06 October 2017

I Am Happy To Pass My Wrench To Them

Yesterday I "outed" myself in the Women's Studies class I teach.

Now, I am guessing that a couple of students knew that I'm transgender because they're on the "rainbow" themselves.  And, I suspect one or two others might've known because they Googled my name and found that I indeed published and did all sorts of other things under my old name and identity.  And, perhaps, one or two might've guessed just because, well, they've seen enough different kinds of people: They're in New York, after all.

I told the students about my history because this week's readings, discussions and writing assignment were about the different kinds of feminism.  I joked that the class was going to be the Baskin Robbins of the women's movement, as we read about Black, Lesbian separatist, Asian and other kinds of feminism, as well as the ways in which feminism intersects with other areas such as the Civil Rights movement and Disability studies.

Oh, and they read a bit about where transgenders and feminism.  That, of course, was my "segue" into "outing" myself.

I will soon find out what sort of an effect that has on the class dynamic, and the students themselves.  But I told them, toward the end of class, that because I am transgender and started to live as a woman in my mid-40s, I have a different perspective on feminism--and on being a woman--from what others might have.

After that class, I couldn't help but to think about some aspects of my life as a male:  my education, my work history, the ways I related (or didn't) to family members and peers and, of course my cycling.  Though I knew a few active female cyclists--I dated one and rode with others, some of whom were members of clubs or groups with whom I rode--I wondered how much of a cyclist I'd have been, or would be now, had I lived as female all of those years.

And, of course, I wonder whether I would have worked as a bike mechanic.  In the years I did that work--on and off from the mid-1970s until the early 1990s--I never saw a female mechanic.  Oh, I saw women who worked in shops, but they always did sales or customer service.  One of those women was a partner (in a strictly business sense) in one of the shops in which I worked; another owned, along with her husband, another shop for which I fixed bikes.  In fact, it wasn't until my brief stint of fixing Citibikes four years ago, just after the share program started, that I actually worked alongside another female bike mechanic.  They, and I, were Recycle-A-Bicycle volunteers recruited for the task.

Those other female mechanics are considerably younger than I am.  I couldn't help but to wonder whether they would have learned how to fix bikes had they not volunteered for RAB--or whether they would have even been in RAB had they been part of my generation.  And, of course, I wonder whether I would have ever learned how to fix bicycles, let alone work in a shop, had I lived my teens and twenties as male.

At that time, there almost certainly wouldn't have been anything like the scholarships Quality Bicycle Products (QBP) is offering, along with other sponsors, for women to attend the two-week Professional Repair and Shop Operations class at the United Bicycle Institute.  "It's no secret that women have been historically underrepresented in cycling," says Kaitlin Johnson, QBP's Director of the Women's Mechanic Scholarship Program.  "Scholarship recipients gain a wealth of knowledge that helps them serve their communities better and helps them create a more inclusive environment," she added.

Previous scholarship recipients

In 2018, this scholarship is being offered for the fifth year.  Recipients must be able to attend the 29 January-9 February or 15-26 October classes in 2018.  Their scholarships will pay for the full tuition as well as lodging at UBI's Ashland, Oregon campus.  Recipients will also receive a small stipend upon completion of the class to help offset meal and travel expenses.

Oh, and scholarship applicants must be "women, trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming or intersex U.S. residents who are currently employed at a bike shop in the U.S.," according to QBP.  That sounds like something that would help Ms. Johnson's stated objective of "inclusion".  

Most important, it gives people like me--or, at least, younger versions of me who "might have been"--opportunities that I might not have had.  I am glad for that.


  1. My father bought me my first bike, well he gave me a pile of antique rusty bike and said If I wanted a bike I had better fix it... I fixed bikes up for my two sisters who would not even pump tyres.

    Not sure that anyone could do more than pay the rent from a bike mechanic's wage back in the day for boy or girl. My bike shop guru said I was mad when I suggested trying to earn a living from bikes, I really wanted to build frames...

  2. The best bike mechanic i ever knew is a woman. K- was the manager for the shop i came to work for in the early 70's. She was an outstanding wheelbuilder and could work miracles with a wrench. She taught me most of what i know about bike maintenance.
    K- had been a high caliber racer and put up with the extreme sexism of A.B.L.of A. officials ("If you were my daughter, you wouldn't be out there" was a refrain she often heard,) and sometimes physical attacks when riding in men's events.(At the time the women's fields were often too small to have their own races and were sometimes "allowed" to race with the guys.) She bore scarred elbow from being knocked down by men who believed she didn't belong in "their" event.
    K- had a hard time being taken seriously by many of our customers and i occasionally overheard other shop owners opining about her femininity or her "orientation." i can understand that even today the low number of women in the industry in general, given the attitude of too many of the men in the field. There are signs that this is changing- especially in larger cities- but it's been a long time coming.

  3. Coline--Trust me, I know it's hard to make a living as a bike mechanic. But for some, it's a gateway to owning a shop or getting into the bike industry in other ways. Also, I think that if there are more female mechanics, shops--and the cycling world--will be friendlier to women.

    Mike--Sometimes I'm ashamed when I think of how I talked to, and otherwise treated, female customers when I worked in shops. I could say I was a creature of my environment, but still....

    Did you know that for many years, Schwinn Paramounts were built by two female brazers?