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.

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