Chicago Roller-derby player was out on Santa Clara soccer team
By Ross Forman
Photo credit: Mariah Karson
Photo credit: Gil Leora
“My life was so soccer-driven that I basically was asexual until I was about 20 years old,” recalls Gleason. “And then I met a woman who lit that fire, opened my eyes.”
It was too much to hide from her friends, and Gleason came out to her team before that season.
“I have no regrets about the time of coming out,” she said. “If I had been more occupied with my sexuality [before my junior season], I wouldn’t have been as driven as I was athletically, and I had some amazing experiences and opportunities with soccer.”
But coming out wasn’t without issues.
“It was difficult,” she said. “It was a difficult time for me and a difficult time for my friends who knew me. As I struggled with my sexuality, I think they did too. It was an awkward period.”
Gleason was a three-time All-State player at Maine South High School in suburban Chicago. She joined Santa Clara for the 1998 season and stayed for three years. Gleason played the 2001 season for UNLV, then finished her schooling at Southern Utah University.
“I have re-connected with a few of the women from that time …friends are friends,” said Gleason, who earned Academic All-Conference accolades at UNLV.
While at Santa Clara, Gleason’s team made two Final Four appearances. And she later played for months in Amsterdam. Gleason said there were no other openly gay players on the Santa Clara squad, but the UNLV team was about 10 to 15 percent lesbians.
Gleason has since left the soccer field … for the roller-derby track.
Gleason joined the Windy City Rollers in 2006, morphing into her alter ego, Malice With Chains, to help fill the void in her life for a physical sport.
The Windy City Rollers (WCR) formed in September, 2004, as Chicago’s premiere all-female flat track derby league. The WCR skate at the University of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion and are members of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA).
“I kind of got burned out on soccer and was just looking for something new,” said Gleason, who works locally in customer service for a steel service center. “The league is loaded with women who you wouldn’t consider or call a stereotypical athlete. There are tall, short, fat, skinny, a little of everything … and there’s something for everyone to do out there. The biggest thing about roller derby is: it’s not what you are, but how you use it.
“In many other sports, if you’re too short or you carry a few extra pounds, you’re value is limited. But in roller derby, there’s something for everyone to do, and you can use your body to your advantage. It’s the kind of [sport] that you get out of it what you put into it, and I knew I’d go at it 100 percent. Physically, I guess it’s what I expected because it’s allowed me to push myself as hard as I wanted to or could.”
So what’s more difficult, college soccer or roller derby?
Roller derby, she said, “because it is a sport that we’re still defining every day, whereas soccer has been around for hundreds of years.”
Gleason is one of several lesbians in the WCR. She dated that first object of her affection, for whom she came out to her soccer team, for two-and-a-half years. Her current girlfriend does not skate, but Gleason’s former partner is a current teammate on the WCR All-Stars team.