Written by Kevin Dennison
Happy New Year, everyone! I can think of no better way to kick off 2015 on Derby Frontier than with a post that focuses upon something that has been discussed a great deal on many blogs as of late: the push for TRUE inclusivity and equality in not only roller derby, but all athletics.
I’ve always admired this sport for its power as a social and cultural movement. It has challenged numerous sexist stereotypes toward female athletes, has been a tremendous asset toward the push for trans* inclusion, has been an outstanding outlet for LGBT awareness in general, and is regularly a vehicle for discussion on everything from domestic violence to mental health. Of course, none of this progress would have been possible without the sacrifices and efforts made by countless individuals, teams, and organizations around the world. Be it Sleaze the Zebra speaking about sexual harassment and assault in the sport or the outstanding international work done by Vagine Regime, there is no question in my mind that roller derby has bred many admirable community leaders and role models in the few short years since its modern resurgence.
Amongst those inspiring forces is Marcia Taylor, aka Meat Train (aka “Meaty”), who has become quite the derby role model and advocate for skaters with disabilities, alongside her partner Alexia Garbutt (aka “Lex”). Hailing from Wellington, New Zealand, the two recently filed a discrimination complaint to both the New Zealand Roller Derby Association (NZRDA) and New Zealand Human Rights Commission following a series of discriminatory, ableist comments made by the coach of Team NZ roller derby. Yet, despite facing great adversity on multiple fronts they have drawn a positive from the experience through founding the extremely informative Deaf & HoH Roller Derby Skaters Worldwide Facebook community resources page.
Just before taking a nice holiday break from all blogging and social networks, I was able to speak to Meaty and Lex about all of their influential work.
KEVLAR: Thank you for agreeing to speak with me, Marcia! Over the past two months you have become quite a role model for not only deaf and hard-of-hearing skaters, but many other athletes and activists as well. How does it feel knowing that you have inspired so many people around the world?
MEATY: It’s not just me, I’m just the face of it. There are so many examples of Deaf and HoH role models around the world, not just in this sport but in many other sports. Also, one of the things that I found at Worlds is that so many people have invisible disabilities. Lots of people in roller derby have elements that other people don’t know about. My story has resonated with people because so many of us have health issues or disabilities, even though it seems disability is still a dirty word. I don’t think disability is something to be ashamed of, it just shows resilience. If you want to do something you just find a way to make it work for you. Sometimes that means asking for help, something I myself am not very good at.
Re: the 2nd part of the question – it’s weird. I’m just trying to do the right thing. What was said about me just felt so wrong and struck a really personal chord. Normally I would never stand up for myself but this time, after peeling my jaw off the floor of my car in shock I knew I wasn’t going to let this one slide. Knowing something is wrong though is not the same as knowing what to do about it. Lucky for me my girlfriend is a disability rights advocate and does.
If I’ve inspired people, that’s truly awesome. If doing this has given someone else the strength to give things a go or even better, stand up for themselves when someone discriminates against them then we’re paving the way for disability discrimination to get the same recognition as racism, and that’s a powerful thing.
KEVLAR: In what ways has your life changed since establishing the Deaf and HoH Roller Derby Skaters Worldwide and becoming somewhat a household name among derby folk?
MEATY: To be honest it’s the discrimination case that has had the biggest impact on my life. Lots of people know who I am. When I was at the World Cup I would meet people and they would say “Oh I read about you!” It’s also a bit disconcerting because you don’t know where people stand on the issue. The topic has at times become quite heated and most people have an opinion on it and what was meant by it or how it was handled. So when people say “Oh I read about you!” I don’t know if that’s meant in a good way or a bad way. The risk with taking a stand in such a public way is that you open yourself to be judged and that’s always the road less travelled.
The page was a way to show myself and others that I am not alone – which I kind of thought I was. We wanted to have something positive to focus on because the situation was so stressful. Now I have another community out there to share my trials with, who get what I mean when I talk about background noise, tinnitus and vertigo. And hopefully that’s what the people who follow our page feel too.
KEVLAR: Now, it’s very clear to me that you have put a LOT of work into developing resources and information on the Deaf and HoH Roller Derby Skaters Worldwide page. Can you tell us a little about what kind of things skaters, coaches, trainers, etc. could fine upon visiting the page?
MEATY & LEX!: Confession time: I’m dyslexic so if people are talking to us on the page they’re probably talking to Lex – my partner. She’s the one writing the answers to these questions too but we are answering your questions together, just like we work on the page together. If you want to be able to read it you don’t want me to write it! Lex specialises in self-advocacy – people speaking up for themselves – so she makes what I want to say readable and helps me get my voice heard. This page has been a great way to bring our interests together.
On the page people will find lots of things to inspire them – articles from the web about Deaf and HoH athletes (derby and otherwise), captioned videos about sign language and tips for making your league more inclusive, inspiring quotes, and profiles of Deaf and HoH skaters, referees and NSOs from around the world. These profiles are very popular, although we have not had a new one to share for a few weeks now – we know there are more Deaf and HoH derby folk out there (Asia, Europe, Central and South America for example but our page is an English language page which makes getting into those areas tricky). In the profiles we focus more on what people bring to derby rather than going on about their hearing loss or what is hard. It gives that profiled skater or NSO a moment in the sun, a moment to feel the love from around the world so that they can hold their head high – that is such a rad gift to be able to do for someone and that is why they are so popular – it’s uplifting to read.
Meat Train (left) and Alexia Garbutt (right) are the heart and soul behind the Deaf & HoH Skaters Worldwide page.
KEVLAR: Cool! Great to have you as part of the interview too, Lex! What you have both put together sounds pretty incredible and I think it’s wonderful that you have allowed so many others to share their stories as well. What sort of feedback have you been getting in regards to the page and the education that it provides?
MEATY & LEX: Everyone, including us, loves the inclusivity of the page because it involves all levels of derby folk and all levels of hearing or Deafness. In the everyday world sadly, in both of these circles, people can often feel more or less included – like there is an unspoken hierarchy. On our page you are just as welcome if you are freshmeat or veterans, skaters or NSOs, culturally and linguistically Deaf, slightly Hard of Hearing, or Hearing. There is no hierarchy. Everyone’s journey is valid.
The most popular thing we have posted so far is without a doubt the short clip we made at the World Cup comparing the sign language alphabets of American Sign (ASL) and British/ New Zealand Sign (BSL/ NZSL). It was done on a whim when we found out that Jamie True (Rose City All Stars, Portland, USA) knew a bit of ASL and the 35 second clip has so far been viewed by 78,752 people and has been shared 599 times! People are very interested in the differences between sign languages, with many people not realising previously that it is not a universal language.
We have received lots of beautiful messages from people who have said our page has helped them in some way. People who had felt alone, people who had not yet felt confident to reveal their hearing loss to their leagues and people who had been in a dark place, struggling to know where they fit within the derby world they loved so much.
We are also (really excitingly) now starting to be contacted by leagues asking for help when new Deaf or HoH skaters join them. We are currently collating all of the ideas and tips we have scattered throughout the page and will post this on the page as a free resource in the New Year.
KEVLAR: Getting that sort of response is definitely incredibly encouraging. The Deaf & HoH page recently sent a “Sensory Challenge” out to skaters, can you tell us a little about what that challenge was and why you wanted to issue it to your peers?
MEATY & LEX: The Sensory Challenge was an idea I came up with to encourage leagues to skate in someone else’s skates for a moment in time. The aim was two-fold:
- for hearing people to see what it can be like to use your eyes more than your ears – and to see that it can be a strength, not necessarily a weakness.
- for people to experience how frustrating it can be trying to hear or understand when everyone is talking at once, facing away from you or there is background noise such as people adjusting velcro or tapping their skates.
KEVLAR: Very neat. Did you get some good feedback from those who worked it into their training?
MEATY & LEX: The challenge ran for the month of November but we are going to re-run it in 2015 because a lot of leagues were finishing up for the year. We got some wonderful feedback from Easy Break Oven – a skater from the Calgary Roller Derby Association in Canada. She noted the most difficult part was team communication off the track: “The general sense of indistinct hubbub made it less likely that I’d try to listen in on or participate in conversations during gear-up. If the group had more than one conversation going at once, it was impossible to follow the 2nd conversation at all. Also, being able to see the face of whomever’s speaking made a big difference in comprehension.”
She also spoke about how hard it was to know where others on the track were without having the sounds of wind and skates and breathing to rely on. We were touched that she was so insightful in her comments about this, pointing out that this was more than likely a result of only having 2 hours to adapt and not wanting to imply that Deaf and HoH skaters would not have good pack awareness.
We were really thrilled to read her comments as they showed both how powerful this challenge can be and also the real respect that this skater had for Deaf and HoH teammates, which gave us warm squishy feelings.
KEVLAR: Yeah, Easy Break is pretty awesome. Great to hear that she was so invested in the challenge. Meaty, you may not have been able to skate with Team NZ this time around, however, you were invited to compete with Vagine Regime in their show bout at the World Cup! How was the overall experience and what have you taken away from it?
MEATY & LEX: OMG it rocked! It was an amazing group of really talented skaters and the whole experience of skating with them was fun. It was just about having fun as a group, doing what we love and in an atmosphere of derby and queer love. The audience was the shizz, it was alive and buzzing and the commentators (though I couldn’t hear them) were too funny. It’s not every day that you have giant vaginas dancing around the track LOL. It was an empowering thing to be part of.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Vagine Regime wholeheartedly for inviting me to play with them and making me feel like part of the team. I went into the game just wanting to hold my own and prove that I am not a liability. I feel like I did that and that has both healed some wounds and reignited my passion for the game.
Meat Train (right) goes over some American Sign Language with a Vagine Regime teammate at the World Cup.
KEVLAR: So, going into the new year, what do you both hope to accomplish with the Deaf and HoH Roller Derby Skaters Worldwide page in 2015?
MEATY & LEX: We just want to keep it interesting, keep it connected and help in any way we can (from NZ) with the development of the 1st ever Deaf and HoH team that is (fingers crossed) going to be competing at Roller Con 2015!
We are realistic that our page may be a ‘fad’ and there is a finite amount of information we can provide to people but, just as we were astounded by the number of Deaf and HoH derby folk out there we continue to be astounded by the cool ideas and tips that people are bringing forward. One US-based Ref (Davie Darko #2806) has had the settings on his hearing aid customised to cut out the 3 frequencies of the whistle most used in derby so he could continue to wear the aid during games without the blasts hurting him. We also ran a short competition asking for suggestions on how to make the game more inclusive and the winner of that competition (from Australia) had the great idea of making gloves/ hand-wear with fluro or red palms for referees to wear so calls are more visible.
It just goes to show that, with technology and the sharing of innovative ideas there is so much we can all do to ensure derby is the inclusive sport we know it to be.
KEVLAR: Do you have any plans for expanding it into something bigger or developing more resources?
MEATY & LEX: As we mentioned we are currently collating all of the ideas and tips we have scattered throughout the page and will post this on the page as a free resource in the New Year. We are excited about the Roller Con team idea and we would love to make it (somehow) into the rest of the world. Seeing all 30 countries competing at the World Cup and knowing how fast the sport has grown since the last 2012 World Cup we know there will be other people out there who still don’t know about our page and leagues that we could help. We have just been sent some sign language from someone in Japan and that gives us a lot of hope.
People may be interested to know that we have spent the better part of this year (2014) being filmed for 2 documentaries. One is a documentary about Team New Zealand and Meat Train is one of the skaters whose journey on the team has been followed. The other is a short documentary by Attitude TV – a disability television program in New Zealand shown on mainstream TV and online. The episode will be less about Meat Train and more about Marcia Taylor and will show another side to her story into deafness. Both documentaries will be released in 2015 so watch this space.
KEVLAR: That’s very exciting, I’ll definitely have to keep an eye out for those documentaries! Finally, with the New Year getting underway, what’s next for Meat Train both on a personal level and as an athlete?
MEATY & LEX: 2014 has been hard.
I have not been at the top of my game and I am putting that down to 2 things:
- playing all year in a toxic environment where fear and control have sucked the joy out of the game.
- the amount of stress I have been under since October has been immense and taxing on my body.
I’m fully aware that I am still on my journey for justice and we are in the process of getting my case ready for the NZ Human Rights Tribunal to hear. In spite of this, in 2015 I am going to focus on using the new skills I have learned in the last month; getting my body back to a place I am happy with and focusing on all the positive stuff that I have in my life: my beautiful girlfriend and our whanau (family) we have; thrift shopping; our Facebook page; my vegetable garden; my Meat Cave – I am happily converting our double-garage into a gym – and upskilling with my derby friends here in Wellington with an aim to achieve WFTDA ranking for Richter City Roller Derby!
I think the big take away for me here was that no matter what adversity you may face, and how overwhelmed you may feel, you are NOT alone. Keep on standing up and speaking out!
Thank you Marcia and Alexia for taking the time to speak with me!