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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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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Perseverance

Eleven years ago, I got up early to watch Curiosity land on Mars. Yesterday, it was evening and just as terrifying. If I was up for utterly scaring myself, landing the way Perseverance and Curiosity did would be my choice.

It was that same surreal experience knowing Perseverance had already landed or not as the signal arrived eleven minutes behind. And then over so quick. Especially the last part from heat shield separation to free fall and powered descent and Sky Crane and touchdown. Suddenly it was there, in its lime green square with no cables running up to the descent module, just sitting there calm as can be.

And everyone going mental. Except Dr. Swati Mohan who was in the EDL Commentary chair with purple hair and silver stars, who’s been on the project since it began eight years ago, and was calm and focussed on the job all the way.

And then the images came in. And there’s a drone! And there’s microphones!

And no blogging for six weeks? Longest ever? Like …

Status

And no blogging for six weeks? Longest ever? Like I gave up my life project? Thanks pandemic amping up transphobia and racism and Islamophobia and general shittier behaviour from the str8s.

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Doing Ballet Again

It’s been about 2 years since I last got my arse into a studio and did a ballet class. Good reasons for finding other physicalities to entertain myself since then, going deep in cyclocross and riding, enjoying cold and wet and windy work outside. But I missed ballet. I missed the good things of being in a studio doing the work, I missed being there with good teachers and brilliant pianists.

And this week, I’m back working with Isabelle Schad (remotely, of course), and needed something to get me going, something quick and snappy with a variety of intensities and velocities, something to put me in where I needed to be for the work. And I found Het National Ballet are live-streaming a ballet barre. And first day of doing it was wow have I come far from all that, like a memory of being a dancer but watching myself in the mirror (of course I did, it’s ballet training) I was laughing at how I have all these muscles that are very not from dance, and how much and how my body has changed in the last two years. On the third day though, I started to see it all again, physicality waking up and unburying, and yeah, enjoying it so much.

Ernst Meisner is such a cheerful teacher and Rex Lobo is a joy of a pianist. And doing it live, knowing they’re both in the studio as I’m here in my apartment, and there’s hundreds or thousands of other dancers whereever and we’re all doing it together, it’s truly beautiful and reminds me of how dance saved me over and over (and how dance is also a hard bitch, but, yeah, let’s just enjoy the good stuff for one day, eh), and how special dance is, how fundamental moving together is for life.

“She had me dripping way down”

New music for the new week when we’re all on lockdown. OkayAfrica’s 7 South African Female R&B/Soul Artists to Watch In 2020. Ami Faku, who I cannot believe I failed to blog about, ’cos I bought her album IMALI about 5 minutes after first listening to her. Refentse Solo, who I’ll probably ending up also buying whatever I can once I get around to listening to her. I got stuck on Valerie Omari though. Very casually listening to Just Like The Rain and had to pause ’cos, “Did she just say, ‘she’?” Why, yes. Yes she did. “Just like the rain / She had me dripping way down.” South African R&B and Soul is doing the business right now. And Valerie Omari is criminally underrated.