Perpetual Tomboy

Earlier tonight, I learned to shuffle around on my skates. Shuffling is awkward. It makes you feel awkward because it means galloping from side to side on a 3-inch high platform shoe. With wheels. Today is also the first time I managed not to fall by accident, but I did land on my knee the wrong way when we did exercises that involved dropping to the floor. Nevertheless, it feels good to get something right.

Aside from my sister and the rare moments I actually get any grad school work done, derby is my only real reason for being in Texas. I lucked out because my sister’s job and apartment are close to the skating rink. When I tell people about what I’m doing out here, they usually ask if it’s anything like it is in “that movie” – that movie being Whip It. I can’t actually remember enough of Whip It to make any substantial comparisons because my first encounter with Derby was in that Luscious Jackson video, so that’s what stuck.

Our first meeting was spent discussing insurance, monthly dues, and protective gear – in that as a beginner, it would make more sense to invest in protective gear than in skates. With that, I left the rink with a second-hand pair of skates (which I would later find out cost $300 brand new), and plans to visit the skate shop in Lewisville, where I would be fitted with extra small wrist guards and medium knee pads.

“I did not realize I was a medium in the leg department,” I told Chris, the salesguy, after jumping off chairs and landing on my knees to see if I would break anything (I don’t know how this became a smart thing to do, but I was told to test everything before buying it).

“I don’t know about that, maybe it’s because our legs let us do such awesome things, like running and jumping on stuff”…And that’s how I was convinced to spend over a hundred dollars in protective gear alone, on a sport I would have to fly to the states to compete in. This guy, in pajama pants covered with flying pigs, had given me a reason to feel a little less ashamed of my calves, as well as to feel ridiculous for even thinking that extra small was some kind of triumph.

Because we play in hot pants and fishnets, it’s hard to avoid how derby gets fetishized and commonly associated with catfights and angry, man-hating women. From my experience with the league though, I’ve never seen something so civil and so professionally handled. There’s none of that crap about scratching your opponent’s eyes out or pulling their hair. It’s already difficult enough without any of that foul play.

It seems silly, and one of my more convenient explanations for doing this is “Boredom”, which is far from the truth. Derby was something I just spat out when asked what I planned to do while visiting my sister for two months; but what I eventually wanted out of it was to immerse in an alternative description of femininity, one I used to get out of listening to Courtney Love (before she became super ridiculous) and Kim Gordon. One that didn’t involve competing based on appearance or the hypocrisy inherent in the way we’re taught to use our sexuality.

I had (and still have) endless issues from feeling alienated and constantly having to assert that I was a girl (I can only imagine how shitty it would have been for me, had I grown up in the age of tumblr), that I’m female–as if having a vagina is not enough–because I was never comfortable with the code of conduct that came with it. Even now, I still feel a little awkward or a little shy around women who are more graceful or more demure, who take up less space and don’t wobble around like drunken hobos. And while I’ve long accepted that I am not and will never be like that, there will always be that longing to outgrow my inner tomboy.

What a waste of time though, and strapping on knee pads and skates is just an extension of saying fuuuuuck it. I mean, “Tomboy”, who the fuck cares? The term shouldn’t even hold any water when you’re doing something that matters only to you and the women on your team, which is pretty much all women. I wish I didn’t take so long to figure that out.

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