An Email From the Australian Institute of Sport

AIS slid into my inbox this morning. Australian Institute of Sport, not Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Gotta watch the acronyms when you’re in trans and intersex space, FFS. (For fuck sake, not facial feminisation surgery.)

Back in 2007 a bunch of us dancers were part of the AIS SCOPE programme. I have no idea what that acronym means anymore. It was a pilot development programme for professional and elite dancers. Yup, ‘elite’. From memory they had one for athletes and realised our situation was basically the same. Part of it was about dancers who were transitioning. No, not trans dancers ffs. I swear cis people need to be blocked from using the word transition for about the rest of my life. Dancers who were considering moving out of — what is in Australia a very young person’s game.

I wanted to write about the email I got this morning. It’s the AIS response and apology to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s independent review of gymnastics in Australia. I don’t think the email’s really meant for me, just I happened to be connected to the AIS a long time ago and apparently my email is still in their system. I don’t think any of the support they’re offering is for me either. Lots of reasons. I’m tired and I don’t really want to frame how I’m feeling in the broader structural, institutional, colonial, racist, transphobic, normative blah right now.

End–2007 I was skipping back and forth between Adelaide and Melbourne. I don’t know how it looked from the outside, making work back-to-back in Europe, China, and Australia, but I was doing it hard. Mad hard. The kind of hard where I walk home at night in either of those two cities and had a spot in each where I’d check in with myself and have a realistic convo that went, “You know if it gets too much, you can.” A multi-storey carpark in the former and a bridge over a motorway in the latter. Just checking in and seeing how I was going, how far I could go. No shame if I couldn’t.

Because of the decades, generations of abuse athletes, coaches, and staff — mostly young girls and women — were on the receiving end of, the AIS created a support service called AIS Be Heard. I’m not sure how comfortable I’d feel engaging with that if I’d been seriously, as an athlete, part of the Institute and all. I dunno, shit got mad stirred up this morning.

I got sexually abused by a middle-aged man when I was a kid, start of my teens, every weekday after school for several months. I was already very much not coping with home and school life being a young trans femme back in the ’80s. That abuse broke me.

A few years later, I destroyed him. I went to the police and pressed charges. How that came about in retrospect was something I was pushed into and not in my best interests, but me going in and giving a statement started an avalanche. Turns out he was already known, but you know, same old, no one wanted to say anything; everyone wanted to forget. They found a list with something like a hundred names on it. In the end, I think only four or five actually gave statements and agreed to being witnesses.

I destroyed him. He lost his business, his wife, his home, his standing in the community, had heart attacks, and ended up in prison where, because of the people I knew back then, everyone knew what he was in for.

Those people, who supported me through years of the criminal proceedings on top of the shit in their lives they were coping with. They put up with a lot from me, I was well fucked up.

The case broke me again. It dragged on for four years. The first two I was in conversion therapy, which is a whole other story but deeply bound with all this. It was the direct result of me trying unsuccessfully to get into the gender clinic in Auckland to get on the surgery list after being on hormones for years, and being kicked through a string of therapists because I was a fucked up trans femme, homeless, on drugs, self-harming, eating disorder and whatever else. The second two I’d moved to Melbourne and was in some, what we’d call now, non-binary phase and using dance to survive. Burying everything thought and feeling in pushing myself physically as hard and far as I could go. Apparently I haven’t changed much.

The proceedings ended when I got a phone call. Ended for me, I mean. He got a plea bargain. I was told he would plead guilty to every charge except mine. I was told if I proceeded with the charges, it would go to trial and I would lose. They would use me being trans against me and he would get off. Thirteen year old child obviously asked for it and obviously untrustworthy and crazy ’cos she’s a tranny was their line. I said fuck whatever and bailed. I already destroyed him. He got two years.

He broke me, but those four years, the conversion therapy … I think I would have survived what he did if I’d had really good, caring support. I didn’t. I had very shit, abusive, transphobic, coercive therapy where the threat of being institutionalised was always in the background, and being constantly told I would never be a woman and no woman would ever love me was up front.

I survived that too. A lot more broken. I went to Victorian College of the Arts shortly after, sucked up the shit there, dished out some of my own too. I saw abuse there on the regular. Emotional, psychological, physical, sexual abuse, body shaming, eating disorders, untreated mental health crises, skeevy older male teachers and staff doing all the same things the AHRC’s independent review talks about. Pretty sure a lot of us who went through professional dance training know all about that.

I had a couple of full-on breakdowns while I was there. The pressure between trying to find a way be true to my trans femme self in an environment entirely structured on white, cisgender heteronormativity burnt the fuck out of me. And the un-dealt with damage from my teens.

On their website, the AIS says, “We owe it to every athlete who has been part of the AIS, to feel supported and to get help if, and when, they need it.” Nice sentiment. Cool.

There’s this pervasive, verbalised belief that if you don’t get therapy, or rather what AIS call ‘wellbeing support’ when you need it, shit’s on you. Like all we need to do is make the decision and magically there will be a perfect therapist just for us. The vast majority of therapists are simply not equipped to provide care for the kind of complex trauma trans people have often experienced. Or people who have lived through child abuse.

Speaking from long, long experience here, at best the majority of therapists are useless, and very regularly they cause more harm. I had a therapist tell me he was scared for his own safety when I start talking my history. Bruh. Others have tried to frame me in a way that fits their world, like that lesbian conversion therapist. But mostly there’s just a vast, empty space where good therapists for people like us should be.

Yallah, all of this was also about a therapist I saw because of the AIS.

Back in late–2007 again, I asked the person at SCOPE if there was any counsellors available as part of the programme. I ended up seeing someone who worked with professional athletes as a sports psychologist and saw her maybe 5 or 6 times. The first time — and all this is hazy retelling of memory now — I laid out where I was at, which was a pretty fucking bad place ’cos all that untreated abuse was making me ask that serious question every night I walked home over that bridge or past that carpark. She said something like … I dunno, it’s more of a feeling now, something about it wasn’t what she specialised in, but she worked with a lot of athletes who were struggling to cope with the insanely high pressure of elite-level competition, and somehow she persuaded me to come back and got me talking. And she saved my life.

This isn’t about how the AIS supported me, or how therapy can save lives. It shouldn’t have been on a sports psychologist to deal with a very fucked up person because the entire culture of society failed her. I think about all those counsellors and support staff in sport and dance over the generations who had to become trauma specialists because kids and young adults would and still do show up at their door every day with no one else to turn to.

I had a bit of a cry on the way to the supermarket this morning thinking about all this, how that email hit. Lucky it was raining. I still haven’t found a therapist. Not for lack of trying, but fuck me there is a poverty of healthcare for trans people. And I was thinking how that email wasn’t really for me because I’m trans. We’re pretty much legislated out of professional sport and there’s fuck all space in professional dance for us either.

When I talk about being broken, it didn’t go away. I rarely get into intimate relationships with people (that’s also a euphemism for fucking, just to be clear) because of all that shit on top of the already hostile environment of living while trans. Therapy is supposed to help with the broken part, but we already covered that failure. I was thinking about Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who testified against that skeeve during his Supreme Court nomination. She talked about memory, how “… the trauma-related experience is locked there, whereas other details kind of drift.”

He’s always there. Intermittent. He interrupts and is here more real than any thought or feeling I was having. More real than the room I’m in. I know it’s not me ‘having’ these thoughts, there’s a difference between me thinking about this stuff and experiencing him like this. Him for those months and him later for those years, all bound together with abusive therapists.

Every single one of those athletes somehow has to deal with this, in some way or another. They, along with their friends, lovers, families, communities all have been diminished. The athletes who came forward, who spoke out alone, have done it so hard. We do those things, so indifferently, blandly held in ‘move on’, or ‘put it behind’, until it isn’t. Until we’re reminded and remember it all again.

Last thing. I wanna be really clear on this: everyone knew. Everyone knew way back. Just like everyone knew about my abuser. And wasn’t like no one was speaking about it.

All strength and love to those gymnasts and athletes and dancers who are having an especially tough day of it today.

Gallery

Give Me Rafaela Moreno’s Race Suit

Yeah, I binged Fast & Furious Spy Racers: Rio. Of course I did. And fuck me if Rafaela Moreno’s race suit isn’t the motorsport I live for. Very much want. Very much wish I could serve Femme Hoonage Realness like that and very much love her thrashing Group C cars around Rio. And Avrielle Corti voicing her? 👩🏼‍🍳😙👌🏼💯

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Maximum Hoonage Nürburgring

Still a better German Ring story than Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

Yes, I did buy a Nürburgring t-shirt and hoodie. Yes, the hoodie Ring is reflective. Yes, there is a future where I will spend silly money to do laps on the Nordschleife. Preferably at night in the rain.

Ms. Monica Roberts

I have to get the emotional part out first. I just want to swear a lot. Around 1am last night finishing my day and heading to bed I saw Raquel Willis’ on Twitter saying Monica Roberts had died.

I’m just fucking gutted and pissed and angry and sad and hurting. And I don’t have words the way other people do who speak so eloquently of a loved one’s death.

Monica Roberts was one of the original bloggers, starting TransGriot way back in 2006, Transistahs-Transbrothas organisation in 2004, and keeping a record of and speaking for trans women and people being murdered. Even then she’d been active as a Black trans woman since the early-’90s and was a strong voice in the blogging community contributing to Pams’ House Blend, The Bilerco Project and other early sites, got on Twitter in 2009, and never stopped doing the hard work of proper trans representation and advocacy in cis space — Black trans representation and advocacy in white cis space.

I’ve been reading her that long, fourteen years at least, and she has been one of the very few constants in my online life and my trans life.

And I wanna say her love of Houston and NFL was always there and as much a part of her and important to her, and I can’t find a place for that so I’m sticking it here.

She was important to me because she was Black, because she was a Black trans woman. There were fuck all trans bloggers or writers or journalists back then, and even fewer of those visible trans people were anything other than white. It was way before 2014’s ‘Trans Tipping Point’ with Laverne Cox on the cover of Time, trans people — especially trans women, and especially Black or Brown trans women — were far from welcome in ‘LGBT’ spaces and pretty much didn’t exist in the cis world.

She was always there.

She did the work.

And like so many Black and Brown and Indigenous and migrant trans women and femmes, she faced unemployment poverty and homelessness.

Every young Black trans woman or femme who has a voice or visibility or presence in 2020 has that because she never stopped. All us older ones are here and seen because she never stopped. There is no speaking our trans history which does not recognise the monumental, tireless, ceaseless work she did.

I loved when she’d come no fucks given for some fool. Her Shut Up Fool Awards deserve a monument. I loved too when she named other trans people who brought racism and homophobia and even, yeah, transphobia along with general piss poor behaviour into the room, especially white trans women riding on their privilege. She never punched down but watching her maul someone who deserved it was as terrifying as it was hilarious.

Every photo I see of her with other trans people I see love and joy for them in her eyes. And every photo with trans women, again especially Black trans women and children, they are looking to her with love. She stepped hard for trans kids for decades and we all saw that.

She was a mother and a Mutha to so many, and an Auntie and a sister and Sistah. And now she joins our Ancestors.

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24 Hour Nürburgring COVID-19 2020 Finish

24 hours with no racing from before midnight till eight in the morning. So much rain. 15.452 seconds between the 1st place Bimmer and the 2nd place Audi.

Charlie Martin coming in 57th and 4th in class, and racing first and last sessions.

And how diligent and unremarkable was all the mask wearing? Maybe it’s because drivers and crews are used to wearing things over their faces, but doing a transmission replacement in the wet at midnight and keeping those noses and mouths covered shows how basic and possible it is to Wear a Fucking Mask. And as soon as the winning driver was out of his car, there was someone there with a mask.

It’s so much easier and less bullshit if the rule is you have to wear a mask at all times, no exceptions. Everyone did it, very few noses exposed, everyone did it and not just for the cameras. Maybe it took the race organisers setting the rules and consequences which achieved this level of getting it right. Drivers and teams have a very strict set of non-negotiable race rules to adhere to, making this just one more rule to either follow or not race at all. Very comfortable with doing it like this.

I truly love this race, love the Nürburgring and love that in the middle of a pandemic they did the work to create this gorgeous bit of hoonage art.

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Charlie Martin 24 Hour Nürburgring 2020

Seven hours in. Night and rain and hydroplaning and attrition. Giti ladies women Girls Only team shredding a sikk as VW Golf VI GTI. Bad weather Red Flag, all the cars garaged and crews stripping and cleaning.

And the two old Brit geezer commentators shoutout to Charlie Martin. I have never heard motorsport commentators saying, “trans woman.” Ever. Barely ever are there cis women drivers, and from Bubba Wallace in NASCAR to Lewis Hamilton in F1 barely ever seen Black drivers. They got her pronouns right, they used her middle name, Christina, also, just in case Charlie was too unisex for us hoons, they got the terminology and context down too.

Any dickhead saying this isn’t relevant / leave politics out of sport / something something meritocracy / what’s that got to do with racing, on God I will call them a waahmbulance once I’ve sorted their ‘opinions’ with my mechanic baba’s Snap-On tools.

I’ve always been a hoon and loved motorsport. I’m already old cunt auntie and Charlie racing at Nürburgring 24h, being respectfully spoken about by the commentators, all that, is so fucking important.

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24 Hour Nürburgring Safe Space

“… hollow-eyed victims of some sort of weird abuse”

My absolute favourite race. It could only be better if Le Mans Prototype cars were also racing. I genuinely, completely love this.

This year, thanks to the pandemic and Europe’s meh response, the race is in autumn, a couple of weeks after Le Mans 24h, and in heaps of rain. Heaps of rain. It’s going to be messy, dirty attrition.

And! Charlie Martin is racing! No. 242 BMW M240i. Yup, there’s a trans woman exactly right now shredding the ’Ring.

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Bike Rebuild Part 2

Looking very shiny.

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.

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Bike Rebuild Part 1

Remember when I was all, “You Know What You’re Doing, Eh, Frances?”? Back in late-April 2018? Apparently I enjoy the outer reaches of “know what I’m doing” where it turns into “what am I doing?”

My poor bike.

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.

CANYON ZCC eSports team Doing it Right(-er-ish)

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:

  • Gender:
    • Male
    • Female
    • Other

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. [edited] 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.