When writing a book about flat track roller derby, it’s impossible not to write about the sport’s place within the LGBTQ+ community, nor that community’s profound influence on the development of the game. It is utterly unique in the history of sport and perhaps one of the most significant cultural impacts that the flat track game has had on North American society.
In Eight-Wheeled Freedom, the chapter “Out Ina Bout” focuses squarely on this relationship. As a cis-identifying man, I was well aware of my limitations in writing about this topic, but as a chronicler of the flat track game, I was also well aware of my responsibility to do so. So while the chapter is framed by my personal experiences with the history of the event now called Roll Out (from 2009’s Clam Slam right through to last year’s Uhaul Brawl), the narrative of the chapter is shaped by the writing of others.
Along with the chapter about the influence of third-wave feminism on the early development of the sport, “Out Ina Bout” is a heavily researched chapter that traces, broadly, the history of the LGBTQ+ community’s relationship with sport. While many writers are cited in the chapter, two of the main sources were E. Nicole Melton, a professor of sport management at UMass Amherst, and Dr. Melanie Sartore-Baldwin, a professor at East Carolina University whose expertise is in diversity-related issues in sport.
From the book:
“Most of the researchers in the field… seem to agree that sport, as an institution, is inherently masculine, to the point of marginalization of all other groups, and it is one that celebrates and encourages not only heterosexuality but heterosexual masculinity in particular.”
This is a challenging starting point, but an essential one in understanding flat track roller derby’s importance in the culture at large. The chapter moves through an examination of the LGBTQ+ community’s relationship with traditional sports, culminating in the creation of the Gay Games (and eventually the World OutGames). However, based on the above assertion that sport is institutionally patriarchal, the chapter concludes that the LGBTQ+ community, despite massive advances forward, remains stigmatized within mainstream sport.
Enter women’s flat track roller derby.
Although the initial stirrings of the flat-track revolution had its focus squarely on women’s empowerment, the freedom that early flat track spaces provided women from the oppressive limitations of traditional sports institutions very quickly expanded to others and flat tracks became safe spaces for members of the LGBTQ+ community.
As the reach of the sport has broadened and the competitive level has risen, that progressive core has remained. Perhaps because of this—the sport’s ability to operate so freely and progressively within such potentially oppressive constraints—I think that flat track roller derby is the most important sports movement of the 21st Century.
I conclude as much in the chapter as well, ending with a discussion of the 2014 Clam Slam that took place during World Pride and featured singer/filmmaker/cultural powerhouse Peaches as the special guest to blow the opening whistle.
From the book:
“Here’s a competitive game built and shaped by women in the midst of a sporting environment absolutely dominated by men. Here’s a game that has not only welcomed the LGBTQ community but celebrates it, has put it at the core of its growth and has allowed it to shape the nature and attitude of the game. Here’s a sport that has eschewed all traditional notions of what a sport is and how it should be, taken a punk-rock DIY approach and made it work on a national, then cross-border and now global scale. Roller derby, like Peaches, has become a twenty-first century force of nature. And I think our world is a better place for it.”
So this is what I’ll be thinking about when I head to Ted Reeve Arena for Roll-Out 2016: The Pack is Queer; namely, how important flat track roller derby is in general and, specifically, how Roll Out is rightfully one of the most fun, and certainly the most celebratory, roller derby events of the year.
As I’ve said before, this event features roller derby at its purest: joyful, competitive, progressive.
*Doors open at 6:00 PM with the opening whistle for the first (mini) game at 6:30 featuring the Blundstone Brigade vs. the Glitterazzi. Game 2, Team Bi-Yonce vs. Team Gay-Z, kicks off at 8:00 PM. Tickets will be available at the door, or for a discount online.
* You can watch Roll-Out online at layer9.ca!
*Eight-Wheeled Freedom launched in Toronto on June 20 and is slowing rolling to stores near you (and is available online).