Gala came over for a spontaneous equinox visit this week, and spontaneous plans to make a short film. Me and my endlessly riding the Berliner Mauer, calling it art, discovering Tilda did it first (and twice), not caring ’cos it’s not the same, having the Gala with a bike who needs a short “About Me” film for her agency, and me loving the Dreilinden stretch of the former Berlin Wall (plus it’s one of the sections where the Mauer diverges and spreads from the Mauerweg route, and I’m still piecing it together). A Wednesday plan, a Thursday morning prep, a bike via Brandenburger Tor and Hauptbahnhof, S-Bahn to Griebnitzsee, or rather Wannsee ’cos there’s track work, and yes, you can take your bike on the Ersatzverkehr Bus, then biking the bourgie Potsdam side to Glienicke Brücke, and biking back on the forest-y northern side, past Jagdschloss Glienicke and all the bonkers Baroque architecture, around one of the East German exclaves of Klein Glienicke (More cobbles! Hills and cobbles! 2nd worst cobbles I’ve ridden in Berlin, 4/5 Paris-Roubaix stars of terrible joy.) past Steinstücken, along Teltowkanal as the sun came out, and scooting onto the old Autobahn bridge. Then following the sandy tracks where the Autobahn used to run until we went parallel with the A115 and arrived at the bridge by Kontrollpunkt Dreilinden.
After the division of Germany, the West Berlin neighbourhood of Albrechts Teerofen jutted into East Germany like a peninsula. From 1952 onwards, it was cut off to the north, south and east by the East German border fortifications. The Autobahn towards Helmstedt/Hannover passed through the eastern end of the district. This was where the “Border Checkpoint Nowawes” [Babelsberg] was set up. It was later to be called “Drewitz Border Crossing”. When the Autobahn was rerouted on 1969 to pass by the south of Albrechts Teerofen along what is now the A115, the East German government had the Drewitz Border Crossing moved as well. In the summer of 1965, the 42-year-old West Berlin resident Hermann Döbler was shot dead near the old border crossing when his sports boat entered the East German border waters in the Teltowkanal. His female companion was badly wounded and permanently disabled. Although the boat had already turned back. the East German border guards deliberately fired aimed shots at its occupants. In 1981 after lengthy negotiations, the East German government opened traffic along the Teltowkanal near Albrechts Teerofen to freight shipping towards West Berlin. This shortened the barges’ journey by about two days.
Out riding last Thursday with Gala, following the Berliner Mauer from Glienicker Brücke anticlockwise back to Dreilinden in a small, partial remarking on Cycling the Frame, a film I didn’t even know about until after I’d begun orbiting Berlin as an art-ing process. More new bits of the Mauer mapped into me as Wege. More new stretches of cobbles. It’s all about being pounded by the cobbles.
There was a map of West Berlin and the Berlin Wall I saw at the Stasimuseum Berlin, which showed exclaves of West Berlin, as well as some deviations from the path the Berliner Mauerweg takes. Being ‘winter’, and a while since my last proper ride, I thought it was time to go exploring along my regular big ride route again.
I’ve passed through Drelinden along Königsweg a couple of times already, past Checkpoint Bravo, which you drive through shortly after Grünewald if you’re heading south out of Berlin. The path of the wall is a little south also of Königsweg, which you can see on a satellite map as a light sandy scar in the dark forest, curving down to Teltowkanalbrücke and Kontrollpunkt Dreilinden, and over the canal curves again westwards towards Steinstücken, the exclave now split by the S-Bahn and very much not on the signposted Mauerweg. This turned out to be around 7km of sandy, slippery riding getting increasingly rougher on the south side with tree routes and trails broken by horse riding — proper cyclocross fun. Followed by getting lost around Steinstücken. And later realising I’d missed the whole weird Wall Border in Klein Glienicke.
A shitload of fun on a 107km ride on a glorious winter’s day that made me forget all about white cis sportswomen shitting on trans and intersex people.
This one hit pretty hard.
Yesterday was rain; today was snow. Squalls cutting across Tempelhofer Feld, alternating sun and darkness every 15 minutes. Colder than yesterday, and harsher wind. I had my reflective fluoro-pink gloves for the ride, making some colour in the gloom. I shouted, “Yes! Fucking yes!” when the snow first spun across the apron, I love the work in this weather.
Speaking of bikes and starting the year with a wet, cold, and very windy ride, I’ve been using a Polar heart rate monitor while I ride (and climb, dance, yoga, whatever mostly) on and off for the last 2 1/2 years, to give me an idea of what my subjective feel of training compares to what’s actually going on in my body. It also somehow helps motivate me to do the training, week after week.
Last year I decided cycling is my new dancing, so, two things: First, 2018 is the first year in more than 20 years I didn’t do a single dance class, which I feel rather good about. And second, training on a bike is dancing for me, so in fact I did a lot of dancing last year. There’s some gaps in my year, March in Narrm, Australia, April without a bike, weeks here and there where I didn’t train or didn’t use the monitor, and at some point dropping using it for yoga and core. Altogether, I did a lot more training last year than I have in recent years, and cycling is the reason. From doing it to bulk up my endurance for dancing, to doing it because hooning through a wet winter forest is one of life’s deep pleasures, to doing it because it was the only thing that sorted my knee out (and 2017’s riding is entirely why I can do squats and pliés without my patella feeling like it’s being gutted), to doing it because I love it and love the suffering and honestly would ride for hours a day if I could arrange it.
And seeing it change my body. After all those years of ballet and dance, and yoga and climbing, all of which I saw change me depending on how intense I was in each of them, cycling is the first new discipline I’ve got serious about since I was a student. So, here’s 2018, and all the training I did with a heart rate monitor strapped under my boobs.
For realz. That good.
I was thinking of calling this post, “I earned my ‘F’, the fuck did you do?”
There was one teacher I used to fight with, back when I was a dance student. She was also the only teacher to push me, to take me seriously as a dancer from the very beginning. I think her modality was that if a student worked hard, pushed themselves, tried to improve, then her role was to be there. This was, and remains a rare experience in more than 20 years of having teachers. The default — in academic and athletic training — is the teacher who only has eyes for beauty, for the good ones, the ones who both look the part (at that moment in time and place) and who are already accomplished. The stars. They shine bright because the teacher holds the spotlight. This teacher though, we shouted at each other in class, which I think was shocking to at least some other students, who’d maybe never even considered pushing back against abusive demands.
I don’t want to say she was abusive though; she did as she’d learned perhaps, and simply wanted to help me improve. When her pedagogy coincided with me neatly, the memory remains for me a good experience: being pushed hard, exceeding one’s self, being rewarded with a “Good!” from the hardest teacher around. I remember her holding me back between classes, those precious 15 minutes when we’d all rush to grab a snack, get changed, catch ourselves from the previous 90 minutes of ballet before the next 90 of contemporary, and making me do the same steps over and over in the vast and empty unlit studio until I got it, or at least began to get it. Giving a shit on her own time. When it didn’t coincide though, it was nasty shit that still unsettles me. I remember why we shouted at each other in front of more than 30 of my year, me at the barre, sweating, in a unitard, nowhere to hide myself, pushing back hard ’cos there was nowhere else to go. Same person. Same people.
The why occurred to me today while I was wobbling and sliding on a half-log of wood, the lower half a semicircle rolling back and forth, and me on top breathing in and raising my arms, breathing out and lowering them, working my voice, back there again, learning, being taught. Before I had to stand on that unstable log, we’d been doing the same exercises, knees ever so slightly bent, and after a year of solid cycling with almost no problems, my knee did that so familiar twinge. This shit’s supposed to be behind me. And we start standing on one leg, waggling the other, a movement I’ve done so, so many times in dance classes back to the beginning, and there’s me, fucking crying.
Yesterday, I read that Dr. Rachel McKinnon won at the 2018 UCI Masters in the track sprint. First on Helen Wyman’s Instagram, then all up in my cycling news. Then I read the pile-on. Because Rachel is a trans woman. I’m holding on to women like Wyman, and Amanda Batty, professional cyclists who stood the fuck up in the moment, and sucked up a torrent of abuse (which is why I bailed from Twitter) to defend Rachel. We’re still so close to the shit I grew up in, which Laverne Cox, when talking about those ‘bathroom bills’ said (paraphrasing here) the purpose of this is to exclude trans women from public life, to erase us.
I described myself as an ex-dancer today, in voice therapy. The why of regarding myself as that currently is to do with this exclusion; the why of my preference for training alone and solitary physicality entirely bound with this. I describe it as ‘potential bullshit’, as in minimising, or reduction of. What bullshit will I have in a dance class? From the teacher, from other students? How do I deal with the changing rooms? How do I balance my need to dance, to be physical, and my selfhood, with a ballet teacher whose life experience has been built on achieving a kind of perfect heteronormativity? I’m just here to dance, but have to drag around a sack of shit in case ‘potential bullshit’ has to be dealt with.
I started serious cycling a few years ago to improve my aerobic endurance, and to deal with those unhappy knees. Which grew immediately into a love of shredding in forests because I am a) a high-speed, high-risk bogan, and b) fucking love forests. Which grew into my currently primary ‘dance’ training, and so much more. And I do it alone because, well, see how Rachel got treated for daring to not fuck off and die. In all this, I did find new things which, you know, cloud, silver lining, etc, like Amanda Batty describing herself as an “insanely competitive, capable and angry racer”, and fuck me do I ever see myself in that, and it’s aspirational.
But there I am, wobbling on half a log, saying to my coach, “Yeah, this is really fucking with my head.” Because of shit I had to swallow, compromises I had to make, in order to both stay with dance (’cos it literally saved my life), and stay with myself, and 20 years later, that still has to be dealt with. I think there’s something in how trans, non-binary, intersex people negotiate physical training, be it dance, sport, singing, playing an instrument — all of which is highly gendered and rigorously enforced — that becomes a sort of chronic abuse and trauma. I want to differentiate this from the default abuse and trauma that pretty much every cis woman, female or feminine-identified dancer or athlete I know of has personally lived through — and all have witnessed and had to work within — which in its mildest from manifests as a bitterness and cynicism towards those early training years, those teachers, and to the practice itself, even while both abuses are indisputably part of the same situation. And another qualification: When I talked about the stars, those accomplished young dancers, I’m not criticising them as dancers or people, or the work they put in: even the ‘natural’ ones worked themselves raw and gave up so much just to be there. I’m criticising the narrative which is addicted to the success story of the naturals, or conversely that of the one who everyone said was talentless but who persevered and made it. There’s still the rest of those 30–something dancers in the studio, and all of us, including those two have their lives and training defined by these fairytale narratives.
So back to the chronic abuse and trauma then. My thinking lately is that for trans, non-binary, intersex people, living one’s selfhood is incessantly hit against by the culture, history, and methodology of training. Training often slides uneasily close to abusive, or not so healthy or good — and all those words are loaded in themselves and weapons as well as descriptors simply because of the terrain they operate in, the implicit meaning and value they are given. Me doing intervals or committing to a long session is agreeing to physical discomfort, suffering, a lot of mental and emotional anguish (of the“Please stop, this isn’t really fun” type), yet I know also it’s part of the process and I enjoy it. This is utterly different from being clad in skin-tight lycra and the associated cultural judgement (of bodies in general but specifically here female or feminine bodies, or those perceived as such) from which there is nowhere to hide, which I had in those years of dance training and potentially every time I go out on my bike. And that is different again from doing the same as a trans or non-binary or intersex person. However I might have lived the last twenty years, every time I step into a training environment, part of the process will be receiving hits for having the body I do, for living my selfhood. I walked away from dance because of this. I train alone because of this.
3:30am up and off to Flughafen Schönefeld, cheap easyJet and exit row seat for 3 hours to Malaga, taxi pickup to Marbella and further on to Puerto Banùs, 3 hours being scanned and having consultations while squalls blow in and beat the mountains behind the town into a dark haze, back to Marbella for a museum, because of course I do, fall asleep in an apartment by the marina early-evening, up again in the darkness for another pickup back to the airport, another flight and exit row seat, and Berlin’s loveable bus and U-Bahn home, 36 hours later. Yes, I did go for a ride after. Yes, that is the Matterhorn almost dead centre, flying over the border of Switzerland and Italy.