As one of the first posts of this blog project, I thought I’d share a blog post I wrote early this spring and shared on the blog of the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference, where the first explicitly trans* inclusive policy in competitive cycling in the USA debuted.
This post was written midway into the season, at a point where most of the athletes were aware that something was up, but weren’t clear on what was happening. A policy statement had been issued by the conference director. And, there was an athlete who was racing in a baggy fitting kit, in a different field than in previous years – me. The primary purpose of this piece of writing was to provide clarification to the collegiate racers who I surrounded myself with every weekend, plus a touch of education.
Notably, this was at a very different time in my life. At the time of this preface update, it has now been two years since I came out as being physiologically female despite having lived as a guy for years.
A lot has changed for me in those two years. I have lived in the liberal northeast for 3 years now, and I have the freedom to be a gender nonconforming person because of it. While I was in a less accepting part of the country, working in the hypermasculine position world of Paramedicine, I did not have much choice. I put away all the sparkly nailpolish, wore baggy and classically masculine clothes, and made a concerted effort to pass every single day. It was a very clear safety issue.
Now, the sparkly nailpolish and eyeliner is out in full force (yes, even at work!). And, with the option to be gender flexible, now that it’s safe, I’m finding that is where I am happiest. I’m a guy at work, and will always be one of the guys for most things socially. But, I get to be myself. And being me means living somewhere in that grey zone. I prefer to walk that fine line between being masculine and feminine – although sometimes it’s a nuisance (where’s the bathroom!?). I don’t have to hide anymore. I get to wear clothes that fit me, including short shorts and tight speedsuits. I get to have a past that includes years of gymnastics and Girlscout camp. I get to have conversations about practical things like how hormonal birth control effects training and racing performance. And, sometimes I want to revisit my riot grrl past and wear big boots and a miniskirt again, and I can do that too.
I no longer have any preference at all about pronouns. Now that I’ve stopped trying so hard to pass as a guy all the time, my identity has come back to somewhere closer to center. I’m finding that pronouns from strangers are about 50/50 either way, often within the same conversation or sentence, and I’m down with that. Even further, there are many circumstances surrounding cycling and athletic issues where it is so important to me to be known to be female, because women’s cycling visibility is so critical.
Basically, it’s complicated. I’m a guy, and I’m female. And, I don’t care about pronouns. I do care a lot about gender equality, and that means all genders. Roll with it.
This is collegiate cycling, and we’re all pretty smart. The day before the season kick-off, many of you read the announcement and blog post about transgender cyclists. Yes, I am such a cyclist, and for now the most public and visible. It took a week or two for most ECCC’ers to start asking questions or making comments and then they started trickling, and then rushing, in. I can’t and won’t answer each individually but I do want to clear up a few details, and to help the community learn how to best interact with and include transgender riders.
It’s Not What You Think
First, I want to thank and congratulate you, ECCC, on your generally positive response and support of my racing in the women’s field this year. Together we are proving that we as a community are able to welcome and include everybody, including transgender athletes. As a whole, you have bowled me over with your efforts to demonstrate acceptance. The last few weeks a fair number of you have approached me and voiced your outright support for my racing, the new ECCC policy on transgender racers, and USAC policy revisions underway. Thank you. Your support means a lot to me personally and it gives me great hope that cycling as a sport that can be accepting of all identities and bodies.
Second, I want you to know that I do not identify as a woman. I am not transitioning from male to female, which is a logical conclusion that many of you have assumed. I still truly and sincerely appreciate the effort from those of you who have made attempts to clearly and loudly demonstrate the application of “she,” “woman,” “girl,” “lady,” and other feminine identifiers to me when you thought that was what I wanted. Thank you for making the effort to validate what you thought was my identity.
I was born female. I transitioned to living as a guy because I find it to be the most comfortable and best fit on a day to day basis. I present as a guy in my academic and professional life as well as socially. For personal reasons, years ago I opted not to follow the traditional, linear, route of physical transition, and have no intent on engaging in any physical transition in the future. After extensive medical expert review and testimony that I have no competitive advantage, and a change in its previous policies on this issue, USA Cycling granted me a license to race in collegiate women’s A and category 3 non-collegiate races. I requested recategorization in search of a level playing field: Despite extensive training, and racing for several years now as a guy, my physiology would otherwise consign me to forever struggling to hang on in lower category men’s races, rather than enjoying a safe, well-matched, experienced pack where I can continue to develop my abilities as a racer – just like everyone else.
Identities are complicated. There are a wide range of gender presentations beyond the binary. I’m a guy, although not a particularly masculine guy. I prefer masculine pronouns and other gendered words: He, his, him, guy, and so on. Even though I’m racing in the women’s field, because that makes the most sense for me in athletics, that does not change my identity. I’m not asking for everyone to get it right all the time; good intentions count for more than perfection. Nor am I asking the women’s field to change for me—I’m the one who asked to be here, and I can’t express how honored I am to race alongside a group of truly talented, fast, elite women. I’m also not asking for the positive cheering from the road side to change. But I am a guy, and efforts to remember that when you interact with me are appreciated. I realize it’s complicated and trans identities are a new concept for many people, but words & behaviors do matter.
Turn 2 in the 2014 Temple Crit. Photo by Matthew Hall Photography
Boundaries, Respect, Privacy
Being such a new concept to much of our community, and perhaps the first time you’ve met a trans person, many of you want to ask questions. Many also simply want to express your support. In doing so, please remember that I’m a person too, and my reasons for being at races are the same as yours: I’m here to race bikes, talk about bikes, cheer for people racing bikes, eat too many cookies after doing bikey-things, and other antics involving bikes and people who race them. I like making new friends, especially smart ECCC people who can talk medicine/chemistry/art/linguistics/physics and freely relate those topics to bicycles. I find all of those topics far more fun and compelling than gender issues.
Moving forward, it’s worth making a few points about interacting with transgender people, including me and any other such members of the community in the future:
1. We cannot be your gender studies class. We cannot be your source of information about trans people, and it’s not fair to ask us to be. There are many great books and Internet resources available. Increasing your awareness and being a better ally is an awesome goal. But you shouldn’t place that burden on the individuals you hope to support.
2. Being transgender is not an open invitation for anyone to discuss or scrutinize your body, or for strangers and acquaintances to ask intensely personal questions.</em> All of the same personal boundaries and limits on what’s polite and appropriate to ask or discuss apply to transgender people as they do to everyone else. We all deserve the same respect and privacy; as much as spandex will allow.
3. Despite what TV and pop culture imply, transgender people are not all hypersexual creatures placed on earth to satisfy your curiosities.</em> It is not ok to tokenize and sexualize us just as it is not ok to do the same to women, minorities, or any other group at a bike race or elsewhere. Again, everyone deserves to be treated respectfully, regardless of gender, identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or any other trait. All of the same rules apply as with approaching any other person that you think is attractive: Check your motivations, remember that attraction may not be reciprocal, NEVER touch without consent, and “no” means no.
4. Not all spaces are equally safe. Do not assume that because a trans person is publicly so in one environment that it is acceptable to transfer that visibility to other parts of their life, or to draw attention to them in other contexts, particularly less-than-safe places. There may come a time when the ECCC becomes the very first place where a new trans person feels comfortable in presenting as their gender identity, but you shouldn’t then export that knowledge outside the community, such as by announcing it at that truck stop diner on the way to/from a race. Not all environments are equally accepting and safe.
5. If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.
All of those boil down to one basic point: Transgender people are people, and all people should be treated with respect, courtesy, and kindness.
Bigger Than Us
Most importantly, I asked for this recategorization because it was time for a new precedent to be set. I want all people to be able to experience competitive cycling, collegiate or non-collegiate, regardless of their gender identity or how it matches their body.
I confess to not being very brave. It took me 6 years, including an undergrad degree and most of a masters degree, to finally show up at a cycling club meeting. So much ECCC time lost! It makes me incredibly sad, frustrated, and angry to remember the feeling of looking in from the outside, scouring the internet for a policy that didn’t exist, or ANY sign that thinking I’d be welcome at a race wasn’t laughable. Thankfully, the world has come a long way in six years. Cycling is now ready.
This is important. It’s not about me, and it’s not about the ECCC. It’s about making cycling accessible to all people. Remember the first club or team ride you went on, or your first race? Remember the butterflies in your stomach? The feeling of insecurity and fear of being too slow/out of shape/new/whatever insecurity you have? Maybe how self-conscious you were the first time you wore cycling spandex? These and all of the other social issues that come with sports are even more daunting for gender minorities.
You and I both know how cycling has changed our lives, our bodies, and maybe even our souls. Everyone should have an equal opportunity to experience joy, speed, and suffering on a bike. Simply by continuing to make the ECCC the awesome, inclusive community that it is becoming, with respect and welcome for all genders, colors, religions, and orientations of people, you can help make that happen.