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.
I was semi-watching the GCN Show while doing my regular late-night lying on the floor stretching and mobilising work the other night. They were talking about the new Canyon ZCC eSports Development Squad. Not really my thing ’cos all the equipment for indoor training runs to thousands of euros, plus I need to be outside in the weather. But they cut to the application page and were scrolling down when I saw this:
And yes, I sat up and stopped the video and took a screenshot and had thoughts and feelings.
Canyon is a German bicycle brand that sponsors a number of teams and coincidentally, my fave rider, Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado. I’m not sure of their exact involvement in Canyon ZCC, whether they just sponsor, or whether they’re deeply involved in day-to-day organisation, but that little ‘Other’ with its additional field to write in what you want is a big deal.
The last years living in Berlin, I’ve done freelance money work in design / development for many agencies, organisations, companies, and so on. I have a pretty good familiarity with how things get done. This wouldn’t be some random person setting up the form who just stuck in that third option ’cos they felt like it. Something like this would be a discussion, one of those very German discussions, up and down the ‘flat hierarchy’ in meetings, everyone giving opinions, and someone(s) in the room very explicitly advocating for this and laying out the reasons why and planning for how things would proceed if one of the Dev Squad was non-binary or trans or intersex or ‘other’.
It’s a big deal and not something that happened accidentally. (Maybe it is, kinda doubt it and flexing my multiple experience here. Yah ’cos I’m particular, I checked how Google Forms works and it’s a deliberate two-step process to add an ‘Other’ checkbox.)
I’ve written about this in cycling before, specifically in the Rapha Women’s 100 last year, and more broadly writing and talking about trans, intersex, and non-binary people, BIPOC, and ‘non-standard bodies’: fat, adaptive / dis- / differently abled, neurodiverse, in cycling and sports and dance. More recently, connecting the cycling industry with policing (thanks especially to Cyclista Zine) and its involvement in regimes like Merida and Bahrain.
Having this option is a very political choice, especially in the last few years when trans women and trans feminine people — as well as cis woman who don’t fit white cishet normative criteria, and trans men and mascs — are being attacked on multiple fronts from access to bathrooms to whether we can compete in sport to fundamentally if we should exist at all.
Contra that, there’s some frankly fascist attitudes towards what constitutes acceptable bodies in cycling, both as a professional sport and as a consumer lifestyle. And there’s a weird sliding between using acceptable and compliant trans and non-binary bodies (and using this word rather than talking about people and selfhoods) as both a progressive signifier and as a beard in making politics and governments palatable.
In the ’80s, South Africa was blacklisted from sport, and tours like Springboks to Aotearoa to play the All Blacks were met with riots and razors in the playing fields. Now, Israel Start-Up Nation is a regular on the start line and it’s all ‘keep politics out of sport’ and no one mentions Palestine.
So, how’s a trans or non-binary or ‘other’ person going to negotiate that? And yes, I’m putting this on these athletes as well as the organisation itself, rather than the cis athletes, specifically because our visibility too often necessitates a compromise, a sectioning off of who we are in order to participate.
I don’t even have answers to this anymore. It’s legitimate to want to bomb down mountains on a bike or thrash through mud and snow in winter for all the reasons it’s fun. And competition is part of that. It’s not possible for that fun to pretend it’s not part of a global crisis going back hundreds of years. And then, sometimes we have to silently participate in these systems just to survive.
Every athlete that ticks the ‘Other’ box and writes in their truth is doing something radical and putting their own existence on the line. I want to see them thrive doing what they love, and be exemplary for young ones who need to see themselves and their own possibilities. I want to see them have space to effect actual deep change. I’m not sure the cycling industry is anywhere near ready for that.
Sent to me by Vass yesterday and the motivation I need.
And here’s my trash arse not knowing who Nyla Rose is, not knowing she’s a pro wrestler and actor and trans woman and femme and First Nations. And obviously I’m in love. When I talk about serving trans femme realness, this is who I see.
And, “Something Something … Positivity or Whatever” is the new “harden the fuck up”.
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.
I rewatched both seasons of Pose the other day. Fuck the Emmys and fuck cis people.
It’s not about the awards. It’s about the awards. Even being nominated opens up possibilities for better pay, working conditions, opportunities, longevity, recognition, not only for the person or show nominated but for everyone involved. Not just for them but for those in the audience who need to see themselves or people close enough to themselves to feel seen in return for once.
It’s about representation for us. For queer and straight cis people it’s seeing trans people – especially Black, Indigenous, Brown trans femmes – as something other than sex workers, drug addicts, corpses, and things to be laughed at, seeing us as people with full lives and communities and love. For the majority of cis people – queer and straight – they don’t have any trans people in their lives, let alone Black, Indigenous, or brown ones. What they do have, if they even think of us, is cis people talking about and representing us and portraying us, standing in our places like we’re not good enough, like we don’t exist.
Billy Porter being nominated twice while none of the trans women and femmes in front or behind the camera have ever got a look in, that’s a lesson right there in who’s valid, who’s seen as real and legitimate. Similarly, Zendaya being nominated while Hunter Schafer wasn’t. And straight up, I love watching both her and Billy and yes, they deserve it. But if they deserve it, if Euphoria deserves it, so does Pose, so do Indya Moore, Mj Rodrigiez, Dominique Jackson, Hailie Sahar, Angelica Ross, so do Janet Mock, Our Lady J, and saying their names so do Trace Lysette, Bianca Castro, Cecilia Gentili, Leiomy Maldonado, Brielle ‘Tati’ Rheames, and so do the hundreds of other trans women and femmes in front and behind the cameras.
Almost every day I see another Black trans woman or femme murdered in the US and another white cis man pushing to legislate us out of existence. That’s one country, and don’t think it’s not the same or worse in your other countries. Season 2, episode 4, “Never Knew Love Like This Before”, where Candy is murdered and the aftermath of that, fighting to claim her body, scraping money together for a dignified funeral, her parents misgendering her, the grief and loss and anger, all that is way too real. And let’s not forget, Pose is a fantasy, it’s a story where the reality of trans women and femme’s lives is not shown like a documentary, we don’t need to see that brutality when we know and live it. If it was doing realism, it would have scared you straights and cis queers right off, and there wouldn’t have been a Season 2 ’cos most of the cast would have died between 1987 and ’90.
You all want RuPaul’s Drag Race, you want Yaaas Queen Slay! and you want Shaaade! but you don’t want to learn anything. You want LGB but only when it’s palatable and the T ain’t that. You want the glamour but not the politics. You want the glamour but only on cis men’s bodies. You want women but not when they serve like Pose does. Seeing Black and Afro-Latinx trans women and femmes living for themselves, centring themselves, defining femininity on their terms, defining queer and LGB for themselves, you can’t accept this. You can’t reward this. You need to deal with your discomfort, and yeah, your racism and femmephobia and transphobia and transmisogyny and misogynoir. You don’t even know how amazing these women and femmes are off-camera. We celebrate them for all they they are because of all this.
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.
I had Islam Dreaming on my list for a long time and suddenly it turned up. I didn't expect it to be so personally relevant, to read these pages and how simply and matter-of-fact this relationship was understood. It's something I've struggled to understand for myself for so long, and once again, it's Indigenous knowledge and life that helped. Different continents and I'm not Indigenous Australian, and trying to be careful here in not selectively appropriating a specific historical and geographic experience. I read these two pages over and over, recognising similarities to myself and my family's history in this.