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.