Queer | Feminist | Doctor

Archive for October, 2012

Why I love roller derby, and why I’m not going back to skating (for now)

A bit of context: I started roller derby 2 years ago in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK. I have since moved to Middlesbrough, just over a year ago, and broke my leg at a skate practice in January, have been “off-skates” ever since. If you want to know more about how the sport itself works, look here.

Roller derby is punk – it is counterculture. It is women of all shapes and sizes getting together and making something for themselves, and not subscribing to conventional ideas of what a “good” woman is. And that makes it radical. It is women being muscular, aggressive, and hitting each other. It is women being tactical, working together in a team and not being bothered about what their teammates look like but what they can do.  Roller derby bouts are fun, noisy events. They have suicide seats (sitting on the floor close to the track, with a real risk of ending up with a roller girl in your lap), fast food, stalls for independent local businesses, half-time entertainments. They are (in Britain at least) a very different way of doing sport.

When I first started roller derby, it was at a kind of difficult time in my life. I’d been recently diagnosed with depression, and having a community and regular exercise to go to was pretty therapeutic for me. I loved the friendliness of my local team (Newcastle Roller Girls) and the league was growing pretty fast at the time so it was all very exciting.

Roller derby is a growing sport. It is a grassroots, bottom up movement that is made by the people who build the leagues, go to the practices, organise bouts themselves, etc. Each league needs a mix of people – not just the top athletes who want to be the best skaters in the world, but the people who have good coaching skills, who welcome new players, who can design posters/flyers, who know how to handle money, etc.

Some players wish that roller derby were taken more “seriously”. They want to get rid of “boutfits” and instead have uniforms. The don’t want to have punning bout names (Block to the Future, Crouching Blocker Hidden Jammer, Sweet Home Alajammer) and instead give the bouts numbers. This is not the roller derby I signed up for! I LOVE that roller derby is a radical, grassroots sport organised by women for women. I do not need roller derby to be “sanitised” so that the mainstream will “take it seriously”. Roller derby is the first ever sport that I’ve actually felt interested in playing/following, precisely BECAUSE it is a fun sport, because it isn’t snobby, because it welcomes with open arms women of all shapes, sizes and socio-economic backgrounds. Individuals get to express their skate persona through their name, number, makeup and outfit. I’m all for people being able to express themselves by not having a skate persona, not wearing makeup, not wearing fishnets or a tutu, etc, but some people in roller derby want to get rid of what, in my opinion, makes roller derby great.

I have read articles by people who did give everything to their league – spent all their time on it, thought about skating 24/7, and after a few years had a bit of a shock when they looked around and realised that they’d been neglecting everything else in their life. I don’t want roller derby to be a sport which makes people do that. I want it to be a sport which improves people, physically and mentally. And I think that in order to do so it has to be a sport which doesn’t eat people up and spit them out, but which nurtures. I’ve seen people stop skating altogether because they couldn’t come to every single practice, they couldn’t give as much as some of the other people in the league, due to things like having kids, or a job that goes in shifts. This is sad because, although they might not have the time to become the best skater in their league, they still had something to give and I think the league was worse off without them. There is a danger of having a culture in roller derby that makes people burn out, and that isn’t good for the people involved, for their leagues, for the sport in general.

Right now I have a lot of things going on in my life – trying to get through my training at work, working a shift pattern, looking after myself and my cats, trying to have a social life in Middlesbrough, and my mental health has not been great. My leg isn’t broken any more, but it isn’t anywhere near back to normal. I can’t give as much to my local league as I would like, and my local league is currently one of the ones trying to make roller derby ‘serious’. So for now, I’m hanging up my boots, and hoping for a time when I can give my best to a league which has the kind of community and values that first brought me to the sport.

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On being a doctor with limited spoons

Recommended reading

I have depression, and this means that for the last couple of years I’ve been operating on limited spoons. This is why I’m working part-time. It means that some days I run out of spoons and have to just spend the evening trying to recover some of my energy. It means that I have to remember to take medicine every day in order to not turn into an angry crying mess. I am very lucky to have a family and friends who support me through my bad patches, and who understand that sometimes I will cancel on them at the last minute, or have difficulty committing to things.

It makes me less giving, and I worry that people see me as being selfish. When I went back to work after having broken my leg, a couple of my consultants fed back that I was “unwilling to stay beyond 5pm” and that they saw that as not being appropriate for a junior doctor. At the time I was completely supernumerary and my depression was flaring up due to having broken my leg, so I don’t think that trying to hang on to my spoons was inappropriate at that point, nor did I feel that it was necessary to disclose my health status to every single person that I worked with to pre-empt them judging me for not working unpaid overtime. But doctors are expected to want to be at work all the time, and for many specialities, the training requires you to work a LOT of unpaid overtime just to get exposure to the kinds of cases that you need to know about in order to develop your skills and knowledge base.

When colleagues ask me what I want to do with my life, I often answer “be happy” rather than specify my career intentions. The range of responses this has provoked is very interesting:

“Oh, you want to be a GP then? Most GPs work part time”

“You’re not going to be a surgeon then.”

“Well, you know you can do flexible training in lots of different specialities so you don’t just have to be a GP”

or, saddest of all

“Aww, I want to be a surgeon :-(”

Most of the people who assumed that wanting to be happy and wanting to be a surgeon were incompatible were surgeons themselves!

Some people live to work, and that is fine. A lot of doctors have that kind of attitude to work, because it used to be that ALL doctors lived to work – there was no other option. If you were a GP in a one-man (and it was one man) practice, then you were on-call *all the time*. If someone got ill in the night and needed you, you had to be there. Fortunately (from my perspective at least) things are not like that any more and while there are arguments against doctors working shifts, the fact is that my job is shift work.

I work to live – having a job enables me to have the resources I need to be able to spend time with the people who are most important to me, doing the things I most enjoy. I took a year out before university, I took a year out from medical school and did a Postgraduate Diploma, and now I’m working part-time. I’m ok with the fact that I’m not climbing the career ladder as fast as is humanly possible, because I know that if I were trying to do that, I would be less happy.

I try to be open at work about the fact that I’m working part time and the reasons for it, and for the most part I think that has been a good thing. I want to be visible to other people who have less spoons so that they know that they are not alone, and I want to be visible as a person with mental health problems in order to try to challenge the stigma that people with mental illness face.

Further gym update: I’m in the local paper.

Well, I’m in the local paper (complete with comedy “I’m fed up and I’m wearing a skirt” photo!) I did call up the journalist who wrote it to let her know that the gym had apologised for treating me the way I did, but it looks like they have gone with a quote from the gym which still implies that I was dressed inappropriately! I find this odd since I was told on the phone by Michelle Chambers, area manager for the gym, that my skirt was NOT inappropriate. I have emailed her for clarification, and will probably be wearing that skirt to the gym again at some point.

If you don’t mind reading things which might make you facepalm, have a look at the comments section. Apparently fat people shouldn’t wear short skirts, doctors are not allowed to have silly hair, and women who lift weights aren’t allowed to have big arms. I’ll make a note of that.

Gym update: They apologised!

I got a phonecall from someone at the regional office of DW Sports Fitness today, apologising for both the way I was treated on Saturday, and for the fact that I’d been told that a skirt is not appropriate to wear in the gym. They said that even if I had been dressed inappropriately, then it should have been dealt with differently, and that of course it is fine to wear skirts in their gyms. Thank goodness! In celebration I went to the gym this evening in my netball skort and a crop top.

Responses to my being asked to leave the gym for wearing a skirt

Today a journalist from the local paper came round to get more information on what had happened and take some pictures of the “inappropriate” outfit. I have also had an email back from DW Sports/Fitness (in which they addressed me as “Mrs” Parker!) asking what branch of the gym I am a member of. Nothing else from them as yet.

I posted links to this post on Fitocracy, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and Reddit. Here are a selection of the responses:

  • “I’m guessing people were just confused/didn’t know how to react but that’s no reason to treat you like that or kick you out.”
  • “I lifted in a skirt just last night. How infuriating to be kicked out for that! Just all around strange. It’s unfortunate when assholes can’t mind their own business.”
  • “Pretty sure my little walmart workout shorts are shorter than your skirt. My full brief underwear will show if you really try and look between my legs on the stair climber. I assume people will either not look or look away if the see something they didn’t want to.”
  • “Geez, I’ve seen girls at gym in shorts so short they may as well be panties! By which I mean, shorts are not by default more modest than a skirt. Ultimately it shouldn’t matter what you wear to gym as long as the required parts are covered.”
  • “I think I’m at the gym for me and not for anyone else and as long as I’m not breaking a law, I don’t want to hear anything about what I work out in. IF someone can see between my thighs, the way I see up mens shorts, I would expect them to look away.”
  • “This made me want a cute sport skirt so badly.”
  • “Asking you to leave was a dick move. I’ve seen the shit some girls work out in and I don’t see how a skirt would be any more revealing or dangerous.”
  • “I completely agree that there are many fitness shorts just as small as the underwear she was wearing. Also, you can see up people’s baggy shorts, you can see people’s thongs sticking out the top of their pants, and you can see people swimming in swimsuits at the gym. Sometimes when swimsuits are involved, there is pubic hair and other sights involved. I don’t think you should have been kicked out or complained about. I’m really sorry this happened to you.”
  • “I don’t work out, but I have boyshort-style underwear that I couldn’t wear underneath some women’s “workout” shorts because they’d show… they cover more than the shorts. And, no, they’re not flimsy or see-through, either.”
  • “even if were uncomfortable I wouldn’t ask the person in the offending skirt to leave (or get the attendant to do so). I’d just deal with it, and maybe make a sarcastic Facebook post about it to get it off my chest!”
  • “Men can work out in shorts and NOTHING else. Women are expected to have everything covered, and the person who complained was “uncomfortable” with the fact that they could see something that is considered sexual by society. Men not covering themselves does not make people uncomfortable, but a woman doing the same thing does. This is definitely a feminist issue.”
  • “I can see why another patron might find barbell squats in a skirt a little distracting. I certainly don’t think she should have been kicked out for it. The whole thing seems like it blew up more than it should have.”
  • ” If someone has a problem seeing your underwear then they should not be looking at your nether region. I doubt they would ever stop a man for something like that.”
  • “I was a cheerleader throughout many years of my life (including in high school, ie underage) and we wore skirts with “briefs” underneath them (and underwear under those). We are athletes who compete in athletic competitions, and most people have seen cheerleaders, even if just on tv or in movies. No one seemed to think it was inappropriate.”
  • “I’m just still scratching my head about the fact that people are seriously arguing that if they had been shorts labeled “shorts”, it would have been fine, but if the exact same shorts are labeled “underwear” then it is not fine. Maybe I need more coffee, but if the label is all it takes to make people go from “oh no problem” to “oh my god I can see her underwear throw garlic and holy water” then I am seriously confused.”
  • “Your gym is messed up.”
  • “I’ve seen girls at the gym in see through leggings or tiny skirts all the time!”
  • “Sorry you got this crap. Hope you get a good response & the people at the gym get a thrashing.”

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