Philippa York hoping her story can help others

Philippa York

Philippa York (Image credit: Philippa York)

Philippa York has revealed more about her transition in a long interview with the Times newspaper, explaining how she hopes that her story may help others, especially in sport.

She revealed she is considering writing her story, describing it as "not your ordinary cycling autobiography."

York first publicly revealed her transition from Robert Millar during the summer, penning an emotional statement on Cyclingnews. She went on to commentate on the Tour de France for ITV 4 in Britain and recorded a podcast with Cyclingnews.

In a more recent BBC interview she admitted she suffered with gender dysphoria from a young age and revealed she would have sacrificed her success as Robert Millar in professional cycling to transition earlier.

However, her emotional ties to cycling remain strong. She attended the Rouleur Classic bike show at the weekend, where she was given a warm welcome by the public. Sharing her story publicly appears to have been cathartic.

"I never thought I would reach the point where I could come back to a cycling environment as I am now and be accepted and people be comfortable with that," she told the Times.

"I had abuse in the street during my transition, as if I was a threat to society. But it's changing. I hope it's not just a question of tolerance, it's acceptance."

York is not going to become a campaigner on LGBT issues, but recently offered advice to British Cycling and is setting up further conversations between the governing body and Stonewall, the LGBT campaigning charity. She hopes that her story may help others, not least in sport.

"A time came along when I thought, 'I'm either going to do nothing for the rest of my life or I am going to do something useful," York said. "With cycling progressing to a mainstream sport, it would make sense to sort itself out before it gets to the mess of football.

"No gay footballers? It's laughable. It's up to cycling to be at the forefront of those [equality] issues as it's been at the forefront of performance."

"When I rode there was that fear of being anything other than a straight white male. Anywhere on the gay spectrum would have been classed as a weakness in the sporting world. And any weakness, you get eaten. Everyone gangs up."

Two attempts

York explains she put her life as Robert Millar behind her and began to transition in 1999. As Millar she had moved to Europe in the late seventies and become a successful rider and one of the greatest riders Britain has ever produced; finishing second at the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a Espana and fourth at the 1984 Tour de France.

Millar was famously persevering but York reveals she suffered inner turmoil.

"There were times when I was close to falling apart," she admitted. "When you are taken to your physical and mental limits by cycling, you learn how strong you are. But if you are gender dysphoric, it's going to catch up with you at some point.

"I had times when I was in a very bad place. But who do I turn to? There's no internet to tell me where to go or what I'll have to deal with. Do you go to your mother, father? Are they going to be receptive?"

York began her transition in 1999 but admitted it took her two attempts, with the intrusion of the British tabloid press also affecting her. The tabloids invaded her privacy in 2000 and again in 2007.

"Everyone sees you have gone from one state to the other. They think you have just arrived at this happy person the other end, a fairly miserable male to a happy female. But in between is dreadful. Dreadful steps that affect everyone around you, challenging who they are, their sexuality, who they think their parents are. To see that on the people round about me was dreadful," York explained.

"I had two goes. Started then stopped. It took three and a half years. You aren't sure when you are going to stop because you can stop. It might be stuck between male and female if that's what makes someone happy.

"My daughter was 12 when she opened the door to the Daily Mail," York explained, still angry about the intrusion. "She carried the guilt of that until this year. She saw our lives disappear from reasonably normal. We had to move home. We didn't feel safe in our own environment. My medical history debated in a national newspaper? That's pretty terrible, pretty low. It took me five years, back on anti-depressants, to recover from that intrusion."

The 1992 doping conviction

The Times interview also delved into York's past as Robert Millar, asking about a doping conviction for testosterone at the 1992 Vuelta a Espana. At the time Millar was fined and given a three-month suspended ban.

York put her case into the context of the times, suggesting she was a victim of that era and of professional sport. At the time, Millar worked with well-known French doctor Francois Bellocq, who treated many riders and helped them with what he called 'Hormone Rebalancing' to redress the huge physical effort of racing as a professional.

"I was a rider of those times. How you present that is up to you. You lived by the culture of the people round about you. You lived by their morals. If they became your morals…" York told the Times.

"You are a victim in a way. A victim of a system that allows no way of informing anyone outside what was happening on the inside. A willing victim, I would say. When you want to do something that much you take the bad bits with the good bits."

York revealed that she told everything she knew to the Cycling Independent Reform Commission which investigated the historic extent of doping for the UCI.

"The doping wasn't what made the difference. If I was competitive, it wasn't because of the medical side, it was because I was good enough," York said.

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