Got my arse out the door and into Germanic nature today. First time in a long time. Balcony / kitchen riding on my trainer has been the default I’ve fallen into for the last few months. But I needed to actually ride and wear all that fancy gear I bought earlier in the year and do those fun things like get lost, are we there yet? and surprise! here’s a bridge where you need it.
Pink socks I wore for the first time and managed to smear my chainring all over. Lucky I was using dry lube (not the name of my sex tape) and it washed out. Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado kit. Riding outdoors with a cadence sensor makes me really wish I had a power meter (or maybe Crank Brothers would make power meter pedals?). One banana for 3 hours was cutting it fine. Two bidons was actually about right but both should have been electrolyte.
The riding though. Funny how being bolted in place on an indoor trainer makes you forget how to do things like ride on sand and roots. I’ve got weirdly strong from all the indoor trainer riding and weirdly weak in holding a good riding position. Cars are still scary, even though German drivers are generally pretty considerate — if you also make like a car and be very literal in describing what you’re about to do. Forests are the shit. East of Berlin is fucking beautiful. Lakes are also the shit. The houses out there make me yearn for living in an actual house surrounded by trees and stuff. Getting whistled at by the boyz in their whips on Sonnenallee is … cheers lads, good to know I’m home.
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.
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.
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.
Doing my regular midnight physical salvage session and getting my dose of straight white dudes talking sport last night. The talk moved to the UNBOUND Gravel race and the men’s winner, Ian Boswell. Cut to his Insta with a photo of him, post-race and seductively dusty sweaty in his racing kit, wiping one forearm with a yellow cloth, and that forearm very deliberately poised to show off his wrist wrapped in a trans flag sweatband.
It’s unmistakeable, that flag. And personal reasons aside for the many problems I have with it, sometimes we need a single, recognisable visual which denotes which side a person is stepping up for. But I was still like, yeah, really? Does he know what he’s wearing? ’Cos cyclists, especially road cyclists, are very much those straight white dudes who struggle with the basics.
But nah, he knew exactly what he was doing, spoke with trans athletes and athletes who are parents of trans children, and with his niece who is trans, did the listening, bought 15 of those sweatbands, gave them out on the start line and raised the flag on his wrist high when he crossed the line first.
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!”
Late-December last year, I got paid in one hit for a bunch of work on a couple of projects, that contemporary dance thing in Europe of getting cash after the work was done. One of those was the solo which got canned a few days before première (thanks poor response in Germland and EU to global pandemic) which we’d been working on since January.
So, I had mad cash and, for possibly the first time in my life, no pressing obligations. Also not mad enough cash that I could do bougie middle-age things like get a mortgage. Cash enough I’ve been working my way down a list that’s a decade old in places of stuff I need to buy. Like new underwear and socks.
And then there’s the big items. Big for me and pretty much everyone I know. The kind of things which cost up to a couple of thousand and actually cause me cold sweats when I think of doing the spend. ’Cos what if, tomorrow, I’m fully povo again and a couple of hundred is the difference between eating, making rent and all? Except this year I already have work till August and money-wise — ’cos I’m good at living on fuck all — I’m kinda sorta maybe doing ok.
I’d been struggling with training over winter. My back blew out in November, I was feeling well too soft to be doing 90-minute rides in below zero weather, and my base training felt majorly on a plateau. I’d been thinking of buying an indoor trainer for years, very attached to the idea of getting rollers rather than one of those remove the back wheel direct trainers, but somehow over the last few years (thanks bogan mountain bikers on a YouTube channel I watch far too frequently), I went for the latter. Went for multiple times and nah nah nah I’ll come back in the morning, need to sleep on this massive decision, only to find them sold out for more weeks, repeating this until a month ago when there it was in the morning, still available.
It arrived within days and sat there, unboxed for three weeks. Because I needed a 10-speed cassette for it, and decided to get an isolation mat and cadence sensor and new heart rate monitor and … and … absolutely spraying money around. And I knew I’d need a calm few hours to do the setup, get it all working, get a feeling for it. On Monday, I did that.
And joined Zwift.
Total fucking bougie middle-aged cunt on a bike.
Yeah but I’m also a semi- / ex- / occasional- athlete-ish dancer-ish professional who knows very well how much I fall apart if I don’t train and it’s work and an actual work expense and a serious commitment and investment.
For the moment I set up in my kitchen. My balcony has some weird, complex slopes I need to make a trip to the Baumarkt to get some levelling blocks to sort out. I put myself through the intro 5-day training plan, 30 minutes each ride and fuuuuck me I have to face the shame I might have never pushed myself as hard — or maybe as structured and intense within that structure, even though I like suffering. It’s very different having actual numbers on a screen to correlate to feeling, and to have to stay at certain numbers for more seconds or minutes than I’d do when doing laps at Tempelhofer Feld and doing it on feel. Mostly it feels like what I get in 30 minutes on the trainer is about what I’d get from an hour at the airport. And if I did my casual longer warmup and cooldown, 15 minutes either side, it’d maybe be comparable. Still though, I haven’t ridden since November, and very not in endurance and high-intensity shape, and I might be in love with how good a fit an indoor smart trainer is for me. Especially because I can set it up at 9pm and do a session in the dark.
And it occurred to me over breakfast that I needed a trainer if I ever wanted to make those solo endurance works, Preparation, and Hell of the North. And now I have one.
Yeah but the bougie, white, racist, cisgender, heteronormative, ableist, masc-centric, middle-class and all miasma is what cycling soaks in, road cycling especially, and online smart training environments even more so. There’s almost not a day that goes by where there isn’t another story about legislation to ban trans kids or athletes — almost always girls, femmes, and women — from sport, competition, changing rooms, swimming pools, and all. I barely ever see a rider who isn’t white — and yes, this is why riders like Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado and Teniel Campbell and Ayesha McGowan are important but aren’t in themselves or as ‘representation’ enough alone. I’m acutely aware of who I am when I’m in lycra on a bike in that environment. I’m acutely aware also, when I’m in queer and trans spaces, that my decades-long relationship with and love of physicality, training and the discipline that is part of professional dance which I carry into riding, climbing, and everything else, all this has a very uneasy, fraught and painful relationship of its own with and in those spaces. How my trans-ness, femme-ness, queer-ness bangs up against cis AFAB queer spaces has a history of exclusion that has an eerie familiarity with sport.
Shit’s mad over-complicated. I just wanna ride and thrash shit.
It’s been an age since I was last doing laps on Tempelhofer Feld. I haven’t done any training rides since my back went from “lol fuck ya” to “nah really, howdya like not being able to stand?” mid-November. Give it up for floppy joints!
I had to go out to the Bürgeramt in Lichtenrade, way out near my fave stretches of cobble, and kinda wanted to not spend a heap on taxis, and I miss the full-on aggro of Berlin drivers. One day I need to have a convo with myself around the life choices of punching up when up is a LKW.
Anyway, I missed the turn that would have eventually put me on Hermannstr. and I meant to do that put me at the south-west gate of Tempelhofer Feld. Floppy back had been asking for a break and how often do I actually get to walk at the old airport, so I got my hips swinging the length of the southern stretch of pavé and said hi to the crows. Cold permafrost wind coming from Siberia bringing snow.