MOLLY CAMERON IS ONE TOUGH LADY. During cyclocross race season she wakes up at 7 am, gets in a four- or five-hour ride daily, and then spends her weekends flying to compete in 'cross races around the country. Oh yeah, and in her free time she runs two Portland businesses.
To make it all the more difficult, Cameron competes in the men's division. Though she's always been tough, ever since she was born a man, she hasn't been your typical lady.
In 2008, Cameron flew to Europe to battle the elites in the cyclocross world cup. The American racers, as usual, got whupped.
"I definitely felt like I was a little girl getting beat up by a bunch of strong dudes," says Cameron, a 33-year-old whose cherubic blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and silver lip ring contrast her lean muscles. "I'm probably the only trans racer to ever be in the world cup."
Cameron moved to Portland and started racing in 2002, but before that she was (in chronological order): an Air Force brat from Texas, a skateboarder, a punk drummer in East Coast hardcore bands, a riot grrl, a San Francisco punk on food stamps who got fired from Kinko's for giving thousands of free copies to political groups and exploiting the company van to drive to good napping spots, a bike mechanic, messenger, and finally, owner of unfortunately named bicycle courier company Steel Monkey.
During most of those years, whether as a copy clerk or drummer for Yaphet Kotto, something hadn't clicked.
"I just thought I was queer, but I didn't know what the fuck was going on. I'd play these shows with, like, Bikini Kill and feel like, 'This is where I belong.'"
But by the time she moved to Portland, fresh from San Francisco's supportive queer scene and intimidating bike scene, she was Molly Cameron. And she couldn't get a job.
Her resume spurned by every bike store in town, Cameron scrounged together $1,000 to open her own tiny repair place on NE MLK. Six years later, Cameron's Veloshop has downtown digs and three employees. "When I first started the shop, it was about living, about paying the rent. But then I got obsessed," says Cameron.
Her gender didn't seem like that big of a deal when she started racing locally, perhaps because she wasn't very good. But when she had been around Portland for a year and started placing first in women's races, the complaints started.
"I was up at the Mount Tabor race, signing up for women's, and some older lady got up in my face, shouting, 'You're not a fucking woman!'" says Cameron. "I got some shitty emails, I lost some friendships. I'm not one to ram my politics down someone's throat, but I wanted to race my fuckin' bike! I was just some poor punk kid who wanted to race my bike and I was not stoked on racing with the men. I was just gonna do my typical, 'I'm gonna do whatever I want' thing."
Not surprisingly, the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association (OBRA), the group that oversees competitive bike racing in the state, did not know quite what to do with Cameron. They're more focused on enforcing rules about multiple finishes than multiple genders. Eventually, after the controversy did not fade, OBRA consulted international racing groups and came up with a policy: If a male cyclist has gender-reassignment surgery, he can race in his new gender's category.
Though Cameron had been taking female hormones for years, she didn't want her decision to get gender surgery to be based entirely on racing rules. That's a much more complicated choice that she's still working through.
In the meantime, she's gotta race like a man. A man whose blood courses with estrogen.
That hasn't stopped her from making good, though. Her top race rankings snagged sponsorship from Shimano, Chris King, and Castelli.
"When I was first racing, I was just thinking, 'Don't fuck up.' But now I'm pretty analytical when I ride." Her training secret is simple: Ride a course as often as you can before you race it. Oh, and kick ass.
Just inside the door of her Northeast Portland bike-fitting shop, Portland Bicycle Studio, is a stack of glossy baseball-card-like handouts that 'cross racers call "hero cards." Instead of a photo of her face, above Cameron's name on the card is a representation of her as a friendly, blonde-haired purple dolphin holding a bike wheel. The dolphin has a lip ring.
Cameron says when she races, her mind is clear.
"Most trans women don't want shit to do with the world. You get so much shit just for going out your door. I'm so privileged to live in Portland, where I can do what I love."More Bike Issue articles here!