Thoughts from the Wall of the Roller Rink
By Jenna Gartland
The night I went skating, I’m glad nobody held my hand.
The roller rink in question, filled far past its capacity with middle-aged folks looking to escape the frigid winter New York air, smelled just like the greasy food court at the local mall. Hairspray coated the air, floating to the top of the hot, sweaty room and mingling with the stench of old french fries and gallons of Bath and Body Works perfume. It’s kind of a dump; there’s only three items on the menu, the water fountain is taped to the wall with duct tape, and the cranky manager with the crunchy kanekalon hair piece will yell at you if you take too long ordering. But to the people gleefully spinning in circles around the smooth, stained, dark brown rink, it was a palace.
The music in the rink is what makes the whole experience worth it. Jumping back and forth from 80’s disco hits to Bronx drill rap, the hammered DJ sets the tone. Women around the rink screech unintelligibly after each song, celebrating the Whitney Houston dance mix that sends everyone out stumbling onto the floor. As I go to grab my roller skates, I felt like I was missing something. It wasn’t until the attendee asked how many skates I needed that it came to me; I was fucking lonely.
I’ve only recently come to terms with the fact that nobody would be coming to save me. No knight in shining armor, no secret wizard society to take me into their world. I’ve created and re-created every dating profile known to man, hoping to find someone who’d help me fill the void of self-hatred. I’ve been on enough dates to qualify as a census representative, getting into strangers’ cars with little to no hesitation, laughing at jokes that were painfully unfunny for the chance that they might find me interesting. Since I came out, I’ve been eager to find my place in the community, but all I found was more and more subgroups I didn’t fit in. Most men that are open to dating trans women have ulterior motives for doing so, and finding a guy who would take his hand off my crotch, look me in the eye and hold my hand in public has been almost impossible. I keep trying to tell myself I’ll find someone, and that I need to learn to love myself before I can love anyone else, but the words have left my mouth so many times that I’m finding it hard to believe them anymore.
I scanned the floor of the rink, trying to brush aside the feelings of loneliness and self-pity by attempting to find an entrance into the spinning mass of skaters. The City Girls blares on the speakers, and people cackle and scream with sheer glee, sliding and spinning to the quick, heavy beat. Some of these people are insane; skating backwards at full speed, holding hands in a conga line, even closing their eyes and doing flips off the wall. Me? I’m focused on not falling– trying to use the purple cement wall to push off and give the impression that I have the necessary balance for skating in a big circle. At first, I was nervous that people would judge me, but as I look around at the laughing, singing women dancing with their friends, at the beer-bellied men meeting up to play pool in the back room, and at the old woman skating on one foot in the center of the rink, I realize that I’m the only one concerned with how I look.
Love, like skating, can be very humbling. When I first tried skating this past summer, I busted my ass, sending the longboard flying into my neighbor’s car and bruising my tailbone. On dates, I’ve had men call the police on me, curse me out, and complain that I wasn’t having sex with them. It’s so easy to put the board back in the closet, delete the apps, and complain that you can’t do it. But what I’ve learned from dating as a trans woman is that it’s not about them- it all starts with you.
All of the validation I was so desperately seeking; someone to tell me they found me attractive, someone to call me ma’am and open the door for me, someone to please me and hug me and comfort me after a long day at work, could all be done by myself. I’ve learned I need to be alone to learn how to be with someone, and that once I stop judging others, I find that the judgment I feel towards myself begins to lift. Like the heavy, greasy, passionate air of the disco roller rink, love doesn’t always come in the packaging you expect it. It might be a gift from yourself, a letter addressed to you in shaky handwriting and a crumpled rose. It might come careening on wobbly skates, gripping to the wall and praying it doesn’t hit the kid in front of you. True love comes from trying your best to be the best version of yourself, even on the days your hair is flat or when your voice cracks during attendance. It’s learning to love yourself past the empty proclamations of “I’m so hot.” Love is being kind to yourself after you get rejected from another damn internship, it’s sticking with yourself as you fail and suck and you learn to move on. Self-love is a slow, committed relationship that grows stronger with time, a partner that I have no intention of ever ending things with.
Finally getting the hang of it, I pump my legs and begin to skate faster. Off I go, flying past giggling teenage girls and a couple having a very intimate moment behind the trash can. I feel free- not because I’m out past midnight and I put on a full face of makeup to my mother’s great chagrin. But because I’m learning. Because there’s a slight breeze that blows my hair out of my face as I turn the corner. Because the song I just added to my playlist is playing overhead, and I feel more fulfilled from learning to skate than I ever have from any man telling me I’m pretty. As I launch off the wall, I break out into a grin, singing along to the disco song and dancing with the people next to me. I’m lonely, but I’m never alone. Because after the lights turn on, the rink closes and people stagger back to their cold cars, there’s only one thing left. And that’s me.
Jenna Gartland is a junior studying rhetoric and creative writing. She hopes to go to law school and visit every national park in America.