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.
The best sound is after the sharp right at Aremberg, under the bridge at the start of Fuchsröhre and all the way down to the bottom of the Nordschleife at Breidscheid, engines and turbos spooled up and redlining. Better than the long straight of Döttinger-Höhe. That corner is where the Nürburgring starts for me, into the forest and a tight, narrow winding road with no runoff that goes on and on. I feel the velocity and get buffeted by braking and acceleration just watching laps. And the racing. All that plus terrifying high-speed passes, weather that changes in five minutes and across the 24 kilometre track. My safe space is 250 km/h down the fox hole at 24 Hour Nürburgring.
I would have watched it all night, but like last year it got red-flagged. Fog and rain and not the kind of visibility for maximum hoonage. 24 hours turned into a 3–hour sprint. And the two commentators living their best bogan uncle selves. Something about Scandinavian Flick, keto diet, taking the apex with the shopping trolley, beer bottles at the back balancing out the weight, I don’t believe you were going to the fruit and veggies, it’s beer and chips for you, broken struts, broken steering racks, making the straight race line between spun–out Audi and Armco on slippery wet grass, cutting and shaving tread into slicks to make one last set of tires.
I love the sound and noise and velocity and can smell the engines and brake pads and metal and fluids and hear the ratchets and air guns and feel the crew lying on their backs contorting themselves into the machinery and the whole process of attrition, people and engineering being worn down over those long high-speed hours, this is art.
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.
Okay, 4th draft on top of whatever I was calling assembling it before it was drafts, and 18 months to get it to this. But done in the sense it goes start to finish and got heaps of pages (which is what makes it a novel yah?) and when I finished this read-through which I’ve been on since late last week, it felt … something sparked in my guts, like this, yeah, I wrote a novel. Brought some big offering into the universe. Alhamdulillah.
I ugly cried watching Veneno. Ug. Ly. Cried. Also laughed my guts out. Hissed — hisssssed!!! at Cristina’s mother and family and all the other cis cunts who fucked with her and straight up I would cut without a second thought.
When Pose came out, that was the first time since Paris is Burning I’d seen myself in some recognisable way, and known it was us in front and behind the camera. It was America though and similar worlds, yeah, but very different ones too.
Veneno though … this was real. Truth. Painful, angry, joyful, hilarious, terrifying, spiteful, sad, beautiful truth. I love seeing us on screen. Old us who did it hard, survived, loud and foul-mouthed and cackling. Young us who have so many more possibilities for lives without harshness and exile, yet still know those all the same. If we are trans, if we are trans femmes, trans women — transsexuals, transvestites, the old words you don’t use anymore and we grew up with — this is our life. This is our world.
That’d be me, Francesca d’Ath, and my toes, yesterday while biking to rehearsals.
Pandemic and very delayed sensible government response allowing, I’m performing at Sophiensaele next week. A double bill of two solos, the other with Claudia Tomasi, and both started with Isabelle Schad way back in January.
I don’t know if we’ll even get to perform next week, carrying on like we will, and it feels dead weird to be art-ing while shit goes exponential in Neukölln, Berlin, Germany, Europe … In case we don’t or if we do, here’s me looking well tasty.
And for everyone who saw that poster around Berlin-Mitte, yes, that is me, yes that person is trans femme and serving deep trans femme energy, and yes, even a glance at a poster of me will turn your children trans.