Emily Bridges: Why I've made a documentary about my transgender journey

Transgender cyclist Emily Bridges has opened up to ITV about her journey, competing at an elite level and social media backlash.

Following the airing of documentary Race To Be Me, cyclist Emily Bridges explains why she agreed to help make a documentary about her life and her hopes as a trans female elite athlete. 

I’m Emily Bridges. I’m a sister, a daughter, a partner, a friend, an athlete, and a person. I’d ridden my bike pretty well in the past and I wanted to again. After falling back in love with cycling, I set the goal of riding for Wales in the Commonwealth Games.

However, because I’m trans, things are obviously different. When we started filming the ITV Wales programme Race To Be Me in the spring of 2021, we thought we knew what lay ahead of us. I wanted to chronicle my journey as I aimed for the Games and show it was possible. But, sadly, that was not a story we could tell.

I’m writing this the day after the Colorado Springs attack in which five people were killed in an attack on an LGBTQ bar in the American city, and I truly have no words for how horrified and terrified I am. It is no coincidence that an attack like this has come after a recent uptick in anti-queer and especially anti-trans rhetoric.

Two trans people were among the victims of this attack, and their deaths are directly related to dehumanisation and demonisation of trans people in the media, online, and in debates such as those about sports. This is what queer people are facing in 2022. Our basic human rights are being debated over so-called “valid concerns'' leading to radicalisation and attacks.

I’ve had death threats and threats of violence against me for being visible this year, and I know far too many people who’ve had the same. This isn’t about sport for me, it’s so much more and trying to fight in the way I can and know how to. Sport is being used as a proxy to hate and attack queer people. Enough is enough. 

At the start of this year, I’d been training pretty well in the lead-up to qualification. There were a few bumps in the road, but all in all I was feeling pretty good about my form. I was feeling the best I had since starting HRT, and I was doing a lot of work for mass start races specifically as this was the only way to qualify.

I seemed to be having good dialogue with the UCI around my eligibility, and I was looking forward to starting to race again. British Cycling had asked me to attend power and track testing to inform a selection for a Nations Cup, once my eligibility had been confirmed under the rules at the time. Things were looking good, and I was looking forward to getting racing again. 

I did have a reasonable amount of anxiety around starting competition, I was aware of how the trans swimmer Lia Thomas was being treated in America, and I recognised the potential for things to progress the same way. We took precautions to ensure the safety of myself and the other competitors in my first event, although we were hopeful of things being quiet.

I never got to race, and my dream of racing for Wales this year died.

Up until a week and a half before there was nothing about me racing. A few people on Twitter then posted that I would become eligible to compete and a newspaper article reported on my potential participation in the Commonwealth Games. It then came out that I was entered into the National Omnium - a qualifying competition. 

The story then took on a life of its own. We had journalists at our doorstep multiple days in a row, which is really strange to experience and made me feel really paranoid and scared. I was feeling pretty bad about racing, and I was feeling awful on the bike in the lead-up. However, I never got to race, and my dream of racing for Wales this year died. 

Unsurprisingly, the eligibility guidelines changed in the summer, meaning I wasn’t going to be able to race this year. Even if the rules stayed the same, I really don’t know how I would have felt about racing this year. I’ve honestly been pretty broken by everything that’s happened this year and have a lot to work on. 

I was heartbroken. I’ve felt a much deeper connection to being Welsh since transitioning and losing the opportunity to represent my country really hurt. I remember being at Pride Cymru this summer and Bronwen Lewis was performing on the main stage. She sings in Welsh and when her final medley went from 'Sospan fach' into 'Yma o hyd', I cried. It's a song that’s been personal to me for a while, and I know how much it means in Welsh identity. Hearing so many people singing in Welsh, being unapologetically queer, was so overwhelming and perfect. It means so much to me, because Wales, the Welsh language and culture are still here, despite everything, it’s still here. So am I. I felt hiraeth at Pride, this is what our great country can and should be, and whenever I hear Welsh singing, especially that song, it means so much to me. 

In every article I write, I’m asked if I think it’s fair for me to race with other women. Realistically, this conversation is going to happen until the end of time. There’s a lot of nuance and complexity in everything, there’s so much variety in humanity and the trans population isn’t any different.

Trans people are incredibly self-aware, we’re hyper-attentive in the way we act, look, are perceived and how our bodies feel. We feel our bodies changing and there’s a clear physical difference between being on hormones and before HRT. But this is not just a feeling, my data across transition will be published soon, and I believe it will show that I haven’t got any unfair advantage and that I’m not going to dominate women's sports anytime soon. 

Every athlete wants fairness in our sport, or as close as we can come to it. We want the same opportunity as our competitors to succeed so that the best person wins on the day. Likewise, fans want to think that their person or team has a chance of success; domination is boring and the whole appeal of sport for fans is the fight and entertainment between competitors.

Trans people don’t want anything different. We want it to be that the best athlete succeeds; with different people fighting to succeed and having an equal chance to prevail. In cycling, this can be the strongest or fastest, but it’s often the most skilled, tactically astute or the rider with the best team. Multiple studies are being done currently, on actual trans athletes adhering to the rules, which show the validity of the regulations. These studies use actual measures of sporting performance, not just easy proxies like hand grip strength or lean body mass which can be unreliable predictors for sporting performance. 

Trans people don’t want anything different.

But realistically, sport never has been or will be completely, 100% fair. Whether we are talking about the fact that tall women will almost always be better at basketball, or that women from poorer countries have fewer resources to work with than women from richer countries, or that men get more coverage and better funding than women, there are plenty of discussions to be had about what fairness in sport really looks like. 

Fellow female athletes, I understand your concerns over fairness. If you’re being told that biological males are coming into your sports and taking away your medals, then it’s perfectly natural to want to fight this. There seems to be an effort at the moment to portray trans women as men who want to infiltrate women's sports for personal gain.

But, I am not a man, and I hope this documentary shows that trans women and cis women have so many similarities, be they hormonal, physical and in a sporting context, or in the way we face the same fights for much of our existence, and experience sexism in similar ways. All we as trans athletes deserve are the same opportunities, and the same level playing field as everyone else.

Race to be Me has been a snapshot of some of the key moments in my life over the past year and a half. It was conceived to humanise what was going to become a highly discussed and debated story, and I hoped that it could also inspire and show young queer people that there is a place for them in sport. It’s documented some of the key moments of the past 18 months, and I hope it can help shed some light around what’s really happened. 

Life is different for me now. This year has had a profound impact on me. I'm really trying to keep my head above water and not let everything consume me, but it’s really, really hard to stay afloat. I’m 21, but this year has aged me beyond that. It’s ripped so many things away from me, I've been left feeling betrayed, discarded, and less than human.

No one should have to go through this. But I’m still here. Despite all this, I’m still here. I somehow got through the spring with my mental health relatively intact, and somehow, despite everything, this has been the best year of my life. I’ve started racing in small scale events again, in the correct category, with amazing people. I haven’t dominated, or come close to anything like that. It’s kept cycling alive for me, that inclusive community that I wish road and track cycling was and should strive to be.

I’ve grown so much closer with my family.

I’ve met so many of my amazing trans siblings, and known their joy and pain in life. I’ve laughed the hardest in my life and cried more than I ever thought possible. I’ve felt the kaleidoscope of human emotion and have grown so much as a person. I’m taking the steps to process what happened this spring, and slowly reach the other side. I’ve grown so much closer with my family and I'm so honoured and overjoyed to have the best people in my life. Cycling is slowly coming back into my life, but I'm very much at the start of that journey at the moment. 

To my trans siblings: you are so loved, so valuable and have so much to give. I’m so proud of you, wherever you are in your journey, and you have more strength than you’ll ever know. I know how terrified you are at the moment, I am too, but you have to know that this will pass and things will get better. 

Er gwaetha pawb a phopeth. Ry'n ni yma o hyd.

You can watch Race To Be Me at 9:30pm on Tuesday, November 29 on ITV Cymru Wales.