Fixed Gear Crit

Evelyn Sifton: Fighting for transgender rights in sports

Transgender awareness week in North America just ended yesterday, a perfect timing to talk to Evelyn Sifton, a trans-athlete and transgender woman, racing for the Canadian Aerosaur team. She competed as one of the first transgender athletes at Red Hook Crit in Milano and is keen to race the full season next year. We wanted to know more about her experiences at Red Hook Criterium Milano no.8, which situations she had to face being a trans-athlete, her thoughts on the fixed crit scene, and changes that can be made towards a more inclusive culture.
Text by: Hagen
Photos by: Tornanti.ccMichael Bowley

Photo by Michael Bowley

Hagen: Red Hook Crit Milano No. 8 was your first Red Hook. How did you end up racing this super fast fixed gear crit and how did you like the race and event in general?

This was my first season racing fixed gear crits. A friend of mine started a fixed gear cycling team here in Ottawa last summer and convinced me to join.  The team is called Aerosaur, like Aero-dinosaur, I thought it was pretty cheeky, and it sounded like a good time.  At the time I was training for Ironman Tremblant, and triathlon was my focus. I did the crit with the intention of just sort of trying it out. This race was the first of The Toonie Crit series in Montreal.  And after fighting it out with some very talented riders, and getting lapped by RHC #2 Raphael Lemieux, I was hooked. One thing led to another, and I dropped out of Ironman, gave up my spot at the XTerra cross-tri world championships and Red Hook became my goal.

The race itself was an incredible experience.  I made a few mistakes as I was completely taken aback by the atmosphere of riding in a race with so many other strong riders and so many loud fans cheering us on.  I can’t even begin to describe how excited I am for next year.

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Hagen: You have been a triathlete before. Tell us a bit about your sports career. It seems quite a few triathletes transfer to fixed crit racing for different reasons, what made you switch?

Evelyn: I started Triathlon (and cycling really) in my first summer of University. I had been an athlete in highschool playing rep volleyball where I competed at nationals. It was actually my first-year roommate’s idea to take up triathlon.  I didn’t even own a bike. So I bought myself my first road bike.  A cheap little aluminium Raleigh with Shimano Sora components.  I ended up keeping and upgrading that bike for five years. The next year I joined the University of Ottawa Triathlon Club and raced with them on the collegiate circuit for four years. Also starting to compete in Ironman 70.3 events.

After I had raced that first Crit a coworker of mine who followed me on Strava, came up to me and asked: “are you injured or something?” Obviously, I was confused and asked him what he meant. “Because you are a really strong cyclist, but your running is really slow”. A little light bulb went off in my head.  Between this blunt opinion and my new found love of racing in Montreal’s crit scene, I had made my mind up. I would focus on fixed gear crit.

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Hagen: You’re also an ambassador and so to say out trans-athlete. This is something pretty rare so far in the crit scene.How welcoming is the crit scene to trans people in your opinion? Are there any different experiences compared to other sports you competed in?

Evelyn: The crit scene has been incredible. I remember telling our team director Mike on our drive to my first race, “what if I podium and someone takes issue with it?” Well, I did podium, and standing on that podium Raph (Lemieux) took my hand and raised it with hers and our other competitors. I stepped down, and people I had never met congratulated me, I made friends.

Part of what sparked this fear was the discrimination I faced competing in triathlon after coming out as trans. I had racers telling me that if I beat them, it was because I was “cheating” and nothing I could tell them would change their mind. Unfortunately, triathlon is an expensive sport, and with that comes an older, more conservative crowd. So yeah it was definitely hard. I remember showing up for my first triathlon since changing my gender; the organisers gave me the “men’s start” swim cap. After I had realised their mistake, I had to embarrassingly and painfully, walk back to the registration tent and remind them that I was a woman. That sucked.

Red Hook Milan brought back those fears. I was going alone, without my team, and really only knowing a few riders I had met throughout the year. I’m fortunate enough to live in Canada a country where transgender rights are enshrined in our constitution. This was my first time leaving the country since I had transitioned. Of course, all my fears were again wrong. I was treated with nothing but respect by my competitors, organisers, and spectators alike.

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Hagen: I have been talking with different people about trans, gender non conforming (gnc), queer, etc. categories for various events some already put it into action, like CMWC 2017 in Montreal. Do you wish for trans-categories at fixed gear crits or would you rather keep racing in the women-field?

Evelyn: Personally, I wouldn’t compete in these categories because trans-athletes have spent the last decade fighting for our right to compete (fairly) in the category that matches our gender identity. For me, that means racing women’s.  However, I think it’s a good idea. Under the current WADA/IOC rules trans women are not allowed to compete in the women’s category unless our testosterone level has been below a specified threshold for at least one year. This left me with a year where I was kind of stuck not really being able to compete in either category. I couldn’t compete with the men because I was actively fighting muscle atrophy so during that time I would have probably taken advantage of an “open” category.

However, the category could be hard to regulate in an event like fixed gear crits as there, unfortunately, would be advantages for certain groups. But if someone could figure out a way to balance such a division then why not?!

Photo by Michael Bowley

Hagen: What would make fixed gear crits like the Red Hook (more) inclusive and accessible in your opinion?Do you see the responsible rather on the side of the organiser or the people attending?

Evelyn: There are 2 things that come to mind in making events like Red Hook more inclusive. The first would be an official policy on trans and non-binary competitors. (currently, or at least from my research there is not an official statement from the organisers on rules aside from adherence to WADA rules).

The 2nd would be to collaborate with an organisation such as You Can Play, which advocates for LGBTQ+ participation in sports and encourages allies within sport.

At the moment the onus is on the athlete to prove our eligibility to compete as our assigned gender. Unfortunately, until we find a better way to keep sports fair I don’t see that changing in the near future.