Here’s a little something I wrote a few months ago for the second edition of Kirsty Fife’s Hard Femme zine. You still need to get it because it’s full of compelling musings about her life as a broke, queer, fat, tough and feminine chick.
by Cynthia Rodríguez
You know how, once the clock and the calendar tell us it’s time to start afresh, people make ridiculously impossible or painful resolutions? Not spending a pound, losing a large amount of pounds, and end up spending a large amount of pounds and not losing a pound. Well, this year, I had a very clear resolution and I wasn’t going to rest until I accomplished it in 2013, 2014 or 2134: LEARNING HOW TO RIDE A BICYCLE.
Let’s jump back in time, shall we? Around the early 90s, you were all probably having bike adventures (bikeventures?) with your friends around the block, or enjoying exquisite holidays exploring the countryside away from your parents, or coming back from school with your gang on your two-wheeled beauties. Well, I wasn’t. I was clumsy, hyperactive, a chubby daydreamer. Because of this, my parents never let me ride a bicycle. When I was four years old, I won a nice mountain bike at the city’s most popular children’s TV show. It just rusted away in the laundry for twenty years until we had to bin it. I wasn’t made for it. My feet were made of butter, and my belly was in the way of my mere right to exist. So I wasn’t allowed to go on a bicycle or else I’d have an accident. Yet, somehow, my parents thought step aerobics were a perfect source of safe and clean fun for a primary school kid. Until I broke my ankle. Then, I had the word ‘CLUMSY’ tatooed on my forehead. That was it. Bye.
Later, I moved to Britain and noticed how everyone and their mums were commuting on their bicycles. Clumsy fat everyone and their clumsy fat mums on bikes. Bros wearing the whole gear, hairy librarians, high femmes on high heels, potheads, nans, children. And they flew like angels, defeating traffic and conglomerations, fast, free and – YES! – safe from harm. I wanted to be like them. I had to be like them. My butter feet were melting for them. My protuberant belly was jumping up and down with butterflies (or any non-Illuminati insect of your preference, say, bumblebees?) dancing inside. I had to do this. The time was now.
So, in 2013, I enquired about bicycle lessons. My city has a programme that offers free lessons to citizens of all ages and sizes. I joined one of those around March. It was a big group comprised of absolute beginners. Some of them, my mum’s age. Most of them, Women of Colour like me – although I’m Latina and many of them were Hindu and Gujarati. Yes, many of us were big and clumsy too! It was great to know I wasn’t the only one in the entire universe. But we got there. Together, we got there.
Our teachers were the Queens of Awesome. One of them, Maryam Amatullah, is the Local Cycling Hero in the entire Midlands. Not just Leicester, but including Birmingham, Worcester, Coventry, Derby and – our very own Shelbyville – Nottingham. She’s married with children, a hijabi Muslim, and a superstar on two wheels. She was the one who pushed me when I had my first cycling ‘steps’, and recorded me on video so I could flaunt it to my family. The other one, Priya Mistry, is one of my fashion and lifestyle rolemodels. A mix between M.I.A. and Haruko Haruhara from FLCL, bright orange hair, the most colourful outfits, and a very Mr. Miyagi approach to teaching. Thanks to her HARD unorthodox method, I can signal left and right. Also, if my stalking isn’t wrong (well, she used to stalk me on the way home to see if I was doing what I learned!), she’s also an actress and contemporary dancer. Queens, I tell you.
Within twelve weeks, not only did I learn how to ride a bicycle from scratch, but I could ride around the park, the neighbourhood, and across the city in roundabouts and rammed roads. Now I live and breathe cycling. I read books on the subject, get the occassional magazine, ogle at bike shops and keep wishlists on eBay and Amazon. I felt so much joy reading zines such as Hard Femme Bike Tour by Elokin and Pamela and On Being Hard Femme by Jackie Wang, knowing I was not alone in my obsession with cycling as a femme weirdo.
Do I wear leotards? Heck, no. Priya hates me for this, but I love cycling while wearing skirts. Mini-skirts, mid-skirts, dresses, floaty skirts, pencil skirts. I love it. It’s a really empowering way to assert my hard femme identity. I can like cute things AND tough things. I’m Barbie AND G.I. Jane. I’m fine getting dirty and still looking pretty. I can fall on shrubberies, on the road, flat on the handlebars, sideways, on my backpack like a turtle, and – the greatest discovery in my clumsy lifetime – stand up, get on the wheel and continue.
To be a skirt cyclist you need to be safe, of course. Get a skirt guard for your back wheel. Make your own with a mosquito net and some ribbons or something. If you rent bikes in London, they come already with a skirt guard because they know how sophisticated and/or whimsical you are. Or install a rack on your back wheel, clip a panier bag to and rock on, like I do. Not just safe for my frocks, but good for grocery shopping. Leggins are good if you want to prevent exposure and chub rub. Or wear bike shorts and cream. If you want to, go full blown Queen’s “Bicycle Race”.
If I can’t wear a skirt or I just feel like wearing trousers, I wear red lipstick. To keep the hard femme alive and for a bit of confidence. I want to reach a point where I’m aware that hard femme is in the heart and that I can look like a dog’s dinner and still feel safe and free. Maybe that will be my new year’s resolution for 2014? To embrace ugly cycling?
May you have a wonderful 2014 and may your beautiful resolutions come true!