Choosing a skate name is, for many people, a pivotal moment. Names are symbolic, choosing them even more so; it’s no coincidence that the only other times most people change their names are when they get married or get a peerage (surely not long now, right?) – life-changing moments where we want the world to know we’re different than we were before. Bestowing a skate name upon oneself is the symbolic equivalent – it says ‘I am part of the roller derby world,’ ‘I am badass.’ When I chose my skate name (with significant help from my husband) it was a big deal. It really felt like it meant something.
Nearly three years later, however, I have decided that I am no longer going to use ‘Katomic Bomb' and that from now on I will skate as me; Karen. This is definitely not a sign that I am no longer part of the roller derby world and most certainly does not mean that I am no longer badass – it’s a bit more complicated than that.
I have read many people’s accounts of their time as a derby rookie and a theme that crops up fairly regularly is one of derby providing empowerment and an opportunity to discover and unleash aspects of themselves that the wider world was previously unaware of. Giving this new persona its own name strengthens and realises it. This has no resonance with me whatsoever. I was 31 when I started playing roller derby; a grown, married woman in a responsible job who was already pretty darned empowered. I didn’t need derby to show me how to be disciplined and feisty and competitive – rather it worked the other way around in that the sport was an outlet for these well-established facets of my character. I love that this sport has transformative power and think that the facility to recognise this through the choosing of a new name is symbolic and powerful; it’s just not for me.
Yesterday’s tournament at Tattoo Freeze was one of several recent events which have seen roller derby reaching out to a wider audience in the UK. The sport is reaching a crossroads in this country and soon there will have to be important decisions made about its future. I am firmly in the camp that wants roller derby to be taken seriously. It is a complicated, tactical sport, requiring brains, brawn and tight teamwork, is truly accessible to people of all shapes and sizes and is wonderful fun to watch. The Olympics would be better with roller derby in them and the competition fiercer and more exciting with funding available to invest in training at a local and junior level. My concern is that the roller derby ‘scene’ which attracts so many people and is undeniably part of what makes the sport so special, might also be its biggest obstacle. Skate names and boutfits, I feel, make it easy for people to decide that it’s not worth looking any further – that we’re not serious sportspeople or that it’s a game that’s not for ‘people like me’. Reverting to my real name is my personal way of saying, ‘this is serious – we are serious.’ Personally, it’s not about the scene, it’s about the sport.
I realise that many people will feel quite differently about this issue, and the fact that the Derbiverse accommodates us all is a big part of its wonderfulness. Let’s hope that that doesn’t get lost as we negotiate the exciting and important times to come.