The Chicago Outfit Roller Derby League has taken a bold step off the track that will have a huge impact when it competes within the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA).
The Outfit formally voted in a policy to allow transgender women skaters to join the league, the Windy City Times has learned exclusively.
"We've yet to send out a formal press release regarding this, but we are very proud of the diversity represented by our league and we're glad that our league can be one of the leagues to formally create a policy allowing transwomen skaters," said Bethany Johnson, who skates as Meg Gyver and is the league's marketing manager.
Meg Gyver also is the league's lone transgender skater.
She is rostered as a pivot skater for the Outfit's Shade Brigade, the league's second-tiered team. The Syndicate is the Chicago Outfit's A-Team that plays chartered games for the WFTDA.
Meg Gyver has been with the Chicago Outfit for about nine months and also serves on its board of directors.
The Outfits' five-bout season runs from mid-May through early October.
"The policy itself is a very lenient policy versus what other sports organizations have required in the past," Johnson said. "Without too much in depth detail, it basically requires that transwomen who would like to skate with The Chicago Outfit have [to have] completed six months of hormonal treatment to try out and possibly skate for our league. In order to skate for our A-Team, The Syndicate, a trans woman skater would have to complete 1-year of hormonal treatment. It might surprise some people that we do not require trans women skaters to have completed surgical gender reassignment.
"The Outfit adopted the policy because it was just time to have an official policy. The Chicago Outfit is an extremely queer-positive roller derby league. They had discussed this policy in the past, but there never seemed to be any urgency as they hadn't had any transwomen actively trying out."
In fact, when Johnson joined the league last year, she did not disclose that she was a trangender woman. "I wasn't actively denying. … It just didn't come up," she said. "A discussion started within the league last fall regarding allowing trans skaters, and during that discussion I eventually just came out to the league in order to show the legitimacy of trans athletes in a definite and positive way
"For The Chicago Outfit, I think that having this policy is another step for our league to show how open and accepting of women from all walks of life we are. This policy also hopefully will help to continue the legitimization of transwomen athletes in this sport in other leagues throughout the country."
Johnson admitted that, yes, there was some opposition to the policy change, but limited. "People are sometimes wary of things they don't know about. I think it helped the skaters that were questioning this policy when they could put a face to the issue," Johnson said.
Johnson, 31, who lives in West Town, is an executive assistant for a major Chicago real-estate developer. "I've worked in the same company for nearly six years and really enjoy it," Johnson said.
Johnson started transitioning in 2000 while in college.
"Like most gender non-conforming people, I always knew there was something different about me," Johnson said. "After getting up the courage to work through all of this, I started transitioning near the end of college. I had a lot of financial struggles in the small town I was living in, so I moved to Chicago where financial opportunities and a strong LGBT community helped me work forward. Luckily, in Chicago I found the personal and financial stability that can be very hard for transwomen, and transmen, to attain and fully completed my transition several years ago.
"I was not immediately open about my being trans [to the Outfit,] but once we began talking about this policy, I wanted to be open about it."
Regardless of the negative impact it might have brought.
"Almost every trans person has had bad experiences with being trans," Johnson said. "My family initially disowned me and prevented me from finishing my college education. That relationship is still so strained that I haven't spoken with my mother since 2005. I've had friends who have parted ways from me because of it. Medical staff at hospitals has passed me around to their entire staff as an example of transwomen. Even in roller derby I've been treated like an interloper by some skaters who are not affiliated with The Chicago Outfit.
"But in The Chicago Outfit, I have never been treated with less than the utmost of respect and familial love."
Johnson said the Outfit's policy change certainly could bring more transgender skaters to the league.
"I would love to see other transwomen join, because this sport can really add so much to people's lives," Johnson said. "I've heard people say that roller derby saved their soul, and The Chicago Outfit definitely saved mine.
"I waited about five years to start playing this sport. I had asked people at other roller derby leagues if transwomen skaters were allowed and was told that the general consensus was that they weren't. But I want other transwomen, and really any and all women out there, to know that if you want to play this amazing sport there are leagues like The Chicago Outfit that are committed to finding strength through diversity."