Today I spoke at the Breaking the Silence conference at the University of Saskatchewan. This is what I said:
My name is Sarah Mathiason, and last year I was the president of the Saskatoon Roller Derby League. Through my association with roller derby I'm known as Mega. Without a doubt, more people call me Mega than Sarah, and I'm kinda proud of that.
I am here today because one of the themes of this conference is about 'removing homophobia from the locker room'. Since I am a transwoman roller derby player, it seemed to fit. Unfortunately, I don't have any tips or hints about how to get past homophobia. None at all. If you're an LGBT individual, I don't know if there is anything I can tell you that you don't already know. Homophobia, and non-acceptance in general are tough to deal with. It's sad actually, that a lot of us have such inner torment, that is unnecessarily caused by outside pressure. I wasn't unhappy about being a transgirl, until I learned that it was "wrong". I was still a kid when I learned that being trans was going to ruin my life and the lives of the ones I love. A psychologist said that when I was 13, and I believed it.
I suppressed my feelings for a very long time. I can't remember far enough to when my first trans-related feelings were, but I kept it a secret from everyone but my parents until I was 34 years old. That is a 30-year secret. That takes a toll.
Even when society began to ease up, I still had my early life lessons ingrained so deep in me, that I kept on suppressing my true self likely far longer than I needed to. So as for tips about how any transwomen out there can deal with homophobia, I can't really say, because for most of my life, I hid from it.
So instead, I'm going to talk about roller derby. Actually, what I want to talk about today is probably best heard by your sports associations, by your coaches and captains and your teammates. I told my league that I was coming here to gush about them, and that's exactly what I'm going to do. I'm here to talk about my experiences in SRDL, and how I think roller derby as a whole has removed homophobia from the locker room by being a community.
I want to tell you a little bit about myself. I am a 41 year old, male-to-female transsexual. Growing up, I had a great family but I was a very reserved and introverted child. I didn't really know how to be a boy, and society didn't seem willing to let me be me, so I coped by withdrawing. This continued as I grew into adulthood. I rarely had more than 4 friends at one time. At my lowest point, right before I transitioned I was so withdrawn and depressed, I was in danger of losing all my friends entirely, if not more.
Thankfully, that changed when I transitioned. I was 34 and I came out to a mostly positive and happy reception. I lost a couple of friends during the process, but their negativity wasn't welcome anyway. In general, I was a happy new woman, and my social circle swelled to 6.
A few years later I became interested in roller derby. I had just seen the movie Whip It… and something about it really spoke to me. Before I looked into joining Saskatoon's league, I did some research into gender policies. Only one league, the Bay Area Derby Girls from San Francisco, had a policy published online. It stated essentially what Easy Break* spoke of earlier. We had to be "hormonally female" and be able to provide documentation if asked. I set off to my first practice with that policy printed out and my last blood work results in my bag, just in case there was a problem. I just want to mention that it's been over three years since that night, and there hasn't been a single problem yet.
As I pulled up to the practice venue, my heart was pounding.
I hadn't participated in sports since elementary school, so I was pretty nervous.
On top of that, I was a transsexual, about to join an all-female sports league. My stomach was churning.
Worst of all was the nagging thought in the back of my mind reminding me that I had no fucking clue how to skate.
I was a nervous wreck that first night, but I made it through, and I kept on showing up for practices and felt myself getting better, stronger, and more confident. I was so concerned with improving my skills that I forgot to worry about any trans issues at all until one night, two months after I started, I was asked to play in a bout.
At the time our league had one team. Oil City was coming in to play us and they wanted to bring two teams, so we were scrambling to fill a second roster. When asked to play, I accepted the request immediately, and then immediately after that, anxiety began to rise up in me. I had never asked what my league's policy was. Dozens of "What ifs" played out in my head.
"What if they actually have a policy against it?"
"What if they don't let me play?"
"What if I have to argue and fight and risk losing my new friends in order to get my way?"
"What if I get kicked from the league?"
It weighed heavily on my mind, but I'm a habitual procrastinator, so I waited until about a day before the roster was to be submitted before I spoke to Bonehawk, the president of the league. I said, "I just want you to know, I'm transgendered. I hope that doesn't cause you any problems."
She replied "I know. I read your blog." It turns out she had read it weeks earlier, so all that anxiety was for nothing. Bonehawk added something that I won't soon forget: "Roller derby is for women of all shapes and sizes, from all walks of life. You qualify. You're welcome to play with us any day."
After that talk, my anxiety faded. When I started with the league, I tried to keep my gender situation stealthy, but that's just not me. Bonehawk's comments made me feel free to just be me - and once I felt free, I started to make some seriously good friends. Eventually the particulars of my gender situation became known to the entire league, and beyond. It didn't bother me one bit, nor did it bother anyone else.
Time went on, and I didn't think I could have been happier with the league. Then I got a call from my surgeon. It was time to go in for my orchiectomy, which if you are not familiar it means "ball chop". I was laying in a hospital bed, feeling a bit sad because the rest of my team was in Calgary without me. Then the messages started coming in, wishing me well and congratulating me on the surgery, saying they wished I was there, but understood the importance of that operation. The feeling of inclusion and acceptance really struck me. I'd heard the phrase "roller derby community" before, but suddenly I felt it. I wasn't the self-imposed outcast I used to be. I had friends, I had support, I was loved, and I was important.
Over the years, roller derby has brought me a lot of experiences. I've felt what it was like to be part of a team. I have competed, travelled, won and lost. I have appeared in televised games, been interviewed by reporters, and once had a section of fans cheering my name in unison. I've had some great times. I sometimes wonder what that scared little closeted transkid I used to be would have thought if she knew her future self would someday be elected president of a women's sports league. After everything I experienced though, none compare to the fact that I found a group of people I can call my own. We lean on each other, we help each other out. I found a second family. I truly believe the most important thing about derby is being part of the roller derby community.
There is just something about our community. Bonehawk hinted at it when we spoke years ago, but I didn't really hear it because I was too focused on myself. I know now what she was talking about. She was saying that no matter who you are, what your background is, religious beliefs, what you do for work, or what you do in the bedroom, there is a place for you - but not because we're just so open-minded, and not because we think we have a superior attitude than the rest of society, nothing like that. This might seem circular, but there is a place for everyone in our community simply because we decided there should be, and its our sense of community that prevents us from ever changing that decision.
Thanks for letting me share this with you.
* Easy Break Oven, a transwoman from the Oil City Derby Girls presented earlier, and spoke about the WFTDA gender policy hormonal requirements.