That’d be me, Francesca d’Ath, and my toes, yesterday while biking to rehearsals.
Pandemic and very delayed sensible government response allowing, I’m performing at Sophiensaele next week. A double bill of two solos, the other with Claudia Tomasi, and both started with Isabelle Schad way back in January.
I don’t know if we’ll even get to perform next week, carrying on like we will, and it feels dead weird to be art-ing while shit goes exponential in Neukölln, Berlin, Germany, Europe … In case we don’t or if we do, here’s me looking well tasty.
And for everyone who saw that poster around Berlin-Mitte, yes, that is me, yes that person is trans femme and serving deep trans femme energy, and yes, even a glance at a poster of me will turn your children trans.
Friday got me to the “It looks like a bike, dunnit?” stage, which was me lying to myself. Saturday was the real work of cutting brake and gear cables, and the horrorshow of setting up cantilever brakes. Sunday was “It’s gotta be rideable by 3pm, ’cos you gotta haul arse up to Wedding and see Dasniya perform.”
Sunday. Many videos of Calvin Jones of Park Tool later, a rideable bike.
So many ways to measure and fit a chain. So many ways to set up and index front and rear derailleurs. So many ways to wrap bar tape. So, so, so many videos on YouTube. Only one Calvin Jones.
And of course, not finished. Riding to Wedding and back rattled everything into place. The gears, they went *ching* like Kelis’ Milkshake. The brakes can throw me over the bars with one finger. Still a little skippy and noisy and squeaky though.
And the new riding position is a bit of work. I bought a fizik – or rather, fi’zi:k – Vento Argo R5 saddle ’cos the cutaway down the middle on my old one was nice but not in the right place, and this one is wider (for my weirdly spacious sitbones) and shorter, and very much does not stab me anywhere from butthole to pubic bone. I also bought fizik seat post and bar stem, ’cos I’ve loved using their bar tape the last couple of years. My new position is about the same length on the bar tops but slightly lower on the hoods and drops. This bike has always been a size or two too big for me, and getting low without getting stretched out or loosing the cyclocross agility I need has been a messy process, compounded by the shit cable routing for the front brake.
And today, with a very big box of discarded packaging, another box of old and destroyed bike parts, I decided to sort my drawers of bike shit. So much shit. So many old parts. I now have two drawers of very fucking highly organised and actually usable parts, two sets of serviced and ready to thrash wheels (one for cobbles and one for cyclocross), one sexy refurbished bike and pretty close to getting back out on some training rides.
It’s seen better days. Like the day before I bought it, for example. Original parts are now frame, forks, and handlebars. The latter I considered replacing as well this time but I like their fit and buying highly specialised fit stuff online without measuring and trying is a high risk activity for me.
So. First set of Fulcrum wheels rebuilt by me and bearings replaced in the shop ’cos I have not yet cried my way to spending 300€+ on a bearing press. Second set of Fulcrum wheels also rebuilt and laughing my way through flushing one set of grotty bearings and regreasing them ’cos I can’t afford another trip to the shop right now. Very tasty Challenge Chicane cyclocross tires on the former, with tan sidewalls (Which is high fashion. Allegedly.) and the Strada Bianca ones on the latter. Dead fucking sharp.
Old parts stripped from bike and in a box. New parts I’ve been collecting for months in another. Bike frame cleaned, much WD40 huffed, vague ennui slash sadness at the crappiness of the BB30 bottom bracket, which I considered replacing with an adaptor and a threaded one, which would mean a whole new set of cranks, which realistically isn’t a bad idea but fucking hell we’re very in “You spent new bike money on your old bike. Again!” territory right now, so, no, creaky fucking BB fucking 30 it is.
I did buy a chain whip and cassette remover ’cos I wanted to be able to swap the cassette between aforementioned dope as fuck wheels (“You could just swap the tires, Chica?” “I could just not? Dickhead!”) and woo! tools! My baba was very in the room yesterday. Not sure if he’s proud or confused about me, but he was very professionally interested in wtf I was doing.
Yesterday, then. Bike stripped and me all, “Fukken really? This again? Oh god why?” And today so far, past the grotty cleaning stage and starting the funtimes rebuilding stage, pretending the subsequent running and setting cables stage is no big deal and will not take me an upsetting amount of time.
My fingers and hands are serving high femme mechanic realness.
I pretty much had made peace with moving on from dance and all in the last couple of years, enjoying training for myself and finding myself at a distance to those worlds. Then, late-last year, Isabelle said, “You’re doing a solo!”
We’ve been rehearsing irregular weeks since late-January, slowly building a work that finally got a formal-ish public outing on the weekend in Isabelle’s studio at Wiesenburg (masks and physical distancing and pandemic attentiveness obviously). First time performing in more than two years, and, after a decade living in Berlin, first time I’ve performed here — in a formal, dance scene context at least, not counting small, more private art-ing.
It’s been huge, a lot of work physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and a lot of responsibility in being seen. Being seen by both the audience, some of whom recognised parts of themselves in me, and understand what that means, and being seen by those who came before, aunties, mothers, old ones who visited, who I called on ’cos I needed their strength and support and approval, and I needed them to see me, us like this. And my babaanne, wandering around after just out of sight. I am grateful for them all, and for those who came up to me after, who were the ones I needed to fully see me, and who I needed to see also.
Another pause now, then — as always, pandemic allowing — at Sophiensaele in early-November.
Last Thursday on that proper hot 36° day, I was up north side of town getting my bike repaired. And had three hours to kill so wandered up to the Zeiss-Großplanetarium and plonked my arse outside. Excellent DDR architecture there.
Just a reminder that even after all these decades I still get deliberately misgendered, and collecting the double prize of added racism is a reality in Berlin. And this was in one of the biggest hospitals. People wonder why I get so angry explaining this pandemic is a whole other level of risk for trans people and POC.
It’s been a while since I enjoyed this view. Up in Uferhallen watering Dasniya’s plants and letting my eyes rest on this street, the trees, the chimney, home for a long time and spending time here is good for my spirit.
There was a big gap this year when I had a little money for and no way of getting books. All that talk on social media of supporting artists during pandemic quarantine by buying their books hit up against furloughed supply chains.
Completely off topic here, I discovered yesterday I’d been using the entirely wrong word, furlong instead of furlough (and lifetime usage of either is in the single digits). And then I discovered furlong is 1/8th of a mile, so now I have Vin Diesel, or rather Dominic Toretto in my head going, “I live my life two furlongs at a time.”
Back to buying books. And no, e-books are not an option. I like paper, I like the feel and smell and aesthetics of books, I like how line lengths, page size, fonts, typography, layout, margins, the density of ink on paper, all that, I like how it creates a specific way of reading. So, no new books for some months and a rapidly dwindling pile of that variety which take months or years to read (Spivak, I’m looking at you.)
And then my favourite bookshop let me know books were available again and damn did I go hard. First, the Jhalak Prize announced its 2020 long and short lists and the winner, and I’m doing that thing again where I’ll end up throwing cash at about half the long list.
What is the Jhalak Prize (’cos clicking links scares me or something)? It was started in 2017 by Sunny Singh, Nikesh Shukla, and the sadly defunct Media Diversified and is an annual award for British and British resident writers of colour in any genre. And it’s consistently a banger. If I had the cash, I would without question by everything on the long list as soon as it’s announced.
And second, a bunch of weird old books I’ve been hitting my bookshop up for availability and prices for absolutely years turned up. A couple I’ve been asking about for five years. No, I cannot say no.
Some of these books have been sitting on my reading shelf since last year; some of them I finished months ago. I’m not doing that way too intense essay per book and annual Book(s) of The Year thing anymore, pumped the brakes on that. I still want to remind myself and celebrate a pile of authors who, all of whom did that indescribable magic a book can do. Some of these (’cos that’s my tendency) are hard, painful reads. Even these have beauty and joy and hope in them, and I reach for that. All these authors are my teachers and I’m grateful beyond words to have enough space in my life that I can read and appreciate and celebrate them.
One year ago, June 13th 2019, I went into an operating theatre in Marbella, Spain and came out half a day later. Or so. I still think I’m missing a few additional hours there. As I write this, one year ago I was there. This is the photo I took after having my face peeled off. A facial peel (thanks, Onyx for that accurate and true description. I laughed.). Tubes all over the place, and no idea how the getting through of those hours and following days in Spain and then back in Berlin in a heatwave would become months and now a year.
And it was a year before, also. A year of smashing 60–70 hour weeks, moving house in that, keeping up with training, just not thinking about it all, hardcore endurance and eyes on the finish line. Finish lines. Fourth attempt at making that cash. Going at it so hard this time ’cos I knew I could do it if I used all of myself up. Making that final 2,000€ payment which coincided with getting fired, not really caring ’cos I’d stacked up 22,000€ in 2/3 of a year and got to not give a shit about worrying how I’d make cash those next three months up to the flight to Spain. Just keeping eyes on being there on June 13th. Making that flight. Sitting in my hospital room playing the game of telling myself seriously, “You can always stop here. You don’t have to do this.” Me laughing, nah fuck nah, fucking bring the anaesthetic. I am fearless in these moments.
Hair grew back. Hair fell out. Hair grew back. Feeling came back. Swelling went down. Scar settled down. Face looked like me. Looked like who I’d have been if I hadn’t had to go the long, hard way ’round. Scar is still a bit lumpy and indented. Scalp and forehead still get tight every few days and need plenty of massaging. Hair is still growing back, me and my slow, delicate curly hair, all grey now ’cos I haven’t dyed it for a year. Most of the second half of last year just recovering from the previous year, trying to align myself. Most of this year dealing with the poverty of having that very necessary, non-optional pause. Wrote most of a novel in those months.
It was Ramadan that led to the job where I worked out almost immediately I could smash this fucker finally. It was Ramadan that finished a week before I flew to Spain. It was Ramadan that almost marks one year out, three weeks earlier now, sliding those couple of weeks away from the date. Still, it always felt to me like all this moved around that month of fasting, “It’s a big offering you’re making,” said Onyx. Not expecting anything in return for it, but still.
There are two questions we ask ourselves which come with being trans; both of them come from an immediately preceding question: “So what are you gonna do about it?” The first one is, “Hormones. Yes?” We might reply, “Nah,” or not be able to or allowed to reply, “Fuck yes!” but once we understand our selfhoods being framed in the context of ‘trans’ that’s our first question and answer and waypoint. The second is, “Surgery?” Being trans, living trans, especially in the last thirty years or so means having realistic conversations with ourselves and others about having major surgery. Surgeries. It’s part of the deal. We might never be able to afford it or be able to undergo such intensely physically demanding processes or even want it, but once we’re aware of who we are and what possibilities exist, we always come to this question. For cis people, normal life experience makes major surgery only something scary and grave, meaning illness or injury, or maybe ‘cosmetic’, ‘elective’, superficial and frivolous and spoken about in the way even cishet women depreciate femininity. For us, we have a very different relationship with the process. Scary, yeah, expensive and fucking huge commitment of time and energy and self before and after, yeah, but every time I’ve woken up from surgery for this, I’ve been smiling.
Life-changing and No Regerts.
There’s a heap of sadness and joy bound into all this. Sadness at how growing up I never had the family support to have had an easier time of it. And still don’t, and just accept it as something permanently missing. Sadness that even now I’m always dialled up ’cos cis people — especially white cis women — refuse to do the work, refuse to care and it’s like being back in the ’80s and ’90s with all that radical feminist and lesbian separatist absolute hate of us, wanting to literally erase us from the world entirely. Sadness every time I see a sister murdered, and far, far too often she’s Black and far, far too often her death is a literal execution, an erasing from existence.
Joy. ’Cos we are so fucking beautiful and we live in a universe cis people can’t even imagine. We are so close to gods and goddesses and deities and spirits, we walk hand-in-hand with them, with the land and water and sky of this Earth and always have and always will. I love all my sisters and brothers and siblings and niblings and aunties and uncles and elders and Muthas — especially Muthas, who saw me when I was a young, very fucked up child and who burn brighter in my life the older I get. And especially those who needed to do hormones and have surgery to live their truth. This is the hardest path, the most dangerous one, we all lost so much to go this way. Even the rare ones who had the love and support of their parents and family who put their selves and bodies and lives between the world and their children and fought. Even those ones lost so much.
Crossdresser, transvestite, transsexual, transgender, trans with or without the * or -, trans woman, trans feminine, tranny, t-girl, shemale, chick with a dick, sex change, shim, heshe, it. Not even a word, just laughter and “It’s a man!” and a fist in the mouth. Homelessness, poverty, fucked mental health. I’ve paid to survive this long, far more than that 22,000€ I’m a year out from and what it gave me.
Donate & protect Indigenous and Black trans femme futures ✊🏿✊🏿✊🏿
Cis people, queer or straight, I expect this of you: Do the work. Educate yourselves. Donate. Find community-based organisations in your city and country who explicitly, primarily support Black and Indigenous and Brown and Migrant trans femmes and commit to protecting our futures.
And if you think by my highlighting of trans femmes and trans women I’m forgetting about, ignoring, making invisible, erasing trans mascs and trans men, non-binary people and anyone else not totally cis? You’re not paying attention. And if you think as a cis person, queer or straight, this doesn’t affect you? Again, you’re not paying attention.
I’ve lived through this shit as a trans femme since working it out on my own, not even in my teens, in the ’80s. That fucking long ago. I’m tired of this. I’m tired of cis cunts coming for my people. I’m tired of the white supremacy and TERFs in feminism and queer spaces and so so many cis-heteronormative people, white and BIPOC, taking so fucking long to say something. If you even do. You’re killing us. You get that, right? You’re responsible for our deaths.
Donate & protect Black & Indigenous trans femme futures ✊🏿✊🏿✊🏿
Do the work. Find community-based organisations in your city and country who explicitly support Black and Indigenous and Brown and Migrant trans femmes. And not LGBT orgs who reliably use the T for publicity, spend all the money prioritising cisgender ‘issues’ and tell us to wait and they’ll come back for us. They never did and they never will.
This trans, queer, multiethnic, Muslim, immigrant, working class, child sexual abuse survivor, on-the-spectrum, sex worker, femme chick says:
Black and Indigenous Trans Lives Matter
Fuck the Police
TERFs and white supremacy can choke on my dick