Note: I don’t know who took that featured image of Jackie, but it’s great and I want to know.
I’ve always believed that bike polo is, and has the chance to be, a model for other sports when it comes to how we address players who do not live by what our culture as a whole deems “traditional”. I use that word in full knowledge of how backwards it is, but it’s exactly how a good portion of America and indeed the world approach people who have identified in a way that isn’t the same way as the majority.
Bike polo, however, having formed up not so long ago, didn’t need to have the baggage of sports that were either separated by gender (or, hell, skin color), and also didn’t need to carry the testosterone-take-all mentality of other sports–not that we are clear of that, though.
When I came up with the desire to do this article, I was horrified. Not because of the topic, but because of the people I knew I needed to interview. Jackie and Bobbi are institutions in our sport–at least to me. Both represent players who are deeply involved in bike polo and who I deeply respect.
Th being said, I was also horrified of offending these two by saying something horribly wrong or insensitive. Being
a PA boy in Lancaster doesn’t necessarily afford me much exposure to all the lifestyles that people have someone who hasn’t gone out of their way to better understand transgender people, I knew that there was a high likelihood that I’d put my foot in my mouth unintentionally and offend either of these ladies.
Still, I reached out to them both, and they both were quite willing to be interviewed. Below you’ll find the answers to my questions that both Jackie (J) and Bobbi (B) provided:
Bike polo is, despite attempts otherwise, a very heterosexual white male dominated sport. Why do you choose to be part of it?
(J) I do my best to stay competitive, but what I ultimately get from it is a momentary break from the rest of the world, in which I face many hurdles, get harassed, etc.. I choose to be part of bike polo because it’s a place where — despite the lack of diversity — I feel comfortable and safe.
(B) I like bike polo for the bikes and the polo. I started playing as a commuter looking for more bike orientated activities to do and polo fit the bill.
Were you both self-identified as transgender before you started playing?
(J) My first foray into polo was in 2009 in NYC. I played there for a few months before moving to Philadelphia. It was at some point while I was in Philly that I started to question what has been going on with my gender and why I felt the way I did, which I couldn’t explain at the time. I wasn’t out then, but as I moved back to NYC I began figuring things out, meeting other trans people, and started the process of coming out.
Most of the veterans of NYC bike polo didn’t really remember me since I had only come out a handful of times before moving, but that worked to my benefit since I could introduce myself to them and everyone else the way I now identify, with my preferred pronouns (she/her/hers) and name.
(B) I started playing when still presenting as male, even to myself.
Bobbi, you just recently came out (this year, in fact)–how has the response been to that declaration in your bike polo community?
Bike polo has been nothing if not supportive about my coming out as trans. Seriously, I got far more polo friends wishing me support and letting me know they are around if I need it than any other group in my life. I didn’t notice any polo people that unfriended me from FB. I’ve found the girls I know in polo have been super supportive and I may have fielded a request for LA once or twice already.
On the other side of that, Jackie, you’ve been playing for quite a while longer while identified as transgender. How do people approach you on that? Does it come up often or do people just not talk about it?
Although I’ve always had a lot of anxiety as to how people might react, I’ve found that pretty much everyone has been super respectful and supportive. I was got really worried before registering for LA6, but after talking to the (amazing) organizers about it felt more confident. They said something like “You identify as a woman, and it’s a women’s only tournament – I don’t see what the problem is.” And that was that, it wasn’t brought up again, it just was what it was. I really appreciate that I’m accepted for who I am and don’t constantly need to have discussions about it. At the end of the day, I just want to be out there playing polo like everyone else, not thinking about my gender all the time.
Is bike polo a safe place for you, or do you feel like your fighting for a place?
(B) I think that since there is generally a deficit, and not a surplus, of players for pickup, there is this prevailing ‘Well take anyone who is interested’ feeling to polo clubs (As long as they are not a dick). Bike polo does feel like a safe space, even if we do it in not the safest places literally. While I may go to ‘sketchy’ parts of towns with not-great reputations, I do feel safe as long as I am with polo people. Even those I’m not on great terms with on court I know will back me up in the streets if ever any trouble arose, period. When I first started playing, I noticed women played and were active in the club.
What are some things that bike polo players can do to be more welcoming to the transgender community at large–or any minority community, for that matter?
(J) I think that calling people out when they say things that could make others feel uncomfortable is a very basic element to being an inclusive community. For example, when you’ve had friends who are survivors of rape, or who’ve died from AIDS, jokes about — as harmless as they may seem — can easily drive people away. Accountability is hard without a certain level of organization, so we all have to do our best to hold ourselves accountable for our behavior and language. As it relates to gender identities, that means not necessarily assuming a persons gender and could mean politely asking what their preferred pronouns are. Educating yourself about issues that relate to LGBTQ or other oppressed communities can also make a huge difference.
(B) Since trans people are just people like any other, do the same things you would do to make any new player feel welcome. Give em a beer or a smoke (if they partake), get to know them, encourage them, show them why you play. It can be easy to be overly sensitive but if someone is checking out polo, its for a reason. Sell them on the game.
Was there every a time you felt like it wasn’t worth it–that bike polo simply wasn’t a good place for you because of any passive or outright attacks on your identity?
(B) Whenever I lose, I feel like ‘fuck bike polo’ for a few minutes. Other than that, I haven’t really had any experiences that made me not want to play anymore. There have been a few heated games where some BS went down on court and sometimes pickup can get a bit intense, but it usually fades quickly. Being friendly and positive helps me to not stay mad and I think people reciprocate those feeling in general.
What are some things bike polo players should know about transgender players?
(J) Trans people are people first and foremost. It’s okay to ask questions, but just remember that whatever would be improper to ask of a cisgender person would be equally improper to ask a trans person. Also strive to educate yourself instead of making your trans teammate/friend/family member into your Trans101 teacher.
(B) See above, we’re just people like any others. We may have lived a bit differently than some, but that doesnt make us monsters. Respect goes a long way, like it does with anyone else. Call them what they want to be called, use whatever pronouns they want. Picture yourself in their shoes, what would you want to be called? How would you want people to refer to you?
Do you think the environment for transgender players is getting better or worse–both in bike polo and in sports in general?
(J) I think that the population is becoming more aware of us and our struggles thanks to media visibility like in “Orange Is The New Black” which features Lavern Cox, an outstanding black trans actress and activist. I think that awareness has the potential to carry over into bike polo. Sports in general has a long way to go it seems. Fallon Fox has received the support of MMA organizers, but many fans and commentators have shown themselves as ignorant and bigoted.
(B) I have to admit its getting better, a little better all the time (Thanks John Lennon). People are way way more aware of trans people than ever before. For me, its been the vast difference between anyone I know under 35’s reaction to me coming out and older folks. While the young people get what it means, the older generation seems a bit more confused and quick to disbelief than anything. I think bike polo is off to a strong start, since its a newer sport and inclusiveness is pretty well embraced. Again, I have had 0 problems with polo peeps thus far.
(J) I’ve started to organize a women & trans practice night here, and I think it’s important to make spaces that are safe and welcoming. There are numerous reasons why a woman or trans person might feel more comfortable in an intentional space like this – personal history or experiences with men, perceptions of excessive aggression in the sport, greater camaraderie among those of your own gender, etc. It can be a great learning experience if it’s open to women/trans people of all skill levels too, and may serve as a stepping stone into co-ed polo, or not. I could write a whole article about this, so I’ll just leave it at that.
(B) You rock Crusher, Jackie rocks, bike polo rocks, see y’all at the next tournament!