Trans people belong in sport – I'm the captain of my team

The blow hit me hard in the chest. I felt clean air beneath my feet and the ground rushed to meet me.

The next thing I knew, I was lying flat on my back, a tangle of limbs on the floor. A couple of people stopped to check that I was OK but the referee just shook their head and waved the game on.

It would take six weeks for my rib to heal but I couldn’t complain; in my sport that was a fair and legal hit. This all might sound intense, but I absolutely love roller derby – even when I’m lying winded and flat on my back.

As a transgender woman, I’ve never felt anything but support in this sport that I love.

If you’ve never heard of roller derby, then imagine rugby on roller skates. It’s the misfit monarch of alternative sports.

Teams have a DIY aesthetic and a grassroots philosophy, where a willingness to get stuck in is the most important factor. Non-binary players are included, and the men’s game is growing, but roller derby remains one of only a few sports that is truly women-led.

These things drew me to it in 2017. At the time, I was 34 and on the cusp of transition, so I wanted to find a space where I would be accepted as a woman.

My own transition path had been a long and difficult process. Concerns about how friends and family would react had held me back, and after coming out it took people time to adjust.

Too often, I feel anxious about whether I look or sound ‘female enough’. I worry about whether I’ll get misgendered, or have someone refer to me as ‘Sir’.

Roller derby not only offered me a blank slate and a new start, but also a space where I didn’t need to think about my transness.

I found a local team – the Cheshire Hellcats – online and realised they played not too far from where I was living at the time so I sent a message asking if I could join. I was welcomed immediately, and the Hellcats accepted me the same as any other new skater.

During my first session, I was like Bambi on ice. I fell on my backside so many times I thought I’d never be able to sit down comfortably again.

Slowly, however, I learned how to skate and improved my confidence. After 12 months, I managed to pass my Minimum Skills, a test all skaters take in order to prove that they can play derby safety without being a danger to other skaters – or themselves!

Finally, I was ready to join my first Rookie Scrim, a game that saw new skaters come together from local teams for their first beginner bout.  

I don’t remember much from that first game other than the overwhelming desire I had to throw up before the first whistle! To be honest, I still often get feelings of anxiety before a game, so you may wonder why I do it? The highs.

Last year, I played for my current team, the Manchester Valkyries, at the Five Nations Back on Track Showcase. This was roller derby’s competitive return after Covid-19 and I played an integral part as we ran out 213 – 124 winners against the Big Buck Roller Derby. That victory was as much mine as anyone else’s, and it’s a feeling I’ve been chasing ever since.

Not once over the last six years have I felt that I didn’t have a place within the sport. In fact, while some trans people might mark their transition anniversary, I celebrate my Derbyversary every September.

It’s given so much to me and I feel privileged to be able to give back. For the last two years, I’ve been a mentor to our new skaters joining roller derby for the first time.

As the team has grown, I’ve also been honoured to be asked to captain the Valkyrie’s B team. We actually just had our first official training session last week, where I coached.

I might not be the best player, but I’m calm-headed and patient with people. I want everyone to be able to have a space in our amazing tribe.

I love roller derby because it’s an amazing sport, I get to use and improve my body, and I don’t have to worry about whether people see me as a woman or not. In roller derby, I feel safe. I feel seen. 

Trans folk have always been an integral part of the sport – whether as skaters, coaches or officials. I can’t tell you what it’s like to play in a trans-inclusive team because all roller derby teams that I know of just are.

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In other sports, trans participants have to worry about the possibility that the rules may be changed to exclude them. From cycling to rugby, spaces for trans people have shrunk and folks engaged in those activities are left to wonder if the sport they love has a place for them.

This is not a concern I’ll ever have about roller derby. The Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Association (WFTDA), the sport’s governing body, has been a strident supporter for trans and non-binary skaters.

Like some other sports, there is an open-to-all category (OTA), however, in contrast to some of these associations, trans women are embraced by women-centred teams and not shunted to the margins.

Last weekend, I went to the Five Nations Play-Offs – the end-of-season showcase for teams from across the British Isles. There were undoubtably a number of trans and non-binary players there and headshots of skaters printed in the programme listed their pronouns as well as their names.

Trans and non-binary participation isn’t a polarising issue, but something that is a given in a sport that accepts people as they are. 

As narratives excluding trans people from spaces grow, the roller derby community has pushed back. There was a huge cheer around the auditorium when the announcers gave a shout out to a t-shirt created by London Roller Derby emblazoned with ‘Trans People Belong In Sport’ across the chest. The same sentiment was scrawled on a placard as my own team skated in the Manchester Pride parade last month.

When I was considering writing this article, I asked my teammates at Manchester Valkyries if they were OK with me writing something that might link back to the team. The responses that came back filled me with pride for being part of this wonderful sport.

‘The league is 100000% behind you… we’re all proud to have you as our friend and fellow skater,’ wrote one. ‘MRD stands by our trans skater’ replied another, or ‘We stand as one.’

Every single person stood beside me and my teammates were keen to show their support for all our skaters.

Many people struggle to find a place where we feel like we belong – especially in sport. Maybe we hated PE lessons or tripped over our own feet. Maybe we talk too much, or feel anxious.

Some of us feel too fat, too small, or too clumsy. And some of us worry that we’re too trans. In roller derby, I don’t have that worry. It’s a sport that accepts people.

That’s why I’m proud to be a roller derby skater.

LGBT Foundation is a national charity with LGBTQ+ health and wellbeing at the heart of everything they do. If you want to talk to someone about your own or your loved one’s health and wellbeing, you can call the LGBT Foundation helpline at 0345 330 3030 or visit their website here.

Pride and Joy

Pride and Joy is a weekly series spotlighting the first-person positive, affirming and joyful stories of transgender, non-binary, gender fluid and gender non-conforming people. Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected]

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