I know that in the 1970s we had the Washington Jets, and I watched them on Channel 9 (I think) as a kid. I liked seeing women rolling around and beating the crap out of one another. Perhaps in my young mind, I wished my mother would beat the crap out of my dad instead of just enduring and excusing his abuse (I was always attracted to tough girls). Then it went away, I heard it was all fake, and then forgot about it. It wasn't as major a part of my life like, say, Kung Fu Theater on Channel 20.
My first re-introduction with Roller Derby came about 5 years ago When the "Rollergirls" reality show was on A&E. I had heard that DC was forming a team again, and I followed their Myspace account. Thus, I started following the DC Roller Girls or the "DCRG." Eventually I went to a game or two when I found my friend Denise was one of the skaters on the Secretaries of Hate, which later became part of the Cherry Blossom Bombshells. When I found out they were volunteer and non-profit, I decided to volunteer because I really just liked the people.
My first job was the merch table. But quickly I got the job as "bouncer" (security) because I was large and male. You'd think that a sport where tough women are featured would have all female security. I think we only have one. I have now been doing this job for 2 years, and watched a lot of games.
It's not fake. I have seen some bloody injuries. I have been to a practice or two, and there's no theatrics taught or encouraged. In fact, I think any girl who treated her position as some kind of personal best would be seen as a show-off, a poor team player, and someone who would probably be disliked by a majority of the team and crew. The girls take this sport pretty seriously, and showboating is just reminding them they have to fight the faked image for over 30 years ago. I think there's also a feeling of the need for validity in their lives that just because they are women dressing in sporty clothes with camp names, it doesn't mean they are just objects for entertainment. They do this for personal growth and accomplishment they can't get anywhere else. The whole campy aspect (which I like) is part of the party atmosphere and have a kind of tribal like love among their fellow women. The whole danger aspect, the skill involved, and the fact they have bruises and scars shows they are true warriors for a common cause. While I feel some of them might be awkward the next day at work with a black eye or a bruise on their arm the size and color of an avocado, secretly, they have a wry grin like, "Fuck yeah, I'm a badass. When I am not at my day job, I am a fucking superhero." If you have ever seen them win the trophy, and look upon their faces, it's not a look of domination or testosterone-soaked bullshit. It's a look of accomplishment, joy, and respect. Almost all the rollergirls respect one another and their teammates. It's a group win, a tribal victory, and I have the deepest of respect for them.
This is one of the reasons I bring Scarlet with me. She needs to see women in power, doing what they love. She needs to know that, as a woman, she won't have to take the back seat to any man, or anyone. "I have seen my sisters fight," I hope she says one day, in some form or another. "I know I am part of a powerful breed. I can carry life, but I can also take it away." Even if she never dons a pair of skates or does any sport her whole life, I want her to remember the girls in charge and feel confident that if she wants to, she can do it, too. And as smart as she is at 12, that girl will be a fucking powerhouse as a grown woman. Woe betide us all when she becomes a teen, though. Hah.
Until very recently, I was kind of anonymous among the girls. I mean, they kind of knew who I was, but I think apart from Denise (who has since retired and sometimes dresses up as the Bombshell mascot), O'Canadoll (former Secretaries of Hate skater, now head of volunteers), and Mr. Mystery (one of the refs) none of the girls really knew my name. The last few bouts, however, a few have. And a few have become my friends on Facebook and Twitter. I have been told that they appreciate me working for them, and Julian (head of security) likes me, and a few other people know me as "the guy who brings Scarlet," whom they LOVE.
So is it real? Damn straight, it's real. And while they wear skimpy uniforms, decorated helmets, and have names like "Peaches and Cruelty" or
"Itsy Bitsy Fighter," that doesn't make it any less of a sport, any less of a victory, and any less fun.