent any awkward or painful moments that might result in your league losing an awesome teammate who just so happens to be trans. Below I have put together a list of dos and don’ts for being the awesome, supportive, and affirming teammates that trans women need, and that I know you all want to be.

1. DO use proper pronouns.

Being misgendered and having someone refer to you with male pronouns (ie. he/him) as a trans woman is the worst… seriously. You might not think it’s a big deal, but trust me… it is. Using proper pronouns is one of the quickest and easiest ways to show your trans teammates that you respect them. Conversely using the wrong pronouns is also the quickest way to hurt someones feelings and make them never want to talk to you again. Sometimes mistakes happen… I get it. But just because you didn’t mean to hurt someone’s feelings doesn’t make it ok. If you screw up and use the wrong pronoun for a trans skater, correct yourself, apologise, and assure the person it won’t happen again (and don’t do it again). If you hear someone else use the wrong pronoun for a trans skater correct them. So what if you don’t know what a skater’s preferred gender pronoun is? If your league is an all female league, and this person is skating for you or trying out for your league, chances are their preferred pronouns are female. Use common sense.

2. Do NOT ask about a teammate’s surgery status.

Imagine having someone you barely know ask you really invasive personal questions about your genitals in the most insensitive way possible. This is what it feels like to have people ask you “are you pre-op or post-op?” “Have you had the surgery?” or any of the multiple asinine ways in which people ask if a trans person has had genital altering surgeries such as Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS). Not only is it incredibly rude and insensitive, but frankly it’s none of your freaking business. The surgery status of a woman who is transexual has absolutely no bearing on competitive fairness, WFTDA eligibility, or her identity as female. So don’t ask.

3. DO create a trans affirming gender policy.

The WFTDA already has a very liberal gender policy that both supports trans women, as well as provide a guideline for competitive fairness. However that policy only applies to chartered skaters. I would highly recommend that your league create it’s own gender policy that erases any question about your league being supportive of trans women skaters. When I first started skating for Garden State Rollergirls in New Jersey one of the first things I did was check the league’s gender policy. Which I was happy to learn stated that eligible skaters must “ be a female, identifying and living daily life as a woman, 18 years of age or older.” I highly recommend using GSR’s gender policy as a model for your league because it uses the individual’s identity and life as the measure of her womanhood and not someone else’s standard. What this did was essentially calm any concerns I initially had about the league, and derby as a whole being an accepting place for me. While an inclusive gender policy will not suddenly make everyone on a team or league open and accepting of trans women, what it will do is set the tone and climate of the league for being trans inclusive and provide trans skaters with a shield of institutional support should any issues of discrimination arise.

4. DO educate yourself on trans issues.

Learn what you can about trans people, our lives, our stories, our issues, our rights (or lack there of) our hardships, and our triumphs. Spend sometime on google and do a quick search for transgender issues. Check out websites like Huffington post, and autostraddle.com. Also check out trans writers like Janet Mock, and Julia Serano. There is also a very large trans blogging community on tumblr. So do some reading.

5. Do NOT take it upon yourself to out your trans teammate.

Firstly if you have a teammate that you think might be trans but who hasn’t told you she is… don’t ask her. It’s none of your business. You and your leaguemates should already be taking steps to make your league an inclusive space for trans skaters regardless of if there are any trans skaters on the team yet or not. However if a teammate trusts you enough to come out to you and disclose to you that she is trans, do not take it upon yourself to tell other skaters. Even if you think you are helping your trans teammate. Coming out to people about being trans is a very scary experience in the lives of trans women. Many times we are met with harassment, dehumanization, disrespect, and even violence when our trans status becomes known. That is why the decision to disclose one’s trans status must be a personal one. If someone has disclosed being trans to you that is awesome! That means she trusts you, and respects you. Don’t screw that up by taking it upon yourself to tell others. If you think your teammate would benefit from you telling other people that she is trans please ask for her permission first before opening your mouth.

There are of course a lot more things I could add to this list. However I think the best rule of thumb to go by is “educate yourself, and don’t be a dick”. Think before you open your mouth, and ask “if someone asked me this or said this about me or did this to me… would I be offended?” Women of trans experience are first and foremost women, and if you treat us the same way you treat any other woman on your team, there’s a good chance you won’t have any problems.

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  • polerin

    This. Good. Yes.

    My experience has been much like yours. While there were some initial questions and clarifications that helped other skaters, overall NRG has done a wonderful job of being welcoming and respectful. It has been a life changing experience, and I look forward to every time I go to practice or put on skates.

    I would, however, like to add one more item to your list. It seems obvious, but I can’t stress enough how important it is. If someone comes for your trans teammate, have her back. Be there for her and help defend her.

    When I came to derby, I was in a rough spot. Angry, depressed, unemployed, etc… the things many women are when we find this community and sport. About a year into skating, I got into a conflict with someone who hates trans women, and because she couldn’t out me or come after my job, she came after my ability to skate. Our BOD had my back before I even knew what was going on.

    There is no way to explain what that means. Since coming out and transitioning, I’d been abandoned and shunned by virtually every social group I’d been a part of previously. For years, the only person who I knew would support me without reservation or second thought was my wife. Then, all of the sudden I had this whole group of badass women who wouldn’t take ANY of that shit?

    I cried for most of that morning because it touched me that deeply. We aren’t used to being defended. We aren’t used to having people care for us.

    .. anyway I actually started this comment wanting to say that if you’re a league trying to figure out some of this stuff, there are a bunch of people out there who want to help you do it. Hit me up on tumblr (tearobite) or twitter (@polerin) and I’ll try to help answer any questions. I love this sport, I love the community, and I want other women to have the same positive experience I’ve had.

  • David Holm

    well put!!!

  • Lillian R

    Sharing! It’s so exciting to read an article you wrote!

  • Joseph L. Simonis

    Thanks for writing this!

    Also, any trans, gender-non-conforming, or intersex skaters (or athletes in other sports), myself and some other folks just put together a private group on Facebook, so hit me up (josephlsimonis [at] gmail, or PM on FB) if you’d like to be added!

  • Andee MissIdentified Scallion

    Beautiful! Thank you for writing and posting this. It is precisely how I feel.

  • Melanie Of Ottawa

    Nice, well put. :)

  • lupinella12

    Thank you so much for this great post.

  • Carli Staub

    I am a cis woman, so correct me if this is not the case, but I learned the hard way not to ask what someone’s name was “before.” Because it’s none of my business and also prying and rude, and I have met people who didn’t want to be associated with another name.

    • polerin

      Yeah. Don’t. That name is usually tied up in all kinds of emotional shit. Same with pictures.

  • 2nd skin

    Thanks for this post! As a transgendered person I’m proud that my league (Rotterdam Death Row Honeys) voted for me as president for more than a year ago. A great example of acceptance within roller derby.

  • disqus_1tOJ8kpRML

    Beautiful! Thank you!

    I just started training to be a future derby dame and I have a friend who is trans who wants to join, but she’s worried about her status. Do you have any resources or links to other teams who have more specific gender-inclusive policies? I’d love to be able to link our team to them. Also, if there are any trans* women derby forums I could link her to?

  • cyberspice

    Absolutely this! I don’t think there’s really anything I can add.

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