This is not a coming out story
Waking up in America means waking up to the same question every day: What the hell has he done now?
This question is usually followed by: Do I have the energy to process this? And (if I get this far) What can I do about it?
Honestly, I usually don’t make it to the last question. Sometimes, I even avoid the first. Sometimes I just want to wake-up, make my coffee, and get on with my day.
And I can. And that is privilege. And it’s a privilege that many American residents do not have.
Last Sunday I awoke to the New York Times article about the Trump administration’s proposed new definition of gender. When I read that “the new definition would essentially eradicate federal recognition of the estimated 1.4 million Americans who have opted to recognize themselves — surgically or otherwise — as a gender other than the one they were born into” (Benner, Green & Pear, 2018), coffee no longer felt like an adequate antidote for reality.
Fortunately (or not), I have a knack for compartmentalizing emotions. I took a breath, punched an imaginary orange pillow, reminded myself that I live in the glorious bubble that is the San Francisco Bay Area (again: privilege), and flipped on the coffee grinder.
My reward for a productive morning was an afternoon ride. I used to be fairly competitive, but it’d been a while since I’d busted out the spandex. Hammering north into the headwind and flying home with the southerly, I chuckled. Ah, Hwy 1 … some things never change.
And some things do.
Post-ride rituals: upload stats from watch, sync stats to app, shower, eat. I almost didn’t even think about it. I was surprised to see I had scored any QOMs at all. QOM stands for “Queen of the Mountain.” It’s a fun little title awarded by the app for the cyclist with the fastest time on a particular segment of road. QOMs aren’t new to me, but given my recent lack of saddle time, I credited these QOMs to the tailwind.
Wait. Queen of the Mountain … Shit.
Two weeks ago I started hormone replacement therapy. I’ve been quasi coming out for months but the process has been nothing shy of a constipated clusterfuck. Rather than make a grandiose announcement, I opted to let my transition ooze from my presence — physically and online. I was acting on the assumption that those familiar with transition (and therefore more likely to accept it?) would catch-on while those preferring their status-quo could remain unaffected by my existence for as long as they chose.
Honestly, it was a cowardly decision. I was clinging to the comfort granted to me by my privilege as a middle-class, white, and — previously identified as — cis woman for as long as I could.
But now, I was faced with a problem.
Could that small amount of testosterone I began injecting into my thigh on October 12th have affected my ride? Highly unlikely. If it influenced my performance at all, its effect was undoubtedly less than the wind that whisked me home at twice the speed it took to grind my way up to Pescadero. Furthermore, does it really matter? I mean, I’m not competing for a national title here. It’s an inconsequential reward on a primarily social app, likely to go unnoticed by everyone but me.
But it does matter. Why? Because, regardless of the dose and regardless of the time it has had to affect my body, that injection was effectively doping. As someone who plans to someday compete again (and who values integrity), that’s not okay.
There are only two ways around this.
Option 1: Don’t post rides … or race, or participate fully in activities I love. The politics of option 1 are: hide and live a stifled existence for fear of disclosing who I am. [#oldstory]
Option 2: Go into the app and switch my gender.
Do I want to be fully exposed for who I am? Well, sure. I guess. But I also have this innate human desire to feel safe and accepted. After last week’s news, I am reminded of how precarious that safety and acceptance can be. Losing it means losing the option of compartmentalizing the political climate around me “so I can get on with my day.” Losing it means losing privilege.
It means living in the uncomfortable awareness that the structure of our society is built on marginalization. Those whose race, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity (cis females included) has placed them outside the category of White Heterosexual Cis Male are continuously disadvantaged, abused, and threatened out of existence. If this does not fit your view of reality, it’s because your privilege shelters you from reality. [#sorrynotsorry]
To think I spent any amount of time fretting over the loss of QOMs on an app as a consequence of publicly owning my identity. Holy hella privilege, batperson. Granted, yes; I am at a significant athletic disadvantage. My hormones will not resemble those of a cis man for at least a year — if ever. As far as athletic performance goes, I’m currently — physically and hormonally — predominantly female. I’m still menstruating for goodness’s sake. I mean, really … right this very second. Behold the simultaneous rage of PMS intertwined with the angsty hormones of pubescent teenage boyhood. Bad time to piss me off, Trump. Just sayin’.
But rules are rules. And it’s only a sport.
In the past, I used athletics to ease the anxiety of dysphoria and to control my body the only way I knew how. Ultimately, I used athletics to avoid facing the truth about who I am. Some unearthly spirit is laughing at the poetry that now, my need to navigate my transition as an athlete is the very thing pushing me to man-up and own my identity. (And, yes; “man-up” is a horrific colloquialism supportive of the worst kind of toxic masculinity. Irony, people. Irony.)
But this is not a coming out story; it’s a bloody war cry.
If it weren’t for Sunday’s news, I may have found it easier to say, “Nah. Just avoid social media. Train for fun and fully disclose when you’re ready.” That would be comfortable.
The current landscape for non-cisgender folk in America, however, is far from comfortable. It has made me aware of privilege in a way I’ve never been aware before. I only paused to consider how comfortable my privilege is when the fear of losing it snarled at my fortress like a rabid elephant. I cannot forget that fear nor the advantages of its absence. To forget would be to forget my place in humanity. To forget would be to forget our past, my past, and the imperative to fight for our future.
As I transition into a person that may, by the assumptions of society, someday pass as male (and may someday gain the privileges therein), I must never discount the realities of marginalization, physical and emotional violence, and the possibility of being erased by society. I must never stop standing up for those who live in that fear every moment of their lives. I must never stop standing up for myself.
I am transgender. And I refuse to hide.
Please hear me when I say that the three words “have opted to” placed in an article that otherwise intends to be sympathetic are almost as hurtful as a government that claims I don’t exist. I can’t speak on behalf of all trans, gender non-conforming, and non-binary individuals, but for me, the suggestion that “I opted” for this makes me want to throw punches at more than a pillow.
I did not opt to wake up every day of my life, as far back as I can remember, with a relentless feeling that “something is not right.” I did not opt to be a slave to an ever changing checklist of tasks that my demons had me convinced I needed to accomplish in order to be okay. I did not opt to exhaust myself, throwing everything I had into the performance of a lifetime, fooling at times, even myself. I did not opt to reach the end of all I could do in a role that was dictated for me by the constructs of a society with a limited script.
If I could make myself comfortable as a cisgender woman, I sure as hell would have. The grief I have endured over “failing” at that task nearly cost me my life. The shame I felt over the suffering of loved ones as a result of my inability to fit the mold has brought me to the precipice of my will to exist countless times. And I have jumped. And I am indebted to the support systems that broke my fall and allow me to be here today. But I didn’t make the mold. And I can’t change who I am.
Extensive therapy, a brain-numbing concoction of pharmaceuticals, and the simple resolve to try a little harder: I did all of those things. In the end, they led to the simultaneous collapse of everything I was trying to be and the agonizing, terrifying, and beautiful recognition of everything I actually am. Finally, there was nowhere left to escape to and there was no going back. My options were:
Live as me.
I opted to live. And that wasn’t easy. To say my transition was an option is to say my life was an option. And I guess it was. But, to not recognize me as who I am is to not recognize my will and right to live.
So, friends, family, residents of America, well-meaning oblivious reporters, and ill-meaning idiotic politicians: see me. See us all. We are here and we will not be erased.
And, to the male-identified users of Strava: beware your KOMs. You can be darn sure — disadvantage or not — this dude is coming for them.