Joe Kaiser went to a Windy City Rollers ( WCR ) bout in September 2011and was immediately hooked. Kaiser's wife, Diona Pardon Kaiser, had WCR tickets, and Kaiser was quickly overcome with emotions watching the roller derby action.
"That's what I wanted to do and became upset that I was the wrong gender for that [sport]. I just knew [roller derby] was something I really wanted to do," said Kaiser who, in December of that year, joined a local men's roller derby team: the Chicago Bruise Brothers, which skates out of the suburban Lombard Roller Rink, and had only been organized for a few months before Kaiser joined.
Kaiser's comfort level on the team helped him off the track, too, as he slowly started coming-out to fellow skaters.
Kaiser identifies as trans-feminine and prefers "( s )he" as an identifying pronoun.
"It was not really a big, dramatic coming-out [to the team], which actually was very casual," with the revelation, Kaiser said.
Kaiser, 27, now lives in Norwood Park. ( S )he graduated from Northside College Prep, 5501 N. Kedzie Ave., in 2005 and then IIT in 2009. Kaiser is now a developer for ParkWhizand one of only two open, out transgender roller-derby skaters in Chicago. ( Joe Simonis, who skates for the Windy City Rollers as Ms. Dr. Joseph L. Simonis, is the other. )
"It's great to have another open TGI derby player in Chicago," Simonis said. "Chicago has a very active TGI community in general, and in particular an athletic one, but Joe is the only other out and active skater that I know of here, despite three [local] leagues: [the] Bruise Brothers, Windy City Rollers, and the Red Hots, and all being incredibly TGI-friendly.
"Joe and I have similar, but very different experiences as TGI athletes, and it's been great to work together from our different perspectives. This has been especially true with recent work we've been doing on TGI athlete policies, where it really helps to have people from different experiences talking about what sports mean to them and how they see themselves fitting into athletics. I would really like to see the TGI community work together to make policies that are as inclusive as possible."
Kaiser is a founding member of the Trans, Gender Non-Conforming, and Intersex ( TGI ) Athlete Network, along with Simonis.
Kaiser admitted gender issues dating back to when ( s )he was 12. "I was aware of it [then], but didn't really admit it to myself or others," Kaiser said. Kaiser started cross-dressing while in college, but, at 6-foot-7, was convinced that transitioning was out of the question.
Last May, Joe and Diona transitioned into a polyamorous relationship, and ( s )he admits it then was "very uncomfortable presenting as male online." After all, Kaiser was doing more and more cross-dressing. "Presenting online as a female was nice," ( s )he said.
Kaiser's fashion is ever-changing, often influenced by Mother Nature. When it's warm, Kaiser might wear a dress. Other times, it's jeans and a T-shirt.
"It's really nebulous and hard to hammer down who I am," Kaiser said. "My wife has known all along, for about nine years. She's understanding to the point now of almost indifference. It doesn't matter [to her] how I go out, what I wear."
Kaiser was the captain of the Bruise Brothers last year and is now the league president.
The league's by-laws intentionally left everything very gender-neutral, ( s )he said.
"The league is very gay-friendly," said Kaiser, who knows that the Bruise Brothers have several gay participants.
"There never has been any issue; it's been a very open, very friendly league," Kaiser said. "[My coming-out] has been better than I expected."
Kaiser, who weighs about 240, sports a size-16 gym shoe and size-14 derby skate. "Getting involved in roller derby really helped crystalize my identity, and it's been freeing to be who I want to be; I can present how I want to," ( s )he said.
Simonis added, "Joe has been involved with the TGI Athlete Network since its inception, and recently was instrumental in getting our website up and running, which allows us to reach a wider audience and more easily share our stories and experiences."