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.)
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.
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.”
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”.
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.