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)

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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