Thursday, May 19, 2011

Roller Derby and Gender

Happy Thursday, folks. I'm doing my best to stay on top of life, so this is going to be a quick blog post. All about roller derby!

I'm about a month behind on this, but the Women's Flat Track Derby Association has adopted a new gender policy. On the whole, I think this is more of a good thing than not. They are considering that gender is not so simple as "man or woman," something easily determined by one's genitalia. Trans inclusivity is something I believe in and promote. I'm delighted that WFTDA is on board with that project.

Of course, even the WFTDA version is a bit oversimplified, and in some ways problematic. When talking about queer issues, this will almost always be the case. As Judith Butler says about feminism, how can we really define "woman"? Once we try to define it, we're excluding someone, and if we take all comers, then who are feminists advocating for? Or, in this context, who gets to play women's flat track derby? Identity politics is awfully complicated. So WFTDA says that they are considering anyone who considers herself a woman, lives as a woman, and has hormones consistent with medical definitions of woman. That's... tough. What if a trans person calls herself "femme" or something else instead of "woman"? Further, what does "lives as a woman" mean? All the time - at work, at home, with family? That's not an easy thing for very many people to do. What are the requirements here?

Finally: I'm skeptical of the medicalization aspect of this. Getting doctors involved seems unnecessary to me. I don't believe in "real" genders - that someone is "really" a woman or "really" a man "underneath" some exterior presentation. It seems to me that women probably have a pretty wide range of hormone levels, as do men, and that some cis women might have more testosterone than some cis men. WFTDA makes clear that they are not asking for preemptive proof of anything here - the captains don't have to show the papers of the trans players before the game can happen. But I'm not sure I like this idea of testing the hormone levels of only some players. What do we learn from that, exactly? There is such a wide range of sizes, athletic ability, aggressiveness, whatever, within any given gender that it, in my mind, renders arbitrary the differences between genders in contexts like these.

Look, I get that this is a sport, and therefore we will be looking at bodies. And I do appreciate that WFTDA is having this conversation. But the minute we get into trying to determine how someone else identifies and what they "really" are, we are in a lot of hot water.

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