Spaces and Races

“Can I see your drivers license?”

I had just handed over my USA Cycling race license to the woman at the race registration table. She looked long and hard at it, visually scanning through my name, categories by discipline, listed sex (“F”), and back up to my name, and then gave me a long and examining look. I was my a picture of early-morning-race-disheveled; shapeless sweatshirt, torn up jeans, functional clogs, unkempt faux-hawk sticking up at all angles, sunglasses perched on my head. In other words, I was extra androgynous this morning. And, my voice was extra gravely, under-caffienated in the foggy 6:30am hour.

For a split second, I thought about saying that I’d left my wallet in the car in order to retrieve the letter from USA Cycling HQ which states that I am a known entity, that I am physiologically female despite my confusing name, state ID and gender identity, and that women’s fields have been determined to be most appropriate place for me to race, due to medical evidence. And then I realized that I forgot to bring the bag with that letter in it.

Then I quickly thought about explaining to the butch lesbian requesting my license that I am physiologically female, that I was born female, and raised a girl, but that I don’t identify as strictly one or the other gender, and that I have a drivers license that says “M” on it because… well… gender is tricky, and sometimes these happy mistakes/strokes of luck/fate happen… but… oh, wait. Maybe she’s one of the ones that don’t like trans* people and would prefer to take the T off of the LGBT. Nope, better not go that route. (See “How did I get here?” if you missed that one.)

Then, the father of one of the racers interjected, “I know her! She races all the time on the track!” But, the reg table woman appeared unmoved and determined to see some ID.

So, I rooted around in my pocket. Flipped through my wallet a few times, and made a face, “Oh… shoot! I left it in my other pants! I hope I don’t get pulled over on the way home! Sorry! But, here’s my student ID from Yale! And… Alan knows me. You can ask Alan!”

My Yale student ID has me wearing a dress shirt and a tie, looking more masculine than androgynous. But, it only lists my name and class, not an “M” or an “F”. She studied that ID, and my name, and then my face again. Then she shrugged and said, “Well, ok. We just have to make sure you are who you said you were and weren’t using somebody else’s racing license…”

I had hoped that she’d interpret the shirt and tie on the ID and my general appearance as mega butch-dyke style, and give me the wink of solidarity instead of continuing with more questions. And, thankfully, it seems my instincts were correct on this one.

Would I have been questioned if I had changed into my cycling kit prior to going to the reg table? I’m not sure. But, I doubt there would have been an issue if, instead of the frumpy sweatshirt and jeans that disguise my frustratingly female hips-to-waist ratio, I had been wearing tight spandex which shows off my decidedly girly butt and conveniently allows for a visual crotch check.

I felt a pang of guilt in the pit of my stomach when I fibbed about not bringing my drivers license. In fact, it was right there in my pocket, stuck between two empty metro cards.

But, I was tired from waking up at 4am and loading my bike and driving two hours. Plus, it was starting to rain, and I had more nerves about this race than I’ve had in a while. A road race? Since when do I race non-collegiate road?! There’s a mountain in this race?! But, besides all of that anxiety and sleep deprivation, I was also so, so, so excited for the Women’s Woodstock Cycling Grand Prix that I didn’t want to mar this event (for ANYONE) with any ruckus about trans* cyclists. Ninety minutes prior to the race starts is not the time for the disruptions or dramatics that too often ensue from the “T-word.” Nor is it the time for possibly arousing the unfounded fear of men sneaking into women’s spaces… or races.

Furthermore, the WWCGP is THE only women-only race in the region. And, while I may not identify as a woman all of the time, this is the body I have to inhabit as an athlete. And, I want to be there to celebrate women’s racing. Because women’s racing is incredible, and should be celebrated, and I am a part of women’s cycling, regardless of whether or not I exclusively subscribe to that identity. Simply put, the WWCGP is the cure for a sport where, too often, female racers are an afterthought, or their performances are discounted or forgotten entirely.

I will never again forget my race bag containing the letter from the USA Cycling HQ. But, that’s not the real issue here. Trans* and gender nonconforming people shouldn’t be inappropriately scrutinized by self appointed gender police in cycling, bathrooms or elsewhere. For the record, I didn’t see anyone else get asked for ID at the reg table. Generally, we know where we belong and have studied the laws and regulations more carefully than most people could ever imagine. This is because things don’t typically go well for trans* and gender nonconforming people when we get in trouble. In my case, I’ve played by the rules to the point of disclosing extremely personal medical information including blood hormone levels (normal female, thank you!) and even gynecological history (I kid you not) to our national  governing body of cycling, as well as outside experts. There are the actual gender police out there who determine who’s physiology fits them into what category. And, if that isn’t your job, then it isn’t your place to judge other’s bodies.

I am androgynous and non-conforming, but I am a part of women’s cycling. And, I know that I’m not the only physiologically female cyclist out there who doesn’t identify as a woman, per se. Gender non-conformance or gender-queer identities are increasingly common. On the other hand, there are certainly woman-identified people who are far more typically masculine than I am! There are also trans* women (MTF) who very much do identify as women, who are physiologically equivalent and deserve to race free of harassment. Am I asking for an asterix after “Women” in the WWCGP? No, I don’t want to change the name of women’s cycling or any women’s sports. But, I do think we need more conversations about inclusion and diversity.

USADA Trans Guidelines Update

The lack of TUE guidelines or transparent policy for FTM athletes who would use testosterone for medical transition has long been an obstacle in creating good policy for the inclusion of trans* athletes by sport organizations such as USA Cycling. Previously, WADA guidelines had stated that there was no acceptable use of testosterone in a female person. Without further clarification on those transitioning from female to male, or a standard process for a transitioning FTM athlete to seek a TUE for testosterone use, clearly there would be few attempts of FTM athletes to gain such an exemption when the price to pay could be as high as a lifetime ban from sport. 

With virtually no comment or discussion, WADA and USADA have released a new set of physician guidelines on theraputic use exemptions for testosterone use by FTM athletes in a policy document dated August 2015. 

This new set of guidelines will legitimize the participation of transitioning FTM athletes in men’s racing. At a professional level, there may be currently non-transitioning trans* athletes competing in women’s cycling who would now choose pursue physical transition and seek to compete in men’s races under this policy, whereas previously they would have had to sacrifice a career for transition.  At an amateur level, this will erase one more barrier to participation in cycling by removing fear of sanctioning under anti-doping efforts for those who gain TUE approval. 

The guideline recognizes the medical necessity of testosterone for physical transition,

“Androgen hormone therapy is essential for the anatomical and psychological transition process in FtM athletes. Hormones optimize male gender identity, improve quality of life, and limit psychiatric co-morbidities which have been reported to occur more often when such treatment is withheld.”

“FtM athletes require hormonal treatment with testosterone, for which there is no non-prohibited alternative.”

provides an exceptionally well stated summary of the diagnostic criteria and treatment recommendations of transsexual (FTM) men, and the types of documentation to accompany an application for a testosterone use TUE,

“In general, the primary evaluation of a transsexual athlete who is receiving hormone treatment and/or has undergone surgery will follow the national guidelines. Reports by either mental health professionals and/or the subspecialty providing care for transsexual persons in the respective country will detail the medical history including any previous partially or fully reversible physical treatment. These reports will establish the indication for hormone treatment/surgery in persistent gender dysphoria. They should be complemented by an endocrinologist’s report on initialization of hormone therapy and/or the surgeon’s report documenting the oopherectomy as applicable. Prior to treatment, a full general medical assessment needs to be completed.”

and provides reasonable guidelines for the monitoring of testosterone levels in transitioning FTM athletes. 

“It is the athlete’s responsibility to provide the TUEC with a complete record of testosterone prescriptions of oral, gel or buccal testosterone products and date, dosage and name of medical personnel administering injections of testosterone or hCG. Frequent testing of serum testosterone including unannounced urine and blood testing as ordered by ADO (at least 1-2 times per year) should be required and related to injection timing or gel application Treatment should use standard testosterone doses which should return the trough testosterone to mid-normal levels.”

“TUE validity should be for ten (10) years, with a mandatory requirement for annual follow-up reports including testosterone dosing regimens and levels to be submitted to the TUEC as above.”

However, these guidelines on applying for a TUE require the eligibility of an athlete to compete in their sport. This requirement means we must have a written policy from USA Cycling making transgender athletes eligible to compete within their physiologically equivalent categories. A trans* policy by USA Cycling has been underway for years, with small progress made on setting precedence in case by case decisions.  However, to date, this policy remains incomplete with no published guidelines or criteria for transition within the sport. 

“FtM athletes may be granted a TUE when they are eligible for the sport, and the respective criteria and characteristics of eligibility defined by their sport need to be documented in the TUE application.”

With the release of these guidelines, WADA and USADA have simplified USA Cycling’s policy making dilemma considerably. The inclusion of transgender men who use testosterone in men’s cycling will no longer be in conflict with anti-doping policy.  

USA Cycling now has a great opportunity to encourage the participation of transitioning transgender athletes and to remove fear of penalization for physical transition by publishing a policy congruent with that of these WADA guidelines, stating that transitioning athletes are eligible race in their category of physiologic equivalence.

——

A few more personal comments:

The majority of the discussion of trans* people participating in competitive sports has been about trans* women (mtf) competing in women’s categories, and it is clear to me that remains the most contentious policy issue at hand. FTM cyclists have been essentially absent from the conversation in competitive cycling for two major reasons: 1) FTMs have never been perceived as a threat in men’s sports, for many of the same bio-essentialist reasons that MTFs will continue to be incorrectly perceived as a threat by many even after demonstrating physiologic equivalence. 2) without an international anti-doping guideline that recognizes the medical necessity of testosterone in transition, there is no amount of social acceptance or national sporting policy that allows FTMs to compete in any category. `

FTM athletes have recently been recognized and allowed to compete in many other sports. With the release of the new IOC policy, now eliminating surgical requirements, there is an FTM triathlete set to compete on the US Olympic team. There is an FTM boxer currently competing under permission of his national sports organization.

Now it is time for the conversation to start about FTMs in competitive cycling. With this WADA/USADA document, conversation is suddenly more meaningful than just good will and wishes for change.

But, does this mean something to all trans* masculine athletes? No, it is likely that those who have chosen not to physically transition and stay in women’s cycling will continue to do so. For example, I personally have no desire to use testosterone, and even with the possibility of a TUE I would not choose it.

Does it mean that there will suddenly be a lot of FTMs petitioning for a USADA TUE for testosterone? Maybe there will be a few early applications, but without a policy from USAC they will likely not be granted one except by an act of charity. This is one more reason why I sincerely hope that USAC policy will be released in the near future.

I came to cycling from death

Once you’ve come to a place of peace with your own imminent death, it is much harder to accept life. My body was failing, and I did not want heroic measures taken to prolong what I was told was increasingly likely; at 24 years old I signed my Do Not Resuscitate papers.

It is impossible to explain the agony of a hospital day to those who have never been bedbound. Your back and then sides hurt from the pressure of the bed and the weight of your own bones and diminishing muscles. When breathing hurts, you stop breathing as deeply, and then you shake with fevers. Minutes, hours and days blend together. Time is too slow and too fast. You close your eyes to try to escape, or you watch the second hand of the clock on the wall tick by. You stop feeling the pinch of the phlebotomy needles, you learn to detach from your body, and you start to dream of death. Absence from this miserable reality becomes a glorious fantasy. I awoke with silent tears of sadness that my wish to drift off in my sleep had not been granted, again and again.

When I first went to the ER, I initially agreed to humor my EMT partner at the time. I figured that the hospital was so close to home, I would just get checked out unofficially and then walk home if I had too. It was the end of my shift, and I was barely able to lift my share of our human cargo. I hadn’t eaten in days. In fact, I’d barely eaten at all in weeks and I was thin and pale and weak. But, a childhood punctuated by illness had taught me that no matter how bad it gets, hospitals are the worst possible place to be. And, surgery only begets surgery. Despite having been told as a child that I likely wouldn’t live past 30, I’d managed to become healthy, powerful, and fit. I had been a lifelong athlete, albiet interupted by hospital stays. And, now, after spending years relatively free from illness, I didn’t want to admit how sick I had become.

I didn’t come out of the hospital for half a year, including too many ICU days. I had severe disease to my small and large intestines requiring numerous resections, culminating in an ileostomy.  I had memory problems from hypoxia, a new hearing deficit from toxic medications. And, I was severely depressed. But, I did not die.

The problem with not dying, is that you have to start planning a life. Assembling a life that’s been disassembled is an unimaginably harrowing task. Where do you even start?

In acute rehab, I found movement to be the only answer to every question. Just. Keep. Moving.

I decided that I would start by walking home. And, I promised myself that I would never be still again. Not for one single day.

When I was strong enough to ride a bicycle, I found joy again. For the first time since I had welcomed death, I was alive and wanting more. Velocity is freedom, and exertion is a reminder that I am alive. I never wanted to stop riding. As long as I keep moving, nothing else can touch me.

But, death lingers like a sad boyfriend that doesn’t want to say goodbye at the end of a night, when he knows the breakup is coming. Throughout the years since that episode of illness, I still find myself sometimes wishing to not wake up when it all seems too much to handle. Life isn’t easy, and being having a chronic illness is emotionally taxing to downright painful.

Or, I feel guilty for having not died. If I had died, I couldn’t have messed up that latest minor thing and so and so wouldn’t be mad at me.  

Most of all, sometimes at night I go back to that dark place, and I need to remind myself that I am indeed alive and I’m not still back in that hospital room.

Exertion reminds me that I am alive.

In cycling, popular language use glorifies “pain” and “suffering”. We talk about pain faces to describe the grimace of a hard race effort, we describe intervals as being “uncomfortable” or “pushing up until it hurts” to describe the sensation of finding one’s lactate threshold.

Exertion is not pain. Effort is not “uncomfortable”. Pain is the feeling of broken bones, grinding cartilage, a torn muscle. It is different than the feeling of being alive that comes from pushing yourself harder than you thought you could. These are the sensations of having a body. This is being lucky enough to be capable of pushing your physical limits. We choose these sensations, even seek them out. And, unlike true pain, you can chose to make it end at any time, simply by stopping pedaling.
I don’t want to stop. When I need to remind myself that I am alive, that I have a body that moves, I go to the bike or the gym. I push myself harder, forcing myself to be present. I meditate on the increasing awareness of each muscle group, that creeping feeling of oxygen hunger and desperation after tipping over that anaerobic line.  If I just keep moving, I can hold everything else at bay for a while and just be alive.

How did I get here? History, change, something else.

“Son, you’ve marked the wrong box. I’ll fix that.” 

My photo ID had an “M” on it, through a stroke of luck/fate, and some greater cosmic [mis]understanding of the complexity of gender, plus the scratched, coke-bottle lenses of the octogenarian DMV clerk. I said nothing, stunned. And then left, quickly.

But, that wasn’t the first time in my life I had been read as male without trying. In fact, prior to my mean-girl phase, I was almost always read as a little boy. When she was around, my mother would try to correct people. When she wasn’t, I enjoyed the freedom to dig in the mud and roughhouse with the other boys, prior to putting on my gymnastics leotard. I earned a reputation as a real bruiser in soccer; they called me “the little weapon”, a jibe at my petite stature in an era of Arnold Swartzenager movies. Dolls were boring, and I hated sitting still through playing house or princess movies – except for My Little Pony, I LOVE My Little Pony.

Being a boy, part time, allowed me to play the rough and tumble sports that I wanted to play. I was able to have the friends that I wanted to have. And, I confidently walked by myself at night on the streets, my hoodie up over my head, watching the moon fade into the purple haze of early dawn, and nobody ever told me that walking alone at night wasn’t safe for little ladies. (This sense of safety alone on the streets at night may be more of a phenomenon of largely absent/irresponsible parenting, but I’m pretty sure it also has something to do with how the world perceived the gender of an 8 year old kid). Yet, at school and at gymnastics, I was a girl, living a split life for a while. And, I was a mean girl when I was in girl mode. I was popular, cute despite my mostly handed down clothes, had a crush on one of the cool boys (we held hands!), always had perfect hair, and cruelly asserted my presence as a pretty girl by mercilessly mocking “Carol the barrel”, my grade’s too-hairy, too-heavy girl.

When I was 9, I went to Girl Scout Camp, and met other girls who weren’t really girls either. Some of them were even more boyish than me, and that was a shock. I had never met girls who played too rough before, who ate bugs on a dare, and didn’t squeal at pulling leeches off their legs after wading through the green slime in the shallows of the lake.

littlemehay

Shortly after my third summer at Girl Scout Camp, I withdrew from the cool girls clique. It didn’t matter anymore, and I was sorry for what I had done to Carol for all of those years. That timing wasn’t a moment too soon. With the onset of puberty, I was suddenly a little bit too heavy for competitive gymnastics and a little bit too hairy to be cool.  I cut my hair short, dyed it green, and became an outsider.

The thing about growing up is that you don’t get to stay a kid forever. Eventually, you need photo ID, there are always forms to fill out, and you have to pick a box. Male or female. If you leave it blank, somebody else will pick for you. If you pick one that the world doesn’t think is correct, you will be reassigned to better fit other people’s comfort.

Perhaps in another place and time, things would have been different. But, I was ten years too early for the concept of gender nonconformance as an acceptable identity. After leaving high school early to attend college, and then dropping out of college for lack of funding and increasing identity struggles, I had no marketable skills and nothing to show for qualifications. I found myself suddenly in the precarious place of being marginally housed, scavenging for stale bagels in Panera dumpsters, and doing day labor or various other odd jobs where I could find them. I hitchhiked around the country, with all of my clothes and a few possessions on my back, allowing the truckers to believe the narrative they flawlessly invented for me: pre-teen, boy runaway. When rides became hard to find, or I was weary of trucker banter, I rode freight trains. Living as a boy five years younger than my actual age became a habit, and allowing people to invent my past in their imaginations became a self-preservation mechanism. Being a boy traveler isn’t as unsafe as being a girl traveler. The only requirement is erasing your own history and never slipping up. Slipping up has dire consequences.

Who do you think I am? I can be whoever you want me to be.

Then, I arrived in Philadelphia, and found myself at a roudy punk house party. It was New Years Eve, to my surprise. I had lost track of time in my travels. I was exhausted and fell asleep on a couch, despite the blasting noise. I woke up two days later to one of the residents poking me to find out if I was dead. My backpack was gone. My travel companion was gone.

“Do you want to catsit? I’m traveling to Mexico till the spring.”

I had come of age in my travels. Now 18, I used my time with free housing and small amount of income to take an EMT course and find a more settled life. Being an EMT was a lot like the traveling life; hyper-masculine, unedited, and a bit risky for women and non-conformers. My photo ID said “M” and thus I started my work history with a place in the men’s locker room. I continued my habit of having no history, and held the world at arms length. I went to extremes with lifting weights to build up my core and upper body strength so that when it came to lifting the heaviest of patients I would never have to ask for help, compensating for my small stature. Coming out could have meant becoming a hate crime statistic.

Our circumstances shape our identities.

I was living as a man and did not really know how to live as an adult in any other way. I had very few friends who knew I was not male assigned. My experience with living a stealth life resonated with that of being trans*, female to male, and I embraced that as my own identity. It was the only thing that made sense to me, as a way to find others like me and to define my experience. Living as an outsider was so hard. I so desperately wanted things to get easier. Maybe if I could mold myself to better fit this identity, life would be easier.

Nearly fifteen years ago, when I first put my name on the wait list of gender identity counseling, there was no third gender. The only acceptable narrative was that of the classic transsexual: trapped in the wrong body, dysphoric, heterosexual, conforming to gender stereotypes. Choose to express anything otherwise and you fail the test. As a guy, that means erasing desire to sometimes be a girl, sexual desire for men, or to wear sparkly nailpolish. Even medical care was coercive at that time. There was only one pathway forward for trans* people at that time. It was 100% or nothing.

I chose to tap out of that path early on. I was warned by the clinic that if I didn’t come back again to check off box #8 on the checklist, that if I didn’t come back for a testosterone shot, I would be off the list.

I was off the list, but that didn’t really matter. I never needed much help to pass as a guy, albeit a small and sensitive guy, as long as I kept my clothes baggy, my gaze down and my eyes cold. It was always my eyes that gave me away.

Years later, living in Western PA, working as a Paramedic, I was still stealth. I still had an absent past and kept friends at an arms length. But, now I was boiling up with rage at the new, younger generation and their phenomenon of “genderqueer”. Who were they to try to redefine my struggle? Don’t they know that they can’t speak for us, the real trans* people who went through the system? How dare they try to speak for us? They are so naive. So lucky. These 18 year old college kids wearing Abercrombie and Fitch, flaunting pins with genderqueer symbols on their backpacks, are so privileged to never have had to fear for their lives while living a life so out in the open. Times had changed, but my life hadn’t. I was still immersed in a world where hatred of fags, love of guns, and racist jokes ruled.

And, then, I moved to the ultra-liberal and ultra-safe world of Yale and Connecticut. It was a shock. That was the fall that I came out to USA Cycling, the ECCC, and all of the Yale Cycling community. At that time, my language was still that of being a gender-normative trans guy. I hadn’t yet had time to reconnect to my past, or relax into just being myself again. That first season of racing in the women’s field was jarring. Change is hard. Peeling back all of that rage hurt. But, humans are good at evolving.

Looking at the progression of entries into this blog, I see the slow creep of nonconformity setting in. I started accepting myself, for myself. I started remembering what it was like to grow up as a girl. I started taking pride in my history, and in my accomplishments as a physiologically female athlete, although I still live as a guy in my professional life. My language to describe myself has changed drastically in the past three years, as has my personal identity.

Originally, I stated myself as a guy, who is physiologically female. I am still a guy. I’m one of the guys, but I also give myself room to be one of the girls. The glitter is back, fulltime. The eyeliner is back, fulltime. I’ve made a promise to myself to wear clothing that fits and is comfortable, which these days mostly means wearing women’s clothing. Either pronoun is fine, although I prefer a daily mix rather than strictly one or the other.

I’m back to where I was when I was 10. I live part of my life as one of the boys, and the other part of my life as one of the girls. Being able to have the freedom to be all of myself is important to me. Having a history is important, and having friends who know me for me is the most important.

Identity: everything. nothing. something else.

winningtrack

Spoiled: part 3

Now, flash forward…

I am sitting here on my couch, writing this while a track omnium is about to begin in New York City. I am registered for that omnium, but am instead writing a blog post in my underwear and looking up new roads to explore on Google maps.

Why am I back to riding, not racing?

I love racing. I desperately want to race. But, the state of women’s racing makes me sad, frustrated, disappointed, often angry and a bit heart broken. My heart is on the track, but I’m not there because I’d rather ride my road bike on beautiful Hudson Valley roads than feel guilty about crushing cat 4 women in a women’s open field (yes, really. All women racing together, pro and beginner alike), or frustrated that while I love supporting beginner racers (I volunteer to coach a beginner program!) it means I have to soft pedal for the first lap of a team sprint when I’m paired with one of those newer women, or gritting my teeth to block out the more than vaguely insulting commentary from the infield, or downright angry when the women’s races are modified yet again to be further shortened to ensure that the program finishes on schedule. Yes, there are two very strong sprinters racing today, but that’s hardly a field. For me, the modifications for the women’s open field race program that went out last night weren’t going to make for a fun, challenging or useful day for training. And, if it’s none of those things, then why go to the race? Ten miles into my road ride, I’ll be able to brush off the disappointment and frustration of the morning, and then I’ll get in some quality training and finish the day tired and happy instead of swearing that I’ll never make that same mistake again.

Many race directors, and even some women racers, have blamed this type of behavior (choosing not to race races that are most likely to be disappointing/frustrating/not enjoyable) for the state of women’s racing; the cancellations and the last minute schedule changes.  It isn’t uncommon for the women who do show up to get a 30 second lecture on everything that the women’s field lacks—at the start line, no less!—sometimes only a breath after being thanked for registering. This is the problem: blaming women racers, not the women racers themselves. The idea that female athletes should pay to spend their day racing events out of an obligation to do so, regardless of event quality or field equality, is massively problematic. That model makes racing a chore or a duty, not a joy. This is the opposite of the pre-race excitement and love of the sport that I had felt while racing in the men’s field. Showing up at a race out of a sense of obligation, with no idea what the schedule might be changed to, and a high likelihood of being belittled or berated by the race director or male attendees because of the lack of field size or perceived quality is not happiness. For me, it quickly became dread. And, my dread became particularly strong for one venue where there was a near guarantee of verbal harassment—I started going to sleep wishing for weather to cancel the races the night before, and waking up desperately trying to talk myself through just getting out the door. Worst of all, racing unhappy out of a sense of duty does not make for good racing.

Why does all of this seem to affect me so much more intensely than so many other women racers?

My answer is, “because I’m spoiled.” I was spoiled by men’s racing. I got a taste of what it feels like to know your race schedule, to know you’ll be challenged, to know you’ll have a full field to race in, and to know that there will be people cheering for your race from the sidelines (cheering really does have an awesome, strengthening effect when you need to find courage for that last effort!).

In my day-to-day life, I walk that line between being “she’d” and “he’d” depending on the circumstances. As I’ve relaxed and stopped trying to “pass” as anything other than myself, more and more frequently I have a hard time telling how I’m being read. Still, I do have the overwhelming privilege of passing as a guy professionally and in many other settings where I don’t wear spandex. This makes it all the more jarring to be treated so differently than the other guys when it comes to racing.

“Oh, woe is me! I have male privilege for part of my life and it hurts to give it up!” Pretty arrogant, right? But, it’s true. I am spoiled. The more pressing question, though, is: why aren’t we all outraged at the treatment of women cyclists? Why does anyone accept this? Sadly, I think most men are happily oblivious and lost in their own worlds, and most of the women who do object will eventually leave the sport.

We, men and women alike, should be outraged by the very concept of open women’s fields. Just the idea that there is no difference between pro and beginner women is horrifyingly demeaning to the experienced women, and creates a phenomenal barrier to participation for beginners, who are often lapped once or multiple times or pulled from the course before their finish.  We should also be outraged by the idea that it is okay to impose last minute schedule changes on the women, and usually only the women, including cutting racing times and drastic shifts in formats. Changing an event from longer group races to shorter sprints (feasable for small field sizes) implies that all racing is the same and makes the assumption that women don’t specialize.

Yes, this is the point where you can tell me I’m wrong and you can certainly recite the litany of defenses for all of these behaviors: not enough women to split the field, costs too much money, the women are too slow (or, as one race director put it, “tick tock”), nobody wants to watch women’s racing, women don’t sprint until the last lap anyway, so it doesn’t matter if you shorten the race, etc. Maybe you’ll even throw in a judgment about my quality as a racer, or attempt some character assassination to discredit my statements. I’ve been called, “the problem with women’s racing”, made the butt of running jokes, and been declared persona non grata when I’ve challenged decisions about shortened races and seemingly punitive choices for race format changes, and I know I’m not the only member of the women’s field who has felt this sort of lash-back on protesting changes. I might be a sensitive guy, but I didn’t misinterpret, misquote or misremember.

Here’s the thing, though: I am also a race director, so the whole, “well, then YOU run your own races” argument doesn’t work here, because I do. Sometimes there are simply not enough women to run some formats of track races, and there is no perfect answer for what to do about it. There are ways to go about reformating a race without enough registrants that makes it fun and interesting, and ways that are just lazy. And, what ever happened to asking the women registered for the races what they want? Ask them, and be respectful. What a radical idea!

If we start listening to women racers about what they want, and what they need in order to make an event fun and challenging, then maybe we will have less women choosing to ride instead of race, and thus be able to fill the women’s fields. 

For now, I am choosing to ride instead of race, except for a very few select events that I trust will allow me to race happy. For me, self-care means choosing to avoid races that will fill me with dread of harassment the night before, and make me sad/frustrated/angry the day-of. Without self-care this sport becomes unsustainable. In my first year of racing in the women’s field, I developed in leaps and bounds and learned a huge amount about myself. But, I wasn’t ready to face the realities of women’s racing when I petitioned for my change of license.

Sometimes I wish I could just be happy for a race, any race of any length and any format, and roll with the last minute modifications and demeaning justifications of how women are too slow/boring/under-qualified/scarce for equal racing time or prizes. It would be a lot easier to sign up, and then show up to races if I could just stop being so outraged and disappointed. And, I’d certainly be a lot more popular.

I am conflicted because I very badly want to race. I want to enjoy the rush of the sprint, the thrill of closing a gap, and the satisfaction of knowing I pushed myself as hard as I could. But, self care is important. If I don’t take care, how do I continue to spread the love of this sport to the new racers come spring? How do I continue to love this sport at all? So, I’ll keep my love for cycling and spend my weekend riding happy, not racing sad or angry.

Photo credit Robert Lai

Spoiled: part 2

Let’s go back one step.

I began racing in men’s fields fairly anonymously, wearing a kit two sizes too big and hoping none of the other guys would put all of the signs together and notice that I am female-bodied and not just really young. I was a mediocre cat 4 by a couple of months into of my first summer racing, when you looked at the results: mostly midfield, a smattering of top tens in flat crits, a few lucky top-fives on a very good day, but always just shy of the podium. For a while, mid-field was great. I was a new racer, in a field of novice/intermediate racers. And, I was getting faster!

I became tactically savvy and confident, I started training far harder than any of my teammates, I read all there was to read about cycling training, and I worked with a coach. I was in phenomenal racing form by the next Spring. And then, my contentment ended. I realized that I was nearing all I could hope to be, if I was going to keep on racing with novice and intermediate men. This personal experiment in physiology had some early conclusions: my power profile was different than the rest of the guys. I had learned to suffer, to conserve energy and to hide in the field, to push through mental barriers and lactic acid, and to hang on for a mid-field finish (better on a lucky day).

I had become an incredibly efficient rider and racer, and had a lot of fun. But, I was never going to learn the strategies needed at the pointy end of the field. And, I knew I would be hard pressed to ever upgrade to men’s cat 3. I was ready to walk away from the sport because I was frustrated with the lack of a pathway for development. Yet, while I was having an internal discussion about giving up this beautifully painful lifestyle I’d adopted, I continued racing for the love of speed and the sport. I LOVED racing men’s crits, even if the novice men did, well… novice things that frustrated me, or more and more often than not made me sit up coming into the sprint rather than risk my skin for 10th place in a sketchy field.

To quote myself on the issue I was facing“All is not equal in cycling. And, I don’t just mean social differences in the way racers are treated. Bodies matter. Anyone who claims the contrary has likely never experienced the challenges of being the only female bodied person on a training ride with similarly skilled and conditioned male racers.” 

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That’s why I petitioned for a change of license to reflect my being physiologically female. There was no good path for further development as a racer on an unequal playing field. Now, read carefully, “development as a racer” means just that. I wanted an opportunity to progress, to race against women with equal skills and tactical savvy, and to learn from those more experienced and skilled. I didn’t request a change of license so I could win, but to learn the skills and tactics I would need to race successfully at a higher level.

I knew women’s cycling had issues, and I thought I was ready to take on the small field sizes and scarcity of races, and brush off the issues with unequal payout. It seemed hopeful. Yet, at that time, just getting past the hurdle of changing my license and the prospect of a future of racing on a level playing field was almost too much to imagine. And, I accepted the uncertainty of the situation—it was quite possible that when I outed myself to USAC, requesting a change of license under a completely absent and unpublished “case by case” policy, that I would be denied or even have my license revoked. If that had happened, I figured I could go back to just riding bicycles, which is what I was leaning towards at that point anyway, as disappointing as that idea was.

To be continued: finding myself unprepared for the inequality, speaking up, the consequences… and, what now?

Photo credit Charles Rumford (featured), Lee O’Reilly (mid-post)

Spoiled: Part 1

I came into women’s racing spoiled.

Prior to racing in women’s races, I spent a couple of years racing exclusively in men’s races.

Racing in men’s races was awesome in my first year racing. Awesome; that was my world. Every weekend I was gauranteed to have plenty of race options, and would gleefully plot out destined-to-fail race strategies with my cycling buddies, then load up the car and go race! I never expected much, except to have fun, win some preme lap prizes, and enjoy the momentary illusion of grandeur that every novice racer feels while an announcer is revving up the small crowd of spectators (family, friends, passerby) during my repeated and glorious but doomed fliers off the front of the crit. It was awesome. Cat 4 or 3/4 races generally had modest payout, and that seemed fair. I mean, what wasn’t fair about it? I was there to race my heart out, and knew that when I went to race we (the cat 4 guys) would get our 45 minutes of glory and microphone feedback buzz out on the course. It was pretty straight forward: “There’s a sweet race this weekend!”, says my new teammate John. We register. We race. We leave to go get food, and make sure to get back just in time for the start of the pro men’s race.

After a 4am, half delirious and hurried disclosure one race morning, John knew I was not male. But, I was determined not to be treated differently, and he never told and nobody else ever said anything… There were no rules being broken. Anyone can race in a men’s race – that much I knew.

I admit to being pretty oblivious to women’s races.

Was there one on the schedule? When was it? What categories were racing? What was the payout? Was it fair?

If you had asked me that first summer of racing, I probably wouldn’t have an answer for you.  Like most racers signed up for the cat 4 races, I was so caught up in my own race day routine that I couldn’t see past my nerves, attempts to focus on warmup, and carb cravings.

There were women who raced in the region who I admired. They were fast, sometimes far faster than me! And, I felt bad that there were so few of them in the races – It must be hard to keep on showing up when you’re one of the only ones. I knew there were issues with women’s races being dismissed as boring or slow, and was adamant that as a good feminist, I would counter any statement to that effect. I didn’t want to be one of them though, not at that point. A race with 3 up to maybe 15 or 20 racers didn’t seem like much of a race, and the announcers were out to lunch – sometimes literally, they were taking a lunch break at that point – and the lack of narration made it impossible for the casual spectator (watch the race for 30 seconds, talk to friends for 2 minutes, watch the race for 30 seconds… and so on) to follow the race.

That blissful oblivion was while I was content in the cat 4 men’s field, still a new racer only a couple of months into my first summer of USA Cycling membership….

Stay tuned for part 2: How I got there and why blissful contentment stopped working.

Discomfort. Betrayal. Acceptance.

Personal reflection at the close of the year. 

Bodies and discomfort.

Competitive cycling is a sport that forces you to inhabit your body; to engage muscles for that opening snap of force in a sprint, or to make yourself breath while pushing through the lactic acid burn.

There is no place for dysphoria in bicycle racing. Testing that statement was a large part of my 2014 racing season – I would be caught off guard by a  “ladies” or a misplaced catcall from the sidelines. And, in those few moments of ceasing to inhabit my body, the race was gone. I had missed the move. Struggling to bring myself back to the present, traveling at a speed of 20+ mph on two skinny tires, I would be left to contest a mid-pack finish.

Since the start of the 2014 season, my gut reaction to being called a “lady” has finally caught up to my academic and philosophic resolve to not correct people at bicycle races. It has gotten easier. I asked to race in the women’s field, and it has been one of the best (and, dare I say, transformative) experiences of my life. I do not wish for women’s racing to change to accommodate me. It is my place to be uneasy and incongruent.

It’s true. I don’t stand out in a field of women on bikes, where many have short hair and low enough 2014-12-13 20.32.03body fat to not have much of a chest. And, these days, I’m finding that that’s alright. In life outside of bicycles, there are many things that I do that cause some gender confusion. The short hair, slightly gravely voice, plus added glitter nail polish alone sometimes has me read as an effeminate gay man, the BFF type you’d go get a manicure and talk about boys with (for the record, I’m always game for that). Eyeliner, worn when I’m feeling a bit vampy, dramatically pushes me out of “he” territory, far past the gender-confusion-hesitation checkpoint, and into the definitive “ma’am” category at the grocery store.

My identity discordance with racing in the women’s field is my discomfort to own, and I’ve come to embrace that itchy, squirm-inducing, surreal and often hilarious place of being an androgynous, female-bodied, guy racing in a women’s field. Not male, but one of the guys. Yet, a different kind of guy.

Body betrayal.

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I won’t dwell here. Hurt, rage and negativity is not a healthy place to live.

Yet, just when I come to that place of embracing the discomfort of discordance, perhaps still basking in the joy of having pushed my physical limits in a race, I see the photo evidence. And, my body betrays me. Those are my hips and waist? I have curves? I might even look downright feminine. Sometimes I am shocked at what I look like in photographs, because it is so different from how I see myself in my own mind. Is that really me?

Oh, yes, it’s me. And, when I force myself to look harder, I see the tough, muscular legs of an athlete, as well as those hips that I can’t seem to abolish. So, I might as well start coming to terms with it.

Body acceptance.

Competitive cycling forces you to care for your body. You cannot train hard on a consistent basis without practicing sincere self-care: sleeping enough, eating to fuel your workouts, self massage and stretching of crunchy, tired and knotted muscles. If you neglect these things, your training will break you. You will become ill or incur a disabling injury. And, because of your self-neglect, you will fail to reach your potential. Additionally,  and perhaps most importantly, one must practice being emotionally kind to yourself and believing that you CAN do it, no matter what the “it” of the day is – those intervals that make me vomit every time, finishing strong on the hilliest of road races, or racing in a field shared with world champions.

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In the genetic lottery, I am extraordinarily lucky to have been dealt a tremendously athletic body, one that CAN do it. I have always been muscular and fast. As a kid, I gleefully beat the boys in my class at foot races or push-up contests at school. Even at ten years old, I recognized that while I felt like one of the boys, I was different. That difference made the accomplishment all the more significant.

As I’ve come to accept this difference, it has become increasingly important to me to be seen as a female bodied person on a bicycle. To be seen otherwise, either in racing or just along for a ride, is to undervalue my strength, tenacity, talent (?), and countless hours of training. All is not equal in cycling. And, I don’t just mean social differences in the way racers are treated. Bodies matter. Anyone who claims the contrary has likely never experienced the challenges of being the only female bodied person on a training ride with similarly skilled and conditioned male racers. Remembering and re-accepting that I am physically different from the rest of the guys, that I am physiologically female, has helped me to come to a place of appreciation for my body and what it is: capable, powerful, and fast. To measure myself, and be measured by others, on the spectrum of female athletes allows me to appropriately value my effort in training and performance in racing.

I am kinder and fairer to myself now. I still choose to place extraordinarily high demands on myself physically. And, in all arenas of my life, have almost immeasurably high standards for my own performance. But, I take the time to massage the perpetual dull ache of training out of my legs, and I am thankful for the ability to ride a bicycle…. very, very fast.

It’s a process. Gender is mutable. Bodies may be uncomfortable places to live, but they matter.

Disappearing: Reflections on 2014 Nationals x2

2014 USA Cycling Collegiate Track Nationals, although abbreviated due to my clinical schedule, was the 2nd set of nationals I’ve attended this year. (See the race report on the Yale Cycling blog here.)

 

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Being a trans person competing at a national event, under a new and poorly defined policy of inclusion, can be nerve racking – to say the least.

Will the officials ask questions? Will there be a problem at racer check in? Will there be an issue with other racers? Will there be problems with bathroom facilities?

What if somebody asks questions?

Or, alternately: What if nobody asks questions? What if my presence in the women’s field goes unnoticed?

 

At Collegiate Road Nationals in May, it was the latter, except for a few confused officials and parents/coaches of other collegiate athletes. Luckily, I had the best friends and support crew a guy could ask for at Road Nationals, and those confused people were deflected the moment they started asking awkward questions. Deflections successful, I was left with what to do about largely blending in to the women’s field – nobody asked any questions (the officials at check in had apparently been primed), and I made new friends within my race field rather quickly – in the way one does when faced with the most grueling of races against the highest caliber of competitors on a truly world class course (2014 Collegiate Road Nationals was a test run for the 2015 Road Worlds courses). Finally, nobody tested me for the presence of testosterone (if they had, they would have found none). I was even interviewed on the news along with a few other members of the women’s field, and recruited to be in a commercial about cycling events made by the City of Richmond VA. No questions asked.

During the road race, complete with numerous cobble stone and belgian block segments, my companions in the chase group in the road race encouraged each other by saying things like, “Go, girl! Nice pull!”, “Common, keep up the pace, ladies!”, as we pulled back fragments of the splintered breakaway group ahead of us. I offered no corrections. How could I? And, why would I? The middle of a national event is not the place to interject my identity politics, and the middle of legs-on-fire suffering is hardly the place for an educational conversation about trans identities and semantics. I asked to be in this field, and there I was. And, in those moments, it is the sentiment that mattered – encouragement is encouragement, camaraderie (until the finish line draws near) is camaraderie.

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A failing breakaway attempt disolves…

At Collegiate Track Nationals, my experience was largely the same. I saw many of the same excessively talented women I’d raced with at Road Nationals, exchanged inside info on who was dangerous and who to watch during the races, and went about my pre-race preparations. At the start line, while waiting for my time trial start, the announcer had a bit of a hiccup with my name. All over the microphone, he declared that he was unsure as to whether “Travis” was my first or last name, since it was a funny name for a girl, before going on to read the rest of my bio, using the expected feminine pronouns.

 

I had debated writing, “I prefer masculine pronouns” into the final question on the racer bio form, where it asked for a piece of interesting information about the racer. However, I decided against this, sticking with my previous decision to keep racing about the racing and identity politics off of the track during competition. Instead, I wrote, “I’m terribly afraid of cats”.  So, “she” and fear of cats it was on the loud speaker at the start line. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my fiance, Brandon, cringing just off to the side of the infield.  Afterwards he said, “I wanted to go correct him… I’m sorry.” I answered, “It’s ok. He couldn’t have known.”

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At Collegiate Road Nationals, during my 50 minute time trial, I was almost jarred out of the deepest of pits of sufferring to laugh at a particularly roudy collective of frat boys standing in one of the islands on the course, yelling, “Yeah, beautiful lady!!!”. And, then again, as the course made a 180 and returned in the opposite direction. Nevermind gender identity. I was wearing a sweat soaked speedsuit, wearing an alien-like time trial helmet, and working hard enough to have drool and snot streamers trailing down my chin and onto my chest. Yeah, beautiful lady? Is this what we yell at female athletes?

After Collegiate Road Nationals, while contemplating what it means to blend in to a women’s competitive field, I came back to an excessively honest and slightly cruel statement made by the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference director at the start of the 2014 season, “You don’t physically stand out in the women’s field”.

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Despite my flat chest, the hint of peach fuzz (hair follicles are forever) and perpetually-preteen voice, I blend in to the women’s field seemlessly. Does that mean that I de-transition every time I attend a race weekend? Every time I go to racer check in or go to the start line, I expect to be called “she” and “girl” and “ladies”, and accept that drag.

Oh, I’ve never met a girl Travis before. Oh! And, I like your nailpolish! Have a good race!

So, in a way, yes. I do become a different person every time I present myself to the world as a guy in a women’s race – I become a part of a field of female bodied people, collectively women. Although, I personally identify as a guy, the gender of my racing category is “women” and the default pronoun is “she”.

I’m a guy, and I’m a part of women’s cycling.  I become invisible and all-too-visible every race day.

Again? The new academic year brings reiteration

 

We are now a solid month into the 2014-15 academic year at Yale, and have a slew of new members of the Yale Cycling team. With those new members comes new confusion. I am a member of our women’s team, and as such am on the women’s team listserve and attending women’s team events (training discussions over froyo, rides, etc). I am even a central organizer of women’s team events, to some people’s confusion. After all, what is a guy doing at women’s events!?

The new year brings a new need to come out again and re-explain. This year is a different situation in that I am meeting our new members for the first time, and bringing confusion with our first interactions in cycling, which is a highly gendered sport. This makes me highly visible as a gender-confusing person. I present as and look like a guy, except for a few details that only those who are really  paying attention would pick up on at first glance. But, I do a lot of talking about women’s cycling and I attend women’s events and races.

Last year, I was already known as one of the guys, with a full semester or more of being acquainted with all of the team members, as I came out to the greater Yale cycling community as being a female bodied trans person in the early spring, just prior to the road racing season. This year I had wanted to wait as long as possible to address the issue, for the sake of not creating a distraction from what we are all here for; the cycling! However, we are currently at that tipping point where my presence at women’s events without explanation is the distraction. So, it is time for me to start drafting a new, delicately-worded email to this year’s team explaining that while I am socially a guy, I have a female body and compete in women’s cycling.

To add to the archives, here is what was written in an address to the team and the greater Yale/ New Haven area cycling community last spring. The email below effectively outed me to the team plus approximately 800 people in the regional cycling community a single day.

Have I mentioned how lucky I am to have such a supportive cycling team? I expect no less this year, and am so thankful for the attitudes of openness and inclusion that I’ve experienced here at Yale Cycling.


 

Dear Team,

Yale Bulldogs Cycling is proud to be a national leader in inclusiveness and diversity, as well as one of the fastest and most fun collegiate teams around!Keeping with this spirit of inclusion and welcoming diversity, we are proud to announce that one of our own, Travis, has spearheaded a push for major changes in national competitive cycling policy in a precedent setting case.

Please take the time to read his statement below.

As fellow team member and women’s captain, ____ is thrilled to be racing alongside Travis in the women’s field, and ____ will miss his presence in the men’s.

Travis has the full support of our team behind him and we’ll be there for him on and off the bike.

Best,

Your Captains, (names redacted)



Dear Yale Bulldogs Cycling,

First, thank you for being my teammates and my friends. It has been an honor to get to know you you while on the team.

Before you read it elsewhere, I want you to hear this from me first. In search of a level playing field, I have requested a change of USA Cycling license to reflect a recategorization from male to female for the purposes of racing. I was born female. I transitioned to living as a guy because I find that to be the most socially comfortable on a day to day basis. After extensive medical expert review to determine that I have no competitive advantage, USA Cycling has granted me a license to race in collegiate women’s A, or category 3 non-collegiate.

Why am I disclosing this now? Because cycling has changed my life in immensely positive ways, bringing me incredible joy. What’s more, my competitive cycling community is the kindest, most passionate and driven, and most altruistic group of people I’ve ever known.  I want all people to be able to experience this beauty that is competitive cycling, regardless of their gender identity or how it matches their body.

Yet, I am still the same guy that you’ve known and ridden along side of. I have not changed, nor has my love of cycling.

I hope to continue to work with the leadership at USA Cycling to develop comprehensive, inclusive policies for the future so that all athletes can participate.

Finally, I can’t wait for the start of the season in March! 

-Travis