Inadvertently Winning

I won the Zwift women’s NYC sprint jersey the other day.

Bunch of words there. Zwift is the online virtual environment I train on my bike and smart trainer in; NYC is the Zwift world which has multiple routes to ride in Central Park; and the sprint jersey is a rolling leaderboard of fastest sprint, retained until someone rides faster or for a maximum length of one hour, when it’s passed on to whoever is next down the list.

So, first ride post-vaccine and feeling kinda low-level chronic fatigue-y and not wanting to abuse myself on a proper training ride and nonetheless going a little too hard on a free ride ’cos I have no modulation, I hit a downhill slope and want to make some speed. Which leads into the sprint. And I’m in the wrong gear and all of the above and because I’m an aggressively competitive cunt when it’s time to compete I want to at least put down a not shameful time. Wrong gear and feeling grotty and on a cyclocross bike but I can still spin 130+ rpm which means lots of Watts and I cross the finish line looking at my time going, “Yeah, coulda been worse,” and then “Why the fuck is my jersey green?”

It’s green ’cos the woman in second place was 1/10th of a second slower.

I’ve written before about how I avoid competing with other (cis) women because of (trans) reasons. The last years this has become much more of a mainstream spectacle with a variety of intersecting fuckeries including: Republicans trying to legislate trans girls out of sports and bathrooms; cis women athletes like Caster Semenya, Christine Mboma, Beatrice Masilingi all banned from the Olympics because regulations around women and testosterone levels, which ‘coincidentally’ seem to hit Black women; cis women like JK Rowling and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie using their massive social media following to target trans women; more legislation in the UK effectively barring access to puberty blockers for trans children. Those are the ones I can remember this morning, and because I’m talking about sport and competing here, I’m not including the almost daily murder of trans women who are disproportionately Black, Brown, Indigenous, migrants and reliably doing the only work open to us: sex work. And not the nice, sanitised, white cis women doing pole dancing classes or queer AFAB porn type of sex work either.

When I won that jersey — and let’s be clear, it’s a very minor win — I experienced the unique duality all us women — cis and trans — know, us who are made illegitimate by this legislation and the generations-long culture of cis feminism (the TERF kind, which is also white feminism and yes, you can be Black or anywhere else in the BIPoC acronym and be a white feminist) colluding with white christian conservative politics. The duality is the visceral joy of winning inseparable from the dead conviction it’s because we’re not really women. And knowing someone’s eventually going to make us winning or even turning up an issue.

I’ve been a dancer for pushing 25 years. The training and experience is inscribed all the way to my bones. It shapes how I think and feel and live, whether I’m dancing or not. I’ve been an athlete for all that time as well, both as a dancer and, at various times, rock climbing and cycling. I train around a dozen hours a week out of habit and love and to prevent myself from falling apart. Like Martyn Ashton said, “You might be physically fit but you won’t be unscathed.” I started cycling to find a way to maintain the physical intensity I need when my knees had been in constant pain for years. I’m not especially good at it, just like climbing or dance I could get to a reasonably high level of proficiency but I’d have never made it as a professional, or the upper levels which get called ‘elite’. I know my capabilities, physiological, mental, emotional, all that, and know so much of being a dancer or athlete is those last two.

But all that counts for shit when I’m a trans woman taking the green jersey off a cis woman.

When that happens, when I even show up like at the Rapha Women’s 100, the advantages I bring from those 25 years of fucking hard work are rendered null and replaced by the supposed genetic, chromosomal, hormonal, skeletal, muscular, physical, cultural, probably spiritual and astral advantages I have because I was assigned male at birth. It doesn’t matter there are cis women who are taller, bigger, stronger and way more hot than me (Hi! Liz Cambage!). It doesn’t matter how early I got on hormones — and it certainly doesn’t matter that having to prove my validity as a woman entails a violation of my privacy and self all the way into my pants and blood. And Caster Semenya knows all about that too.

As much as possible, I’m explicitly ‘out’ on Zwift. There’s no LGBT checkbox, but I do wear the Pride kit, and following the convention of putting additional info in your name, I have ‘[trans femme af]’. This isn’t about Pride or ‘feeling proud’ or about being ‘out’. To those same bones I have no interest in the colonialism upon which these words and concepts created themselves. It’s about making sure there’s visibility and representation (also words which leave me tired). Once the big name trans athletes are accounted for, there’s a massive absence of trans athletes — and dancers. I don’t want to give space to cis people to pretend we don’t exist, aren’t in the room. I do feel an obligation to make sure other trans people — especially BIPoC trans women and femmes — know they’re not the only one in the room. And there’s a long, long conversation about AFAB queer hostility to femininity and athleticism which I don’t have the skin or patience or time for here, but that’s part of it. And the exhausting whiteness of dance and climbing and cycling is another part.

I was talking with Gala yesterday and I joked my motivating force is vengeance.

So here’s how it is: I won that green jersey ’cos I’m a multiethnic trans femme aunty with decades of hard physical experience under my lingerie, who’s highly competitive and capable, who won on an off-day on the wrong bike in the wrong gear and I wasn’t even trying. I’m that fucking good.

And y’know what else? It doesn’t matter. It’s not that big, it doesn’t mean anything. In the moment of competing and winning it’s a rush and we’d do it whether there’s organised, capitalism-based sport or not. After the moment, days, weeks, years later, for the vast majority of us who never made a career out of it and for quite a few who did, it simply doesn’t feature in our lives. It wouldn’t even merit 1200 words if it wasn’t for the reality of being trans or cis women pushing our way in where, on their terms, we aren’t welcome and don’t belong.

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3 Years and Done

I got an email from my Steuerberater yesterday. He wanted to let me know that after much back-and-forth for the second time, the Finanzamt had accepted my 2019 surgery as an expense against my income. So, no horrific tax bill for me, and after three years, I’m done with all that. (Unless of course the transphobic gods of German bureaucracy decide to non-consensually buttfuck me in the future for some extremely obtuse exception of German bureaucracy.)

Three years. The whole ‘earn mad cash get surgery’ process took less than a year — less than a year on my fourth attempt since my teens at stacking that paper — but the consequences of that took the extra two. Dealing with specific Finanzamt consequences, I mean. Which should serve as an object lesson for cis people in demonstrating how for trans people everything moves on a much slower time and everything involves shoving against immovable legal, medical, social, political, financial institutions and processes.

I celebrated the best way I know, having Type 2 fun. Type 2’s the fun where you suffer at the time and ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” and only later it magically becomes ‘Fun!’ (Celebrating like this mainly because I don’t have a favourite sex worker on speed dial, otherwise I’d be sorted for a different, Type 1 fun.)

Massive, unending thanks and love to my cherished ones, Dasniya, Gala, Katrin, and Vass who turned up for me during all this 🖤. The trans femme goddesses and deities saw you and don’t forget.

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Angel 4 Papi 4EVA

That kiss. That shot. That story.

I remember when you spoke your truth, ten years ago, back in 2011, and I remember when I heard about this show you were making, feels like longer ago than 2017. I read your books too, feeling myself and my history in the story of another, so close and so distant. And I cannot put into words the joy and sadness and love I felt and feel watching Pose, seeing you and all the beautiful trans women and trans femmes on screen, Mj Rodriguez, Dominique Jackson, Indya Moore, Angelica Ross, Hailie Sahar, Our Lady J, Black and Brown and Puerto Rican and Dominican and Latina, immigrant and children of immigrants, whose lives are as real as the story you fought to tell.

That wedding banquet. All the trans women and femmes at that table. That wedding. That fantasy that was never ours, the church, the dress, the vows, Janet, the vows! Papi! Lil Papi. I loved him from the first ’cos he was so full of love and pure and so fearless when it came to defending his family. And that kiss. You went all the way. When I saw your name at the start of the episode, yours alone, Writer and Director: Janet Mock, I knew. I knew it would be this. I knew it would be us.

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So there’s almost an inevitability with it, a li…

So there’s almost an inevitability with it, a little bit.

You’re not gonna come out of a professional sports career unscathed. You might be physically fit but you won’t be unscathed.

And that could be a physical injury, and the results of that physical injury and what it’s done to your life, or it could be that, almost PTSD or something, y’know. Just like, sometimes you feel like you’ve gone to war, and sometimes you feel like you didn’t win that war. (laughs)

High Stakes, Martyn Ashton

Bit of an aside from last night when I was doing my regular midnight physical salvage session, and watching the film High Stakes on GCN+ (yup, I actually threw down cash for a year's subscription to watch a bunch of white dudes talk about bikes). Martyn Ashton, who is a very funny, very talented rider who uses a wheelchair after wrecking his back (for the second time), when he talks about physical and mental injuries as an athlete is someone I have a lot of time for.

He said something I've been trying to put into words for a very long time, which applies to dance — also a professional sports career — as much as it does to cycling or climbing, all three I've devoted a lot of my life to at various times. And from the beginning I have struggled with that inevitable double bind of physically fit but not unscathed.

An Email From the Australian Institute of Sport

AIS slid into my inbox this morning. Australian Institute of Sport, not Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Gotta watch the acronyms when you’re in trans and intersex space, FFS. (For fuck sake, not facial feminisation surgery.)

Back in 2007 a bunch of us dancers were part of the AIS SCOPE programme. I have no idea what that acronym means anymore. It was a pilot development programme for professional and elite dancers. Yup, ‘elite’. From memory they had one for athletes and realised our situation was basically the same. Part of it was about dancers who were transitioning. No, not trans dancers ffs. I swear cis people need to be blocked from using the word transition for about the rest of my life. Dancers who were considering moving out of — what is in Australia a very young person’s game.

I wanted to write about the email I got this morning. It’s the AIS response and apology to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s independent review of gymnastics in Australia. I don’t think the email’s really meant for me, just I happened to be connected to the AIS a long time ago and apparently my email is still in their system. I don’t think any of the support they’re offering is for me either. Lots of reasons. I’m tired and I don’t really want to frame how I’m feeling in the broader structural, institutional, colonial, racist, transphobic, normative blah right now.

End–2007 I was skipping back and forth between Adelaide and Melbourne. I don’t know how it looked from the outside, making work back-to-back in Europe, China, and Australia, but I was doing it hard. Mad hard. The kind of hard where I walk home at night in either of those two cities and had a spot in each where I’d check in with myself and have a realistic convo that went, “You know if it gets too much, you can.” A multi-storey carpark in the former and a bridge over a motorway in the latter. Just checking in and seeing how I was going, how far I could go. No shame if I couldn’t.

Because of the decades, generations of abuse athletes, coaches, and staff — mostly young girls and women — were on the receiving end of, the AIS created a support service called AIS Be Heard. I’m not sure how comfortable I’d feel engaging with that if I’d been seriously, as an athlete, part of the Institute and all. I dunno, shit got mad stirred up this morning.

I got sexually abused by a middle-aged man when I was a kid, start of my teens, every weekday after school for several months. I was already very much not coping with home and school life being a young trans femme back in the ’80s. That abuse broke me.

A few years later, I destroyed him. I went to the police and pressed charges. How that came about in retrospect was something I was pushed into and not in my best interests, but me going in and giving a statement started an avalanche. Turns out he was already known, but you know, same old, no one wanted to say anything; everyone wanted to forget. They found a list with something like a hundred names on it. In the end, I think only four or five actually gave statements and agreed to being witnesses.

I destroyed him. He lost his business, his wife, his home, his standing in the community, had heart attacks, and ended up in prison where, because of the people I knew back then, everyone knew what he was in for.

Those people, who supported me through years of the criminal proceedings on top of the shit in their lives they were coping with. They put up with a lot from me, I was well fucked up.

The case broke me again. It dragged on for four years. The first two I was in conversion therapy, which is a whole other story but deeply bound with all this. It was the direct result of me trying unsuccessfully to get into the gender clinic in Auckland to get on the surgery list after being on hormones for years, and being kicked through a string of therapists because I was a fucked up trans femme, homeless, on drugs, self-harming, eating disorder and whatever else. The second two I’d moved to Melbourne and was in some, what we’d call now, non-binary phase and using dance to survive. Burying everything thought and feeling in pushing myself physically as hard and far as I could go. Apparently I haven’t changed much.

The proceedings ended when I got a phone call. Ended for me, I mean. He got a plea bargain. I was told he would plead guilty to every charge except mine. I was told if I proceeded with the charges, it would go to trial and I would lose. They would use me being trans against me and he would get off. Thirteen year old child obviously asked for it and obviously untrustworthy and crazy ’cos she’s a tranny was their line. I said fuck whatever and bailed. I already destroyed him. He got two years.

He broke me, but those four years, the conversion therapy … I think I would have survived what he did if I’d had really good, caring support. I didn’t. I had very shit, abusive, transphobic, coercive therapy where the threat of being institutionalised was always in the background, and being constantly told I would never be a woman and no woman would ever love me was up front.

I survived that too. A lot more broken. I went to Victorian College of the Arts shortly after, sucked up the shit there, dished out some of my own too. I saw abuse there on the regular. Emotional, psychological, physical, sexual abuse, body shaming, eating disorders, untreated mental health crises, skeevy older male teachers and staff doing all the same things the AHRC’s independent review talks about. Pretty sure a lot of us who went through professional dance training know all about that.

I had a couple of full-on breakdowns while I was there. The pressure between trying to find a way be true to my trans femme self in an environment entirely structured on white, cisgender heteronormativity burnt the fuck out of me. And the un-dealt with damage from my teens.

On their website, the AIS says, “We owe it to every athlete who has been part of the AIS, to feel supported and to get help if, and when, they need it.” Nice sentiment. Cool.

There’s this pervasive, verbalised belief that if you don’t get therapy, or rather what AIS call ‘wellbeing support’ when you need it, shit’s on you. Like all we need to do is make the decision and magically there will be a perfect therapist just for us. The vast majority of therapists are simply not equipped to provide care for the kind of complex trauma trans people have often experienced. Or people who have lived through child abuse.

Speaking from long, long experience here, at best the majority of therapists are useless, and very regularly they cause more harm. I had a therapist tell me he was scared for his own safety when I start talking my history. Bruh. Others have tried to frame me in a way that fits their world, like that lesbian conversion therapist. But mostly there’s just a vast, empty space where good therapists for people like us should be.

Yallah, all of this was also about a therapist I saw because of the AIS.

Back in late–2007 again, I asked the person at SCOPE if there was any counsellors available as part of the programme. I ended up seeing someone who worked with professional athletes as a sports psychologist and saw her maybe 5 or 6 times. The first time — and all this is hazy retelling of memory now — I laid out where I was at, which was a pretty fucking bad place ’cos all that untreated abuse was making me ask that serious question every night I walked home over that bridge or past that carpark. She said something like … I dunno, it’s more of a feeling now, something about it wasn’t what she specialised in, but she worked with a lot of athletes who were struggling to cope with the insanely high pressure of elite-level competition, and somehow she persuaded me to come back and got me talking. And she saved my life.

This isn’t about how the AIS supported me, or how therapy can save lives. It shouldn’t have been on a sports psychologist to deal with a very fucked up person because the entire culture of society failed her. I think about all those counsellors and support staff in sport and dance over the generations who had to become trauma specialists because kids and young adults would and still do show up at their door every day with no one else to turn to.

I had a bit of a cry on the way to the supermarket this morning thinking about all this, how that email hit. Lucky it was raining. I still haven’t found a therapist. Not for lack of trying, but fuck me there is a poverty of healthcare for trans people. And I was thinking how that email wasn’t really for me because I’m trans. We’re pretty much legislated out of professional sport and there’s fuck all space in professional dance for us either.

When I talk about being broken, it didn’t go away. I rarely get into intimate relationships with people (that’s also a euphemism for fucking, just to be clear) because of all that shit on top of the already hostile environment of living while trans. Therapy is supposed to help with the broken part, but we already covered that failure. I was thinking about Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who testified against that skeeve during his Supreme Court nomination. She talked about memory, how “… the trauma-related experience is locked there, whereas other details kind of drift.”

He’s always there. Intermittent. He interrupts and is here more real than any thought or feeling I was having. More real than the room I’m in. I know it’s not me ‘having’ these thoughts, there’s a difference between me thinking about this stuff and experiencing him like this. Him for those months and him later for those years, all bound together with abusive therapists.

Every single one of those athletes somehow has to deal with this, in some way or another. They, along with their friends, lovers, families, communities all have been diminished. The athletes who came forward, who spoke out alone, have done it so hard. We do those things, so indifferently, blandly held in ‘move on’, or ‘put it behind’, until it isn’t. Until we’re reminded and remember it all again.

Last thing. I wanna be really clear on this: everyone knew. Everyone knew way back. Just like everyone knew about my abuser. And wasn’t like no one was speaking about it.

All strength and love to those gymnasts and athletes and dancers who are having an especially tough day of it today.

Me in Yusra Magazine #9

A while back, late-January this year, Vass asked me to write something for Yusra Magazine, for the big Trans Futures edition. I said, “Yaaah!” and continued to do nothing till pretty damn close to the deadline. When I whined to them, and in that strange way writing sometimes happens with me, threw down 1100 words in the middle of the night. Five revisions and four days later, along with a whole bunch of notes (’cos we gotta differentiate between a Mazda and a Boeing 767) is what got sent to them. And they translated it. Which I’m mad happy about, ’cos there’s nothing like having someone you know and trust (and share a true deep love for class hoonage) to do the tricky work of translating.

Real paper version arrives after Easter.
“Wait what, Vass, Easter?”
“Greek Easter, chica, what we have here in Athens. We run by the orthodox.”

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Ramadan Training Again: This Time in Zwift

This was the training ride I’d been putting off since Tuesday. The ride I was afraid of and wanted to cry about.

I’ve been really unsure if I could get through such intense training during Ramadan. Years of road cyclist dudes talking about how FTP tests are the true ruiner of a man (’cos there’s still barely any women representation in major sports coverage) and riding at FTP is always some intense thing.

I’ve trained before during Ramadan. I’ve trained every year and almost every day. I know I can do it. Part of observing Ramadan is I do not ignore my other obligations. At the same time, my other obligations do not mean I can ignore Ramadan. Early on, nine years ago now, when I first started taking the month seriously, giving my attention to my hijabi grandmother, I’d have a date or fig and a glass of water in the afternoon. My obligation then was to the theatre production I was working in, to do my job and not sugar crash mid-rehearsal. It was new to me, fasting through a single day was a big, intense process.

Those early years I didn’t even make the whole month. It took a few years to build up to that. And even now, strictly, I don’t do it proper. Proper is eating before dawn, before the first light on the horizon, stopping at Imsak, a little before Fajr. Today, that’s 03:45. I try to start my fast before sunrise. That’s 06:02 today. Still means 14 hours of fasting, still means that month-long tiredness from eating late and early and sleep compressed in-between. Muslim-ish. Not Muslim. Do what I can Muzz-adjacent or something.

I know from previous years I can train and rehearse and do everything, I’m a little slower and sleepier, have a little less strength and speed, and need to focus on concentrating and everything else. But doing the work? It can be done. This year, I have my new Wahoo KICKR, a subscription to Zwift, and am in the last two weeks of an FTP training programme.

Wild diversion here. WTF is FTP? FTP is functional threshold power and it’s simply the power in Watts you can hold for an hour. Divided by weight you get your Watts per kilo, which is apparently a big deal road cyclists care a lot about. Put your heart rate next to it and that’s a pretty good indicator of your fitness. A specific, endurance-ish fitness. What isn’t included in those numbers is the mental and emotional aspects. Gouging yourself on the limit for a solid hour is pretty fucking upsetting.

I think one of the reasons dudes make such a big deal about FTP is ’cos they’re all about power as numbers, crushing mad guns reps and skipping leg day, and are mentally and emotionally not that tough. Or, not being so salty about it, they simply never learned how to think and talk and live these things. When I was doing laps of Tempelhofer Feld, there’d always be dudes trying to chick me — aand another diversion! WTF is chicking?

Chicking is when dudes feel their dicks shrivel ’cos a chick is laying down more speed or power or whatever than them and they have to try and flex. It comes from a core belief that even the most mediocre dude who’s armchair-ed their whole life is physically superior to a world champion woman athlete. Or even a dedicated amateur. They show up, see any and all women and their singular thought is, “I can beat all of them. I am better than them.” simply by virtue of having a dick.

I’m not making shit up here, check out Maxx Dude Dean Smith who sued Scienceworks in Narrm (Melbourne) when he broke his neck running into a wall trying to out-sprint a video of deadliest Blak, Olympics gold medallist Cathy Freeman. In an exhibition for kids. This is a direct quote from the hero: “All these little things made me think I could beat her, I got a bit competitive, thinking ‘I can take on Cathy Freeman’.”

Yeah. Almost every time I’d ride at the old airport there’d be a dude pulling that shit. And I’d bury him. Because I don’t skip leg day and my idea of fun is sucking up suffering. And I’m petty. One very underrated thing dance teaches is how to go hard while smiling like at a picnic.

I took a long break from riding after wrecking my back early-November last year. I struggled to get back into riding because of that noise, dealing with str8wyt dudes and their background low-level aggro to women athletes. Imagine if they knew I was trans. And Muslim (-ish.)

Buying the trainer was and is a very essential part of my rehab and my need to be a lot more diligent in training as I get older, and the constant dance of holding my space around str8wyt dudes (and cis woman who do white supremacy’s work of shitting on trans femmes) which also has gotten tighter as I’ve gotten older. The first thing I did was the week-long Zwift intro, with its ramp test on day 3. Me, not having ridden for months, nor done any aerobic or endurance training, and doing a ramp test. And what’s a ramp test? It’s a way of estimating FTP without crying for an hour. Every minute it gets harder until you crack. I cracked pretty early.

All of that is to explain the training programme I’m doing bases my workload on the number from that ramp test and does this fun thing called progressive overload. Just like the ramp test, things get harder as the weeks go by. Five weeks in and fitness returning — mental and emotional as well as physical — it feels slightly on the easy side, which I’m ok with, ’cos this is all about re-establishing and resetting my training.

Easy-ish until I’m fasting.

I put this session off all week. It was the Tuesday session and I did it on Saturday. I did some light rides earlier in the week, checking to see if it was even possible, and vacillated all over about when to train. Early in the day, when I was still hydrated and had food in my guts, but would possibly crash later? Later, before Iftar, when I’d be hungry, tired, thirsty, but could deal to that immediately after? Evening, when I could drink during and eat after?

Evening was out because by the time I’d digested enough it was well late and I was thinking of hitting bed. Late-afternoon was out except for the easier rides. It had to be morning with no idea if I’d have a wicked crash in the many hours before sunset.

So, here’s me doing one of, if not the hardest ride I’ve done in Ramadan, mid-morning with 8 hours to go till I can eat and drink. It was mentally tough. And slightly tough on my guts which did the no-food churn on themselves. My mouth was well claggy. It was Saturday, and I had a very lazy afternoon.

I’m interested, as an athlete, to see how I cope with this, and whether training this hard is no big deal or ‘seemed like a good idea at the time’ mistake. I know from all the attention fasted training has been getting in recent years that sprints and high intensity intervals are out, but it might be that threshold training is conditionally ok, for me anyway.

I was surprised how solid I still felt around the hour mark, and how ok I felt for the rest of the day. I’m not sure if this is an indication of my fitness or one of those false highs before a bad crash. I absolutely know dehydration can’t be trained for. Learning to ignore or postpone thirst and hunger, yes. Physiologically though, dehydration — like hypo- or hyperthermia or other very not good experiences — can’t be overcome with ‘get used to it’ positive thinking. And one day of training like this is different to two weeks of it and the cumulative stress incurred.

It’s Sunday and raining, and time to do the last session for the week. And looking forward to it. I like Zwift. Yup, it’s full of dudes and all the rest, but for a social, online training environment it’s mad friendly. I pretend Ayesha McGowan is coaching me, and when Zwift is all, “Good girl! You nailed it!” I hear it in her voice and I’m all “🥰 thank you, coach!”

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Ballhaus Ost

Dasniya had a residency at Ballhaus Ost the last couple of months, thanks to pandemic and pandemic arts funding. I got to see a private showing last weekend, with Tara (yup, Tara!) and Yui. Yeah I’m a long-time fan of her work and Glutamat confirms it.