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 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.
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
Feels a bit weird to be celebrating something as superficially frivolous as new cycling kit at the moment. But it’s not.
Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado has been my favourite rider for what feels like years now, even though it’s probably only early-2018 I first saw her race, or maybe late-2017, and her winning the cyclocross World Championships at the start of February feels like years ago as well. I’ve been needing new kit for a while now (and a new bike, and an old bike rebuild), and been holding off ’cos kit is mad expensive and none of what I saw really grabbed me, both aesthetically as well as in terms of what it means.
I have no idea how she might see someone like me, what her position is on trans femmes and trans women competing in the women’s section. And I have no idea what her position is on Black Lives Matter, or even if she has the space and support to have an unambiguously public one. But I do know young Black and Brown girls and women see her lining up first row of the start line every week, see her race and win (back when those things actually happened) in the Rainbow jersey, and see themselves, see possibilities for themselves and people like them. That shit matters.
I was 💯 Shut Up And Take My Money! the instant I saw her kit and everyone I’ve shown it to is 😍.
This is about the minimum space I need to not feel compressed right now.
And I wanted to write about dismantling – rather than diversity in – white cisgender masculine heteronormative space but I’m tired. When I ride I’m usually the only woman in a sea of dudes. I’m definitely the only trans feminine, queer, non-white person. And on the very rare occasion I’m in a woman-centric space, like the Rapha Women’s 100 last year, I’ll still be one of the only non-white (yeah I’m specifically using that term), and definitely the only trans feminine person. And in dude space or white cis women space I never feel safe or comfortable or able to relax and I’m tired. I can’t trust you all and I’m tired.
Recreational and athletic space is highly, highly normalised as white, cis– and heterocentric and masculine, and that includes cis women doing the policing. I don’t want to have to engage with that as a precondition for physical recreation or as an athlete, and it feels like this is the bare minimum of space I – we need to have some room to breath. But I don’t want to talk about all that ’cos I’m tired of saying it in so many different ways for a lifetime and seeing my siblings say it and live it and lose their lives for it for way more than a lifetime.
So, for all you BIPOC trans femme riders, and those of you prepared to educate yourselves, Cyclista Zine has been making me feel good about myself lately.
And for the rest of you, educate yourselves and donate to Black and Indigenous trans funds and support organisations like:
Fuck I will not even try and keep it civil at all anymore.
Fucking educate yourselves.
This is for white people as well as POC who bring anti-Blackness into the room and for people in countries like Germany and Australia who look at the US and are all, “Damn they’re racist!” like every colonised and colonising country wasn’t built on Indigenous genocide and isn’t continuing that European project today.
And not just to US orgs who definitely need support ’cos there’s no healthcare system in that country and the for-profit carceral system works by setting impossible bail bonds. Donate to community orgs in your own countries, especially Indigenous ones, and ones doing the fucking thanklessly hard work at the margins and intersections.
And if you don’t get why the death of Tony McDade is inextricable from the death of George Floyd, go back to 1. and fucking repeat until you do.