Me, third from right, underneath Victoria, goddess of victory’s arse.
Like I said to the guy behind the counter at Rapha while we yarned about Taiwan, me with a way more alcoholic than I expected Weinschorle in me, buying the Women’s 100 jersey because it looked so good on the other riders, and I’m a sucker for certain intense colour combinations which make my eyes ping, “I feel kinda manipulated here.”
This morning, I discovered the quote in the zip pocket, which for some stupid reason touched me, even though I know fully well the “have it all, do it all, your only limit is your belief” thing is very much for and available to a certain, specific subset of people, while the rest of us have to navigate the intersections. Still, just as others have done the navigating before me, showing paths in the liminal spaces, so too do I do this with others in mind.
I also expect next year’s jersey to have 2019’s Transcontinental overall winner, Fiona Kolbinger’s dead brilliant quote in the pocket: “I could have slept less.”
“For a long time I failed to believe in my own capabilities but on a remote dirt road near the town of Krivača, close to the Bosnian border, I realised that there really was no distance I could not handle.”
— Emily Chappell
First placed woman, 2016 Transcontinental
Time taken: 13 days, 10 hours 28 minutes
Because I always need and desire reminders to myself of how and why I do this.
- drink & eat every 15–20 min
- stretch back & neck
- change saddle & hand position
- stand up on the regular
- over / under-gearing
- serve calm realness
- do it for
- KIA KAHA [-o-]
And repping my trans and non-binary sisters & femmes.
Earlier in the week, I did a 60km ride. Unintentionally. I’d planned for 40–50km, to see how I would feel in the ride and after, and whether physically I could handle a few hours on the bike and 100km, having not done a long ride since before Ramadan. More importantly, whether post-surgery recovery had progressed far enough that the duration and intensity wouldn’t throw up weirdness, either during or after. Three months, or thirteen weeks, felt long enough to get away with it, even while I still can’t really push hard or do fun stuff like headstands. But having my face peeled off has been and is all a very unknown healing process.
I’d pretty much committed in July to doing the annual Women’s 100 ride, and it would have taken some pretty gruesome post-ride post-surgery fuckery to have kept me away. My other anxiety though. That kept me occupied.
I’ve seen and lived for decades how trans and intersex women get treated in the world and in sport. Most recently like Kate Weatherly, who’s smashing it in downhill mountain biking, but took so much shit for doing so. Or gender non-conforming people, including cisgender women who get judged as ‘not feminine enough’, like Caster Semenya, who had the rules changed on her to prevent her competing. And non-binary feminine people, who are pretty much entirely absent. This is my lived reality, my truth, my selfhood — along with everything else, along with my endless love of movement.
And I’ve been in Berlin long enough to know it (and Germany) is 10 to 20 years behind on this shit. So, y’know, ‘Women’. But not all women. And not all feminine people either. Cycling is also frankly bourgie. It’s a leisure activity that hoovers up thousands of euros — and yes, cyclocross is the working class Belgian national sport, it’s still mad expensive. It has a certain aesthetic, which in turn denotes who’s going to feel comfortable and see themselves in the imagery — and in skintight lycra, whose body type, whose skin colour, whose history, all this. Who’s going to feel like they can roll up on a Saturday morning and fit right in, and who’s taking a risk.
I was at least going to roll up, carrying all that not as a burden, but as something I’m coming to understand (’cos I’m a slow cunt and it takes me decades) as an honour. The people in my life, closest to me, I would not have them without this, I would not be invited into their worlds without this, I would not see and experience the world as I do without this.
And it was pretty fucking good. Sunny late summer, a very leisurely ride through parts around Potsdam and Brandenburg I’ve never been to before, and skimming along parts I know from my Berliner Mauerweg rides, ice cream at the ferry stop, doing it all in the slow, social group, plenty of very tasty bikes, plenty of very friendly women. A couple of odd moments, but y’know cis people, they don’t have much range.
And for the slow people up the back, this isn’t a criticism of Rapha (the very expensive cycling clothing brand that organised this worldwide event), who seem to genuinely be taking cycling advocacy and outreach seriously and turned on a fun day. What I’m talking about here is simply beyond the scope of what this kind of event (or straightland generally) is familiar or has experience with, which is nonetheless vital, fundamental, critical, if the intent is meaningful enfranchisement. If the intent is to sell expensive, event-themed gear, well shit, I biked home with a Women’s 100 cycling jersey. It’s dope as fuck.
Which brings it all around to me again. Who am I in this situation? Who do I want to be? How much of myself do I want seen, and how much am I prepared to compartmentalise myself? A corollary, existing before and simultaneously with this, is, what are my obligations?
I want my trans sisters and femme siblings to feel — to know — this is something they can do, that they’re not going to be the only one in straightland, to see themselves in this. Just like I want this. And I’m already there and doing it, and have been doing it for years, and I while I might have anxiety about what potential shittery cis women are going to bring, I have absolutely no fear. I’ve been doing ridiculous physicality for decades. This is who I am. Literally embodied in the word, ‘professional’. So I have an obligation to step the fuck up and be seen, and rep this.
And when I say trans sisters and femme siblings, it’s always on my mind, not only this. I’m the secret multiple immigrant multiethnic Muslim (crappy Muslim, but) with neurofuckery, who’s also trans (whatever that means and whatever else I don’t know), who uses ‘she’ and ‘her’ knowing those pronouns only make sense to me outside a binary, cis-heteronormative space, and defo not a young bitch anymore. If I’m going to do this kind of ride, put myself into that space, and fuck it’s taken a long time to feel like it could be possible, if I’m going to be in an event that says it’s for women, I need to be very damn clear about what kind of woman I am, and what kinds of women and feminine people I expect to to see there, to not only be encouraged to be there but to be actively enabled to turn up. This shit is political, and it is entirely about representation, about intersectional feminism, and about all those lived realities, all those people who do not have an easy place in the world.
Yes, I am serving Trans Femme Athletic Realness at the Rapha Women’s 100 in Berlin, and my bike’s top tube notes said, “kia kaha [-o-]”.
I thought it was nine, and if I’m forgetting where I’m up to, obviously I’m well into recovery. I’ve been like a nana driving along in first wondering why I can’t go faster and it’s not because I don’t know how to drive, it’s because it’s a fucking automatic and it’s stuck in Limp Mode (that’s a thing, yes it is). Which I try to accept, but fuck me it’s trying. Some days are good — some hours are good, and then I go back to sleep, or deal with weird tension pressure tingling numbness swelling low grade discomfort that wears at a bitch. And then there’s the pimples and other skin fuckery, which I also accept as my face’s pretty natural reaction to be half pulled off. But no pretending it isn’t distressing as fuck.
And then there was today, a Friday at the end of a week that was a real struggle in keeping any energy. It was sunny, 25° and feeling hotter, which I know from the last five weeks of riding complicates things. So I kept it simple, just make it through four laps, that’s all I had to do; three even, if I felt shit. I was concentrating on keeping my elbows bent, and breathing through my nose, right back in low energy Ramadan training there.. The bent elbows thing, particularly when they approach 90° is for me a constant movement of pushing forward, down or pulling back with my hands, so my arms are supporting much of my weight, and hovering, so I’m holding my position with back and hamstrings, as well as moving forward and back on my saddle. It’s constant work. The result of this is also I am more aerodynamic, and put down more power more easily. So I ended up feeling rather good.
Rather good as in maintaining 30km/h+ for 2/3 of each lap. Very unexpected, that. And feeling solid. It’s the first ride since surgery where I actually had energy and could push a bit. Gentle pushing, but consistent and way above where I’ve been until now, and for a duration, and repeatable. Slowly getting there. Slow time all the way.
I was doing laps of Tempelhoferfeld this morning and had a realisation I’d definitely gone over another hump in post-surgery recovery, ’cos I was back to my usual getting way too excited and loudly, “Yes, bitch! Eight weeks! Fucking nailed it!” carrying on. Which is the first time I’ve felt this good since having my face peeled off on June 13th.
Last week I managed training on five days: three shorter and lighter than usual rides, and two of a mix of core, Pilates, stretching. The week previous to that, I’d ridden twice early in the week and felt like I’d been ambitious in even that — the “six weeks until you can resume training” thing is real. Mid-last week, I felt frankly fucking horrible, like dirty anaesthetic was leeching out or some other vileness. Maybe the lack of endurance training for 6 weeks was churning stuff up. The surgery itself was also unimpressed with me. This week though, tiredness and soreness is very much from doing the work.
Not the full work, and still a long way to go, but getting work done nonetheless. I can neither push into all-out efforts, nor maintain a long endurance effort. Doing hard, core training with weights is also out, as is most of yoga, and anything upside down is not worth the scummy feeling. I’m not going to beat myself up for this though, I tend to recover slowly from surgery, or rather, I seem to take my time, and there’s more than enough I can do with is directly beneficial to rehab and recovery.
I also, for me, put on a bit of weight these last eight weeks. Plenty of not training and plenty of post-op eating (so fucking hungry, I swear I was in overdrive). Which on one side was difficult for me, feeling my muscles lose the density they have when they’re being used all the time. And putting on some fat is a new physicality for me — all of which is relative, as I have a default weight I end up on when I’m training heavily, irrespective of how much I eat. This is not about self fat-shaming, rather about how my physiology swings from skin and bones if I’m training heavily and stressed, to where I’m at now, which is one of the longest periods I haven’t trained for in many years — the not-training is what’s been difficult. On the other side, I really fucking love it. I’m pretty sure I haven’t been this curvy before and I am down with this shit. Which I’ve always known, it’s just for my physiology thrashing hard and being curvy are a ‘pick one’ reality, and I go with the former ’cos stupid is as stupid does.
So, like I’ve already said to someone who’s probably going to read this, I’m torn. I like where physically I’m at right now, and I know ramping up training (with two big rides coming up) will strip this off. I have no solution for this, so I’m going to eat chocolate. Also to celebrate eight weeks and still 110% No Regerts!
A couple of rides early last week, probably a bit ambitious, a hot spell I definitely wasn’t getting lycra’d up for, and back at it this week. It’ll be seven weeks tomorrow, still feeling it, still having to find my way through, balancing my complete readiness for thrashing it with a top half of a face that is very far from able to thrash. Doing it in the small ring then, nice and slow and not getting my heart rate up, even this leaves my forehead and scalp feeling weird in multiple ways. The other balance is between this healing process and needing to train to keep my crazy in check. Not having to worry about murder-bent Berlin car drivers while doing laps of Tempelhofer Feld is very welcome.
Last of my favourite races until the cyclocross starts again. Giro Rosa, 10 days of riding in northern Italy, and Our Girls smashed it. Annamiek van Vleuten winning the GC, points, and mountains classifications as well as 2 stages; Amanda Spratt 3rd overall, Lucy Kennedy almost winning stage 3, and Mitchelton-SCOTT all-round the most enjoyable team to watch. Elsewhere Marianne Vos utterly shredding it with 4 stage wins and showing mad cyclocross skills, Kasia Niewiadoma almost on the podium at the end (and team with best-looking bikes), Anna van der Breggen, Elisa Longo Borghini and others just showing brilliant riding. More of this, please and thanks.
More than Deleuze (with or without Guattari), more than Foucault, somewhat more than Derrida, so different to Butler, but like her someone I returned to again and again, for the quiet care and poetry, for the love of movement, one of that first group of philosophers I got introduced to by the same person at a moment in my life where they resonated, and — like only Butler from those names — continue to, 25 years on. I knew it was coming, likely sooner, but still, I lost my breath for an instant, I stopped.
The more I dance, the more I am naked, absent, a calculation and a number. Dance is to the body proper what exercise of thought is to the subject known as I. The more I dance, the less I am me. If I dance something, I am that something or I signify it. When I dance, I am only the blank body of the sign.
To dance is only to step aside and make room, to think is only to step aside and make room, give up one’s place.
To leave at last the page blank.
Laughter is that little noise, uttered in blank ecstasy.
I started writing this May 11th, a few days into Ramadan, wrote a bit more on the 13th, left it all until June 2nd, a couple of days before Eid, or Zuckerfest as it gets called around here, when I thrashed at it in the 30° summer Sunday.
I wanted to leave writing this until the end of the month, in case I write something contingent on a month of fasting and then blow it by eating for three of those weeks. And I wanted to write from the perspective of having had a month of training while fasting. But both are, well, I’ve been through both before, and the last two years I’ve trained for the whole month while enjoying the warmth of summer and the days passing through solstice. And I obviously have to make it plain my Suhur isn’t before 2:45am or any other time except after dawn. I do what I can, as early as I can, if for no other reason than to remember my family, my dad, my babanna Aişe. I think it’s Ramadan, and if others want to say it’s not, or say it’s bid’ah, then it’s not, and it’s bid’ah. I know what 14 and more hours of fasting feels like, after 30 days in Berlin summer, when the sun sets at 9:30 and the sky never really gets dark.
So, training. In Ramadan.
Back when I was a student, I was living with a climber and wanted in on that. He gave me a book to read, prefacing it by saying, “This isn’t about technique or strength, it’s more about the psychology, but I think that’s more useful for you.” I was a little disappointed, I wanted the mainline route from reading to climbing mad hard. But he was right. There was a line in that book which stuck with me, it’s one of the more important things I learned about climbing or any other physical activity, or being an artist, or dedicating one’s self to the discipline of doing a thing – or, as we currently say, living our Truth: “Ask yourself what you’re prepared to give up. Because if you want to do this well, you’re going to have to give something up.” This was written — at the latest — in the early-’90s, when climbing was still a weird and grotty life choice, so far from the heteronormative bouldering hall lifestyle in every suburb we’re at now. Climbing was not a sensible career move.
I find something liberating in accepting I have to give something up to be able to do particular things, that after so many years, are not merely things I do, but who I am, have shaped me from bones to synapses, are selfhood. And I like resisting the seductive fantasy of, “You can have it all,” — it’s important to. “Have it all” is only a possibility for those who already have it all; for the rest of us, to varying amounts and degrees, to ‘have’ a thing is this question of what we’re prepared to give up — on top of what we already don’t have.
The author continued, “… you’re going to have to give something up. Whether it’s job or financial security, a social life, or time with your family.” Obviously he was writing for an imagined white, cisgender and heterosexual male, for whom ‘giving up’ these things is both something he can do (having them in the first place), and an acceptable compromise, in that someone(s) else will pick up the slack. Nonetheless, the question of what I’m prepared to give up, and what I have given up, in order to dance and live in a physical, momentum-driven selfhood, in order to be truthful to my selfhood, is a primary question of my life.
Back to training in Ramadan, then.
My regular training, for pushing twenty years now, has been a mix of ballet, contemporary dance, yoga, climbing, and cycling. Currently it’s four times a week on my bike for 90 minutes, and about the same amount of time in yoga, stretching, bits of pilates, strength, and stability training, piles of junk I’ve accumulated and continue to accumulate over decades, which seem to work for me. Like brushing my teeth twice a day. Around 10–12 hours a week then; sometimes more, sometimes less, and not including pre- and post-training time, rest and recovery, all the minutes that add up.
Ramadan for me becomes a reduced routine. Getting up, eating and drinking is separated by the long daylight hours until dusk. Then more eating and drinking, eating late, drinking late — and I diverge here to say how utterly divine that first water tastes, and how fortunate I am to be able to enjoy it, it’s sensual as fuck — playing catch-up on the hydration, and not enough sleep before it begins again. Early evening naps become a thing. Sunset until dawn becomes compressed, full of self’s obligations of eating, drinking, sleeping. Time slows, sometimes it’s enduring the waiting, sometimes it’s getting lost in the sky dimming, sunset on the trees outside, the endless conversations of birds. It isn’t a time to do nothing though. The days continue, and so must training.
And what happens to training? It’s slower, less intense, more careful. If I decided to go full-out, yes, I could, but the rest of the day (or more) would be shot, so I balance intensity with knowing there’s the day still remaining. It also trashes most of my cycling routine, which is heavily biased towards intervals and other hard sessions. I like suffering. I like suffering, and going hard and pushing and shoving until the very end. I like emptying myself even though the self I meet there I often have a difficult relationship with. It’s a habit, and habits Ramadan illuminates like nothing else. 30 days to be with one’s self and one’s habits.
I spent a lot of this month training just breathing. Breathing under stress as my heart rate increases and practicing how to keep the air going in and out through my nose, when I want nothing more than to open my maw and suck in some big gulps of air. Breathing when I’m at the end of an hour dropped into an aero position. Breathing and realising I probably breathe a little too fast and shallow when I’m training. A habit from where? New habits from a month of attention to self. Swapping out the habits of going hard for the habits of breathing and position.
I don’t think I have anything momentous to say about training during this month. It’s a lot like the month itself. Yeah, it’s uncomfortable and a bit of an effort to not even drink water through the day, but it’s not especially gruelling or outside the capacity to tolerate or endure, and if it ever got fucking horrific, I’d bail. It becomes pretty matter of fact after a while, even while that first glass of water in the evening never fails to be fucking glorious and rejuvenating. It requires patience and calmness, and attention to the aesthetics of living — or, for training, moving, which for me is living. The point of training in the month isn’t to stunt like I’m some aggressively competitive badass bitch doing it all (I am aggressively competitive, just I pick my time for it). As much as the month is about contemplative attention to and reflection on self, it’s not about retreat from the world, and just like everyone on Sonnenallee maintaining their obligations to life and work, so do I, as best I can. They keep the supermarkets and restaurants running, I keep … what? A physical life of art? Something? Whatever it is, there’s twenty years of it.