Confronting Racism and Marginalization – Lived Experiences

A Skater’s story:

“I was aggressively mis-gendered during one of our games at B team Champs this past year after being corrected repeatedly. Told – “I don’t care WHAT you are.” There was lots of witnesses. My team pulled me out of the situation; however the game continued as if nothing had happened. No one from the officials, from the event leadership, from the host team, none of them ever talked to me about what happened. Only one coach from the other team; who was a guest coach, and is a friend of mine, consoled me after the game. My coaches said they would follow up for me. I told them I wanted an apology from the aggressor. I was told third party that they would be contacting me. No one ever contacted me. No one ever did anything. As far as I know, whoever that skater was still has the same attitude towards trans skaters and it was a turning point for me and my WFTDA involvement. I’m no longer a member of a WFTDA league, and am really thinking hard about whether I want to put myself in that situation again.

Another instance to share, I was coaching an MRDA team at Big O a few years ago when an announcer called one of my players “Black (name redacted)” – his derby name is (redacted), and he happens to be black. I corrected them, and then they did it two more times. I ended up very aggressively telling the announcers that if they got it wrong again, our team was walking. I spoke with the head of announcing for the event after that; and they let me know that they had followed up with that person and explained to them what they had done wrong. I followed up with my skater to see if he wanted any further action taken and he did not; as he felt me sticking up for him in the moment was sufficient. I still feel like I should have done more to ensure the lesson was understood. I’ve since been told that announcer “gets nervous” when they see I’m involved in a game and that tells me nothing was learned.

I’ve been on the track with teammates of color who have been mis-identified as the wrong color with their number. This has happened a multitude of times, basically everyplace I’ve ever lived; with a variety of officials. It is not regional, it is not just a few bad eggs, it’s literally a huge issue that every time I hear it happen my blood boils. I have literally stopped playing in order to get an official to correct their mistake and have had to deal with the white fragility in full effect too many times; to the point that I then had to apologize to the skater it had been directed towards as the officials reaction made it into something more people noticed. Instead of me just correcting them, denials and accusations fly back at me. Sometimes call ins can turn into call outs that are unproductive because of how people react to being corrected.

There’s also rampant trans-misogyny on many WFTDA leagues, hidden biases causing mis-treatment of those who don’t have passing privilege. I’ve been told I’m too aggressive in my playing style, that I need to reign it in during practice; and then been told that I don’t show enough passion for playing to be part of the all star program. I’ve seen trans skaters get mistreated, being held to rules no one else is held to, and being judged more harshly for their feelings than any other skater. My last league, after well over 3 years of denying their trans-misogyny – and after a completely new BoD took over – still denied it; and then finally just heard they admitted fault in their actions. Of course I’m no longer a member; I couldn’t remain a member of a league that kept hurting people after being told they were; but at least they finally admitted it and someone made sure I found out. What’s really hard about that; is that the WFTDA was reached out to multiple times during the progression of the issues with this league; but we were repeatedly told we had to “handle it on our own” and that hands off style of leadership is not what was needed and I strongly feel that’s part of the reason we are where we’re at now.

Leagues have been told to “handle it on their own” so it’s become a sick version of the same kind of people who think inclusiveness means being nice to Nazis. That’s not something I want to be part of. The house of WFTDA needs to be cleaned up. I enjoy this sport; but I’m not in love with it like I used to be. Not when I thought we were actually revolutionary. Right now; we’re just a cool sport to do with an international governing body who’s let go of the reigns for too long. I’ve only given you a few examples; and they are all from the last few years; I could write up a bunch more examples from across my derby history; just know these are barely the tip of the iceberg of experiences many skaters have had. Not everyone wearing a WFTDA patch represents the ideals I have; or the ideals stated as being held by the WFTDA.

The other side, is the reminders that this is “by the skaters and for the skater” and that we need to fix it ourselves. That sounds so great, and like a legit strategy – but the only people doing work are not the ones perpetrating the aggressions; micro or otherwise. Marginalized people cannot be expected to do this work. We need ally’s – real ally’s that care and will work for this like their lives depend on it; because for many marginalized people; this is that serious. Losing the safe space that a league can seem to be when that mirage is shattered; is soul crushing. I know it crushed me. ”

A response from Gloom, WFTDA Board of Directors:

 It crushed me too. As a 6’7” transgender woman, I’ve experienced that rampant transmisogyny first hand. I know what it’s like to not know whether or not I want to join a WFTDA league again – just three years ago, I thought there wasn’t any future for me in this organization, because I couldn’t just trust that the same thing that had happened before wouldn’t happen again. I know what it’s like the WFTDA doesn’t have my back, that filing a grievance about the way I’d been treated was for naught. Even now, years after the fact, I still get hit with waves of worry that the hit I just laid is going to be the one that alienates me from my league.

I joined the Diversity and Inclusion Committee not because it happened to me, but because I started seeing the same thing happening to other trans people in our community. I ran for the Board of Directors in May because I feel passionately that we’re not serving our members from marginalized communities well enough, that the representatives from those communities who are the most visible are the people who have succeeded, but there are countless more at the lowest levels of the sport who have been turned away, whether explicitly or implicitly.

Our forthcoming new Code of Conduct and Toolkit for membership will be one piece of that puzzle. Without the standard that our Code of Conduct sets, our efforts would be effectively inert. Diversity and Inclusion has been engaging with every part of our organization for the last three years to call out oppressive practices and policy wherever it pops up – and while we will reap the benefits of these efforts over the long run, they don’t center what individuals are going through right now. I know from experience that inclusive policy isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on without the institutional resources to back it up. But allyship doesn’t go far enough – we need to not only be allies, but accomplices and advocates – and by “we,” I mean not only the community, but the WFTDA.

Like the WFTDA, many leagues have a Grievance process as its go-to method of justice – and while this is vital, it’s not enough. Grievance is, by definition, characterized by conflict and is subject to the power differential between the aggrieved and the accused. In my own experience, I knew that filing a grievance against a former league was a last resort, and that in the process I’d be burning every bridge I had there. That can’t be the price every marginalized person has to pay for justice. There are leagues have some form of formalized advocacy for their individual members – designated allies. This, too, can be incredibly valuable, but it’s strongly dependent on the league’s resources and membership.

We’ve been working on a Support Services model that can more reliably provide this kind of advocacy to our members – to help those with the least institutional standing navigate the structures of our institution, advocate for them to those in power, connect them with the resources that they need, help them determine whether they want to seek a collaborative solution or assist them in the Grievance process, and generally take the emotional load off their shoulders. This is going to be as member-driven and member-serving as it gets, and it’s our way of legitimizing, empowering and supporting the people who want to do the ally, accomplice and advocate work that it’s going to take to build a more just and equitable sport. You’re right – the WFTDA has absolutely let go of the reins for too long. We have to acknowledge that. We’re seizing them back.