WTF and “the cyclist:” dialogue about identity and definitions

Welcome to Bike Blogversation #1!

I am very excited to be ‘versating with Laura Kling, organizer for Grease Rag Ride and Wrench in the Twin Cities.

Laura and I have known each other for a while, working on various bike events. I deeply respect her knowledge and opinions on bicycling in urban spaces. She also keeps me grounded when I lost track of reality in the ivory tower.

Recently Laura and I partook in a small group conversation about a bicycle burlesque show (!!!) that is slated for March 2012 in Minneapolis. During this conversation I noticed that, although Laura and I fight the same good fight (more urban space for all bodies on bikes!), our opinions on how to fight seem fairly divergent. And so, I thought it would be a grand idea to flush out some of our opinions in the blogosphere in hopes of generating an even bigger conversation. At the least, it is a great excuse to write about bikes!

This ‘versation is loosely based on women and bicycling. More accurately it’s about WTFs and bicycling. WTF stands for women, trans, and femme people. Fun acronym and totally utilitarian!


Low: Thanks for the nice introduction, Mel!  To say a little bit more about me… I am a ciswoman that learned how to ride a bike in St. Paul, MN in 2006, moving to Minneapolis in 2007.  I enjoy biking, and I do it whenever I can, although I’m not afraid to use the bus, and I sometimes even walk places.  But I never run.  (Unless someone is chasing me.)  I’ve been involved with the Grease Rag in one way or another since July, 2009, although at times it seems like I’ve been doing it my whole life.

I think this is a cool way to continue the dialogue we’ve been having over the past few years, and Mel has come up with some challenging topics.  I have to say that I am a little nervous to have my opinions put down in digital print, but for the sake of encouraging more discussion about these issues, even if they vehemently disagree with me, I am game.  I’m just nervous because my opinions change so much over time and according to my experiences… let’s just say one of the many reasons I couldn’t be a politician is because I would be outed as a flip-flopper!


Mel: Oh yeah, maybe I should say a bit more about me, too! I am a ciswoman that has been biking since I could walk (I seriously do not remember a time not biking). I moved to Minneapolis from Milwaukee in 2009. I am still humbled by the bicycle infrastructure we have here (hopefully we can discuss that soon, too!).

As for our blogversation::first off, while we are on the topic of identity, I recall a phone conversation we had about using the term “woman” vs. “female” specifically in a media text about bicyclists (but of course this conversation has much broader implications).  At that point I was convinced using “female” was a more inclusive term for identity, but you argued “woman” was. Can you elaborate a bit on that?


Low:  Semantics!  I struggle with the best language to use ALL of the time.  The hardest thing about writing the Grease Rag mission statement was to figure out how to be inclusive of all of the people we were making GR for, while at the same time being exclusive of the privileged population that makes up the majority of the bike community, whom I will refer to as “dudes.”  

How in the heck do you invite woman-/ female-identified, masculine-identified transgender, gender variant, queer, …? cyclists to an event, while telling dudes they are not welcome, without listing and categorizing people’s identities?  That’s exactly what we didn’t want to do.

What we came up with, WTF- women/ trans/ femme, isn’t perfect, but it’s vague enough so that people that want to come can, and it’s obvious enough that dudes should know it is not their place.

recently read “…the basic axiom: power conceals itself from those who possess it. And the corollary is that privilege is revealed more clearly to those who don’t have it.”  So maybe instead of WTF, we really mean to invite people that see privilege all around them and feel left out of the club.


I think female refers to sex/ biology, and woman refers to gender.  I think I tried to convince you to use “woman” because I feel like it is the more fluid and inclusive of the two terms.  That’s probably dependent on the situation though.

What are your thoughts, Mel?


Mel: You have convinced me many times over! Two thoughts hearing what you are saying here. 1. Why CAN’T we just say, “Dudes, don’t show up, everyone else show up.” I know they would get all whiny and sad about this supposed “reverse sexism” (which I do not think exists), but seriously—they need to be put in their place. And I bet they would want a definition of what a “dude” is because they cannot see their privilege. 2. I LOVE the understanding of power and privilege you quoted! It is so true. And to be clear—yes, many women have a lot of privilege that they cannot see (myself included).

Ok, one more identity question to ask you because I know it is going to come up anyway. During our burlesque conversation you produced a very firm definition of what you think a “cyclist” is. Can you explain that?


Low:  What is a cyclist?  Everyone is going to have their own definition, everyone is going to put people they meet on one side of the cyclist/ non-cyclist line according to how they themselves define it.  I generally feel a cyclist is anyone that rides a bike.  Yes, anyone!  If I were to be forced to differentiate between a “cyclist” and a “person that rides a bike,” I guess I could narrow that down a little.  For me, being a cyclist means awareness.  Being aware of the infrastructure’s limitations and amenities.  Being aware of your place in the traffic system, including bikes, cars and peds.  Being aware of your skills and limitations.  Being aware of how your movements affect other road users.  Does that sound incredibly vague??  I think I mean that awareness of your surroundings lends to safety and being safe makes cycling sustainable.  When you are riding with safety and cooperation in mind, chances are less that you’re going to have a collision, wreck your bike, hurt yourself or someone else… meaning you get to ride another day.

How do you define “cyclist”?

Are there reasons why people would choose not to self-identify as a “cyclist,” and how do you identify?


Mel: I am going to leave those last questions for anyone to answer. Chime in! We would really love more people involved in this burgeoning conversation!

Next up:: look forward to a discussion on strategies to get WTFs onto bicycles—and keeping them there! 


4 thoughts on “WTF and “the cyclist:” dialogue about identity and definitions

  1. Pingback: Bike Blogversation #1 | Grease Rag Ride & Wrench

  2. I’ve been thinking about the definition of “cyclist,” too, and I agree that it’s anyone who rides a bike… I sometimes add once a year or more. I started thinking about it when I realized that I identify a “driver.” (I don’t have a car, drive only a few times a year, and mostly to visit my parents who live in greater Minnesota on holidays.)

    Let me clarify – if someone walks up to me and says, “Who are you?” I would NEVER say, “I’m a driver” the way I’d say, “I love to ride my bike, and am totally into bike advocacy.” However, if someone came up to me and said, “Are you a driver?” I’d say, “Yes… although…”

    That means a bunch of other stuff. It means I understand that car infrastructure – roads, freeways, stop lights, on-street parking and parking lots – are something I sometimes use and I value that they exist.

    And, as a bike advocate, I hope someday that the definition of “cyclist” will be as broadly applied as I apply “driver,” so that vast numbers of people see the benefit of cycling infrastructure in a way that is analogous to how I see the benefit of car infrastructure.

  3. I’ve found that I rarely use the term cyclist. I like your inclusive definition of the term, Low, but that’s not always the image that first enters my mind. No matter how much I would like cyclist to mean “anyone that rides a bike,” I still can’t get rid of that picture of a forty year old white male in spandex out on a bike trail on a Saturday afternoon. Does anybody else still fight that image when hearing the term cyclist?

    I hear “biker” being used frequently (although more often by people that do not use a bike regularly). While there are a lot of issues with this term as well, it feels more inclusive to me. It doesn’t create one stereotypical image in my mind. I don’t picture any one gender, style of clothing, or type of riding (i.e. urban transportation, recreation).

    Is there a better word than either of these?

  4. Pingback: WTF is a WTF ride? – no bad lines

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