Two weeks ago, I wrote "The Unbearable Whiteness of Cycling." In it, I discussed some of the possible reasons why the current "bike boom" is largely a Caucasian phenomenon. A major factor is the images of cyclists portrayed in advertising and the media in general: Nearly everyone astride a two-wheeler is white.
And young, unless the cyclist in question is a celebrity--in which case, said cyclist probably looks younger than he or she is .
And easily idenitifiable as male or female: There is little or no gender amibiguity or "queerness" among cyclists shown in promos.
And thin, especially if the cyclist is female.
That last issue is the subject of a new video, "All Bodies on Bikes," directed by Zeppelin Zeerip, Its stars, Kailey Korhauser and Marlee Blonskey, remind us of a basic fact: "To be a cyclist, you just have to be a person riding a bike."
As I watched this video, I was showing it to two other people: My early-childhood self and the person I was early in my gender-affirmation (what I used to call my gender-transition) process. Before I started running, wrestling, playing soccer and riding long distances, I was a fat kid. And, when I embarked on my journey from life as a man called Nick to a woman named Justine, I wondered whether I'd have to give up cycling. I even raised that question to my social worker, a transgender man, and my therapist, a heterosexual cisgender woman--who, as it turned out, were cyclists themselves, though "not like you," as both told me.
I now realize that those fears showed how I'd internalized the images of cyclists I'd encountered, and how they were reinforced by my experiences: Until fairly late in my life as Nick, nearly all of the cyclists I knew were white and male, and if any were at all overweight, it was by only a few pounds.
My social worker and therapist used my question about cycling to re-pose (Is that a word?) another question to me: How did I envision myself? When I identify myself as female, how do I see that? That, of course, is a question any therapist or social worker poses to anyone who believes he or she may be transgender, because it's fundamental: Are you seeing yourself as Angelina Jolie or Jennifer Lopez (icons of the time when I embarked on my process ) or as the housewife or single mother you see in the market--or as your own mother, or someone else?
Although I've lost some weight and have been told I'm looking good, nobody will mistake my body for Christy Turlington's or Rihanna's. Part of that is, of course, genetics and my body structure: As I mentioned in my earlier post, I probably never will be smaller than a size 10. That is true of many other women, including many who, at least to my eye, are quite beautiful.
So, the issue of body shape is not just one of dress size (a sexist measurement). It's also one of biology, class--and race. Members of some ethnic groups, such as natives of American Samoa (which produces National Football League players far out of proportion to its population), are just naturally bigger than other people.
This question of what a cyclist should look like is an example of what Kimberle Crenshaw defined as "intersectionality." For the most part, what we've seen in advertising and the rest of the media shows us that cyclists are supposed to be young, thin and white--and, by extension, of a certain social and economic class. If we are to truly gain acceptance from larger society (and less hostility from motorists), the imagery of cycling has to be more inclusive. "All Bodies on Bikes" is one step in that direction.