The Gender Candy Store: Biking While Genderqueer

Note: This article is outdated.
There is a lot of language I use that I cringe at now. I regret implying that trans people “used to be” the other gender (guess what: they always were, but no one knew yet), that genderqueerdom isn’t somewhere on the transgender spectrum, a failure to differentiate agender/nonbinary genderqueerdom from my “all the gender!” personal views, and a million other things. Our language for, and understanding of, gender issues evolves so rapidly. I hope my sincere wish that everyone who reads this article today can forgive these mistakes and still get some value from my writing.
-The Author, over a year later

Cupcake
Photo by John Morrison

Today, we’re going to talk about gender and how it relates to our identities as a cyclists. More importantly, we’re going to talk about how to live a punk-as-fuck genderqueer awesome life unfettered by bullshit roles and yes-or-no binaries that leave no wiggle room for experimentation. This is a pretty long read for Tiny Fix, so kick off your high heels or combat boots and settle in.

An Introduction to Genderqueerdom

Cupcake
Photo by John Morrison

I get great, great joy from being all hair-did-nails-did minidress + heels and then racing someone in the bike lane and killin’ em. BECAUSE WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THAT THEN, HUH, GENDER NORMS?
-Tiny Giant Nadarine

This article is going to assume you know the difference between gender, sex, and sexuality. If you don’t, there’s an amazing primer here on Scarleteen.

Your gender (how you present yourself to the world) is not necessarily the same as your sex (the male/female assignation you were given at birth) is not the same as your sexuality (whether you are attracted to men, women, or both).

Traditionally, these are all supposed to line up. You’re born a boy with a wee little dong, you grow up into a manly man, you marry a women. Or you’re born a girl, and woof, you got a raw deal because (James Brown voice) it’s a maaaaaaaaaan’s world.

Genderqueerdom is one word for when you don’t feel like your gender/sex/sexuality line up, and rather than pathologizing it, you rock out like a gender outlaw superstar.

Genderqueerdom is sometimes confused with Gender Dysphoria. Gender Dysphoria is the strong, unshakable feeling that you were assigned the wrong gender at birth, and people who have these feelings identify as transgender. To live the life they were meant to be living and deserve, they may choose to change their entire life to correspond with the gender they identify with. This may or may not include a name change, taking hormones, and sex reassignment surgery. Trans people may choose to identify as genderqueer, and in fact many of my genderqueer heroes are trans. But not all people who are genderqueer are trans.

I am not a boy, not a girl, I am not gay, not straight, I am not a drag queen, not a transsexual – I am just me, Jackie.
-Jackie Curtis, Warhol Superstar

It is also important to remember that the gender someone identifies most strongly with may not be cut-and-dry male or female. They may identify as agender, or gender neutral. Some cultures have defined third gender roles where women live the lives of men (for example, Albania’s sworn virgins), or men live the lives of women (such as the Navaho nádleehé or South Asian hijra). There is movement internationally, though sadly not in the United States, to legally recognize a third neutral gender. It is a designation that exists and deserves to be respected.

Portrait of the Bike Kid as a Young Boygirl


Sadie Hawkins 2011 Photo Courtesy Tiny Fixer KC

I skewed masculine. I wanted to be one of the guys much more than being Daddy’s Little Girl. It was then that I took pride in putting my chain on my bike, getting as messy as possible while doing it. It was then that speed and endurance and absolutely never looking weak mattered most to me.
-Tiny Fix Member Lauren

I got a big dick swagger to me. I sit with my knees too wide. One of my favorite activities is listening to punk rock, drinking cheap beer, and performing bike maintenance squatting on my kitchen’s dirty linoleum.

I’ve wanted to be one of the boys forever, and sometimes I feel like I am one. I have boy days. I don’t flash friendly smiles, I don’t show off my jigglier body parts. I throw on a loose Cadence t-shirt and some cut off jean shorts that need a laundering, I get drunk on malt liquor half-sleeping in the sun in Humboldt Park, I jerk off to porn & take a blunt nap, I wake up and go to the bar and sneak in the men’s restroom because why do girls always take so long to pee, anyway?

I have my girl days, too, where I watch Earth Girls Are Easy and do my nails and sing elaborate parodies of 1960s girl group ballads to my dog. I mean, twenty percent of my wardrobe comes from the Target Little Girls section, and I read Japanese fashion magazines for teenage girls in the bathroom obsessively. I even had the cutest Hello Kitty Kawaii Town of all time.

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For a while I thought having both these sides to myself made me sort of a traitor to my “true” self. It turns out my true self is half dirty bike punk and half adorable tiny girl. And I’m fucking awesome.

Issues with Gender Binary and the Gender Spectrum

Bike girl nails
Photo of cupcake nails destroyed by bike repair by Tiny Fixer Kaz

I feel conflicted about labeling traits or activities as “masculine/boyish” or “feminine/girlish”, yet I find myself doing it on the regular anyway. Even though there’s nothing *inherently* masculine about working with your hands and knowing how to do mechanical things – I can learn how to install a new brake cable or adjust a derailleur just as well as a dude can – it still feels like a dude thing to do.

-Tiny Fix Founder Kaz

Is it problematic to think of fixing bikes as dude behavior? It’s something any girl can do, and there’s plenty of expert female bike mechanics out there.

The alternative to thinking of gender as a binary is generally presented as a spectrum. There’s a lot of things to like about this model; it shows that you can be anywhere along a continuum from masculine to feminine.

But I’m still not sure I like the idea that behaviors, clothing, mere trappings and routines can be labeled “male” or “female.” I feel like it alienates people who choose to identify as “other,” in some way. And it’s selling women short to say that something they are perfectly capable of doing is a “male” activity, just as labeling some activities as “female” stigmatizes the men who choose to do them.

I’m not arguing that we all move to some painfully politically correct commune and wear androgynous grey clothing and refer to each other by “comrade” and “zhir.” There is masculine and feminine energy in the world; that electricity that runs through you when you open a jar of pickles on the first try, or when you look in the mirror and feel pretty. I’m not arguing against that. What I’m arguing against is the idea that that energy is innate and intractable. I believe masculine and feminine energy is experienced by everyone.

There’s incredible diversity out there. It’s my favorite thing about the human race. There are people out there who were born intersex, or who were born with a brain that doesn’t match the sex of their body, people who choose to present themselves androgynously and fuck you very much if you want to know if they’re a boy or a girl. When we try to fit every person into a specific little blue or pink box, it discriminates against everyone who can never possibly fit in those little boxes, and everyone who doesn’t even want to.

The Gender Candy Store

Half Sleeve

Gender binaries and conditioning are utter crap. Gender is vast and performative and fuck prescriptivity and perform gender however the hell you want.
- Tiny Giant Nadarine

Traditional gender binary roles treat life like a giant segregated toy store. There are blue aisles, but instead of being filled with cap guns, little firefighter helmets, green army men, and building sets, they’re filled with caring a lot about college basketball, working in the tech industry, and three piece suits.

On the other side of the store, there are pink aisles, and instead of being filled with toy kitchen sets, princess costumes, and baby dolls, they’re filled with having long pretty hair, raising babies, and wearing high heels.

If you come into the toy store, and you were born with a penis and assigned male at birth, you’re supposed to go assemble your life out of behaviors, roles, and occupations from the blue aisles. If you were assigned female at birth, well, I hope you like changing diapers and wearing dresses. There are a lot of people in the toy store who will give you the stinkeye if you make choices that don’t fit the expectations they have for you.

But seriously? Fuck those people. All the coolest people in the world roll their eyes at gender norms. Check David Bowie strutting in his glitter, Prince fucking his guitar resplendent in purple velvet. Jenny Shimuzu becoming a model after being a tattooed car mechanic. Genesis P. Orridge, still transgressing boundaries and pushing the limits of conceptual art at age 63. Mx Justin V Bond performing cabaret in prim vintage glasses and strawberry blonde hair swirled into an updo.

Gender isn’t a toy store lined with pink and blue aisles. It’s a candy store, a free for all, a sugar-fueled shopping spree. Anything your heart can desire is free for the taking!

Baby, do what you want, just know what you’re doing. As long as you don’t force your will and your way on anybody else, live your life, because ain’t nobody sanctified and holy.
– Jackie Shane, 1960s Toronto Drag Queen & Singer

Maybe you want to change your name to Knuckles Firestone, buy a motorcycle, cover yourself in flaming skeleton tattoos, and ride your hog to knitting conventions on the weekends.

Maybe you want to wear a lumberjack flannel over a frothy pink taffeta dress. Maybe you wake up on your birthday one year and decide that this is the year you come out to your family as trans.

You can be a perfect little girly girl for your entire childhood and live your adulthood as a bookish androgynous playwright with Tilda Swinton hair. You can be dreamboat hunk of masculine muscle who loves angora sweaters and Downton Abbey. You can be a het boy who loves it in the ass.

THIS IS YOUR LIFE. Live it exactly as you want to. Rob that fucking candy store blind, eat yourself sick, gorge yourself on the gorgeous options the universe offers us. Don’t let haters appoint themselves the gender police and control your life. No one controls your life except you.

How Does This Relate to Biking, Though?

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Biking doesn’t make me feel more like a “girl” or more like a “boy”; it often makes me feel stronger and more bad-ass and proud of myself. And I really truly don’t believe that has a sex attached to it.
-Tiny Giant Nadarine

There’s an episode of Roseanne where her daughter Darlene is throwing away all her sports equipment because she’s a girl. Roseanne plucks her beloved baseball glove out of the trash, and tells her “These are girl’s things, Darlene, as long as a girl is using them.”

That’s exactly how I feel about my bike. It’s not a girl thing or a boy thing. My bike is mine. That’s it.

I don’t need to, like, fill a Pinterest board with photos of tall bikes drawn in latte foam and ethereal model-looking girls with skinny pins posing with vintage Peugeots just because I’m a girl. I don’t need to go on cupcake rides or learn to bike with heels. But if I wanted to? I could. Because you can relate to biking however you want.

Biking makes me feel powerful, and yes, masculine. When I’m changing a tube downtown in the pouring rain, wrench gripped in my greasy knuckles, my dick feels a million miles long. Wearing dirty bike tights and jorts and rain jackets all winter makes me feel like one of the messenger boys since we’re all in the exact same outfit.

But that doesn’t mean I’m ok with biking being a boys club.

How to Challenge Gender Binary Culture

image.jpeg
Kiwi showing off his whip and his painted nails

For the longest time, I had to prove my “manhood” by hiding my emotions (with anger as an exception), displaying physical acts of violence, and objectifying women. Even biking scenes turn into places where manhood is qualified on how fast and hard someone can go.

I think that men in particular have to create spaces where it is okay to question these norms, and to create new norms that allow for some of that healing and transformation.
-Kiwi Illafonte, Oakland School Health Educator/Coordinator by day, Rapper by night

“But what can I do, Cupcake?” you ask, your eyes shining from below their false eyelashes and holographic glitter shadow. “How do I destroy the patriarchy, fuck gender binaries, and make the world a wonderland of tolerance for all gender expressions?”

Call Out the Haters

These guys at the all-male bike cooperative I joined in 2009 prided themselves on being many things—activists, feminists, punks, anarchists—so I felt that it would be a safe space. Once it was time for me to host my first alleycat, though, and I witnessed overt and subtle sexism in action, ready to block my decision-making from all sides, I realized how much of a boys club the world of bikes really can be. Especially if it goes unchecked (which it often does).
-Tiny Fix Member Lauren

This can be one of the hardest things, because it’s not like I hang out with pearl-clutching moms who won’t let their son be a princess for Halloween, or fedora-wearing Men’s Rights Advocates. My friends are all pretty rad and I love them, even when they’re being dumb. Which is why it’s so important to try to educate people when they:

  • mock someone’s masculinity for dressing stylishly, displaying emotion, knitting, sewing, or baking
  • make sexist and gendered blanket statements (unless it’s “Girls Love Beyonce,” because Drake can do no wrong in our eyes, and we do love Beyonce)
  • use outdated/inaccurate/hateful words like he-she, transvestite (which means a straight man who derives sexual pleasure from wearing women’s clothing, NOT someone who presents/lives as a women), sissy, and other transphobic/homophobic slurs I don’t really even want to type
  • use the incorrect pronoun (especially the dehumanizing “it”) or name for a mutual friend who is trans

Kiwi is familiar with this process from his work coordinating an after school program for young inner city men. “If one were to install a hidden voice recorder in the high school I work at, the end result would be a symphony of homophobic and sexist language normalized in everyday conversation,” he says. “Part of my work is turning those into teachable moments, where we question where those terms and that behavior come from, why they’re fucked up, who benefits and at whose expense, and how we can go from enablers of oppression to participants in change. And despite all the pressures surrounding them, these young folks are always willing to dig deep and think critically, and hella down to be advocates and leaders.”

It’s also important to check yourself, constantly. One thing I’ve been checking myself on is my relentless curiousity about people’s gender. I spend so much time online, and so many people are just a name and a tiny picture and often anonymous, and there’s this big AHA!!! moment when I find out someone is a man or a woman or used to be a man and is now a woman or vice versa, and every time I feel weirded out and wonder why I placed so much importance on that. I also question my possible internalized sexism: do I feel that womens’ words are less valuable than a man’s?

If you meet someone who does not clearly fit into one box or the other, our brains are trained to try to figure out what gender to assign them. Think of the childhood taunt: “What are you, anyway, a boy or a girl?” Take a deep breath and ask yourself, why does it matter? Are you planning to treat them differently if they’re a boy, or a girl, or somewhere in between? You can ask someone what name they like to be called and what pronouns they prefer, but someone’s assigned gender-at-birth, life story, and any ways they may or may not have modified their body are none of your fucking business.

Create Safe Places for All Gender Expressions

As one of the organizers for the P.O.K.E.R Ride (People of Kolor Everyday Ridin’) in Oakland, I specifically place an emphasis on making it a safe space for women and queer/trans* folks, explicitly stating on our invites that sexism and heterosexism won’t be tolerated.
-Kiwi Illafonte, Oakland School Health Educator/Coordinator by day, Rapper by night

A big part of why Tiny Fix exists is that we were sick of alleycats that were impossible to complete unless you were a messenger. We were sick of bikes that didn’t fit us. We were sick of bike shop employees trying to sell us townie cruisers and of bike parties full of fools hollering “Where the white women at?”

So we created an alternative. Bros can have their bro spaces, but Tiny Fix events will always be inclusive of everyone. That’s why we have options in all our races to do a shorter, points-based race — so that people of all skill levels can participate. We make a concentrated effort to reach out to people outside of the sometimes-insular bike community. And we will absolutely not stand for discrimination, sexism, sexual harassment, gay-bashing, or transphobia at our events. If you fuck with someone when Tiny Fix is around, kindly prepare to have an extremely angry troop of tiny feminists kick seven shades of shit out of you.

Rock On With Your Bad Self

I live the life I love and I love the life I live. I hope you’ll do the same. The mean things people say about you can’t make you feel bad, because Jackie can’t miss a friend that I’ve never had.
– Jackie Shane, 1960s Toronto Drag Queen & Singer

Lead by example, boo. There’s a reason so much Rapha comes in pink. Biking is for gender rebels and outliers, people who roll their eyes at society’s rules and make up their own. Do your thing, and Tiny Fix will be there cheering for you at the finish line.

11 comments

  1. Dave Stanford

    I also came across this gender in comedy story today that I thought was interesting.

  2. Charles Herrick

    vintage Jim Morrison
    ” Father yes son I want to kiiilll You
    Mother I want to ……..

    “What have they done to the Earth
    What have they done to Our fair Sister ????
    Ravaged and plundered
    Ripped her and bit her
    ……TIED her with fences
    and
    dragged
    her
    down” from When the musics over

    ” Caligula wished a single neck for all his subjects so that he could behead a kingdom” with a single blow” from Notes on Vision from the UCLA days or daze.
    Morrison as a environmentalist ?
    Morrison as a feminist ???
    Before Angela Davis was I might add.

    Diversity is good but the Romans did “Divide and conquer” and I think multinational corporations are pushing PC, “multiculturalism” to some degree to undermine worker solidarity and pursue their own Fascist agenda. There is a flip side to every coin. Hate is the flip side of love.

    Morrison became estranged from his bandmates after they tried to sell Light My Fire to Buick. They did sell out. Automobiles are bicyclist’s greatest enemy.
    Morrison called himself an “erotic politician”.
    ” Arms of chains…eyes of lies”
    ” Prefer a feast of friends to the giant family”
    ” Beast car locked in against morning”
    ” Her cunt gripped me like a large friendly hand”
    “Weird scenes inside the gold mines
    Ride the Kings Highway
    Ride the Highway West…Baby
    The West is the Best”
    ” You are all a bunch of fucking slaves ” Miami March 1969

    “Cancel my subscription
    to the res–erection
    Send my credentials
    to the house of detention”

    “Penetrate the evening that the city sleeps to hide” from Moonlight Drive

  3. *Jenny Shimizu (spelling)

  4. In my opinion “remixing” traditionally “masculine
    and “feminine” activities and styles as part of some sort of self-expression doesn’t constitute much of a progressive deviance. Remixing in such a way and treating gender as a “spectrum” still affirms the patriarchal, hierarchical notion of gender roles; taking pleasure in making traditionally identified and traditionally thinking human beings feel weird still doesn’t address why they feel weird in the first place. To me, a male wearing nail paint and showing it off or a female fixing a bike doesn’t subvert shit. “Yes, I’m a male by traditional biological standards; yes, I wear a dress sometimes. Probrem lol?” It’s nice and all; I’m male and have worn a dress in a non-drag way (just because it looked damn good on me), it was great. I don’t take that act and see myself as a revolutionary because of it.

    “There is masculine and feminine energy in the world; that electricity that runs through you when you open a jar of pickles on the first try, or when you look in the mirror and feel pretty.”

    I disagree, and Emily Kane with her book The Gender Trap (along with all other social constructionist feminists) likely would as well: masculine and feminine are entirely arbitrary categories, and ascription to fundamental forces (“energy”?) is the exact thing that reinforces the binary and in turn the inequality and privilege between men, women, and everyone else. The world isn’t a blue and pink candy store, not because it’s actually multi-colored, but because people care so god damn much about the color of their candy in the first place.

    The word gender comes from “genre”; no matter how gender is framed, it’s still making up “types” of people where they have to fuss over what pronouns people use for them or they get offended. Why get so offended? Why is it insulting to be perceived as in the “wrong” arbitrary, socially constructed category? It’s like a religion, like a Christian being called a Muslim. It’s an obsession with self-identification and labels, like calling yourself “a conservative” or “a vegetarian”. By doing such a thing you get to hang out and be friends with people who call themselves the same thing. That doesn’t mean it’s not unhealthy. Traditional masculinity has been shown to be unhealthy by academic study.

    • thank you, simon. replace “genderqueer” with “trendy,” and the article reads the same. it is an extreme point of privilege to CHOOSE to define oneself a “genderqueer.” for most of us, it was something thrust upon us with bullying in grade school and followed by decades of being mistaken for the wrong gender. this is really offensive.

    • Yeah, like… why the fuck is it ‘masculine energy’ when I feel good about myself because I did some handy shit around the house? Why is that kind of physical accomplishment masculine? Total horseshit.

    • Not sure if you’re talking about my quote or not, (that’s me saying that working on my bike feels like a dude thing to do even though there’s nothing inherently masculine about it) but in case you are, there was a much larger context to that quote. Which is to say, I totally agree that there’s nothing inherently masculine about doing physical things. YET we are raised in a patriarchal society that says it is and labels it as such, so even though I hate that I feel that way and check myself when I find myself saying or doing things to perpetuate it, I do still have those moments of feeling dudely when my hands are covered in bike dirt and grease. I’m not proud of it, but it happens and for me, talking about it and admitting it helps me be more conscious of it so I can fight against it.

  5. Lorena Cupcake

    I have no idea how people willfully choosing their own identity is offensive. The teasing/mocking you recieved in grade school is exactly what this article is speaking out against.

    Choosing your personal identity is not “privilege.” It is free, an act that takes place inside your own head. If you choose to let the asshole in your third grade class continue to define your identity as an adult, don’t try to pin that on me.

    • It sounds like you misunderstood my point.
      The privilege i was speaking of was the idea of a a cis-gendered woman identifying as genderqueer based on activities and dress. Defining activities and clothing based on gender reeks of the post-war definition of femininity Betty Friedan so artfully critiqued 50 years ago in The Feminine Mystique. If participating in male-dominated activities makes one genderqueer, then every woman I know is genderqueer. That quite simply negates the term.

      I am quite happily androgynous and genderqueer. I love who I am. Being genderqueer, I am regularly referred to as the opposite gender because the world does not see me as one who appears as a gender it is familiar with. I am who I am, and it’s who I’ve always been. I simply get frustrated when my community becomes co-opted by those outside the community who thought it looked cool when Mykki Blanco did it.

      I hope you’ll continue to have these conversations and be open to the criticism of those within the communities you have chosen to speak for.

    • Lorena Cupcake

      Mary; two things real quick. First, I’m really glad you followed up with more explanation, because I totally get where you’re coming from now in a way that was not clear to me from your first comment. Second, I’m sorry my last reply to you was kind of nasty; I got a lot of criticism from this article that seemed to assume bad faith on my part, and it was hurtful, and it caused me to overreact to one or two people trying to discuss their objections with me. Not cool. Apologies.

      I’m genuinely curious; what does it take for me to be authentically genderqueer and not someone co-opting your community? How is it so easy to take one look at someone at decide they’re faking it for attention?

      I am aware I am incredibly privileged, that my life is ~so~ much easier because I am generally perceived/addressed as female, and that matches the identity I am comfortable with, and I generally fit within the guidelines for appearance for females. I will most likely not be subject to the same levels of public scrutiny, harassment, discrimination, and violence as (for example) a transwoman will often be exposed to in her lifetime.

      Still, I was nicknamed Little Mexican Boy for years in high school. I have been asked if I’m a boy or a girl. I have been followed out to the parking lot by security after being kicked out a woman’s restroom. I have laid awake at night wondering if I was meant to be born male. I have despaired that my slightness makes “passing” as male impossible* and learned to accept and make the best of my female body, that it doesn’t define my identity. I have been catcalled while presenting as male. This is not the Oppression Olympics, I don’t think any of this is that extraordinary. That’s the sad thing; I think it’s incredibly, incredibly common.

      Why am I not allowed to speak about my experiences? Why am I not allowed to identify as genderqueer? Is my hair too long? Have I dated too many men? I am genuinely curious. Who gets entrance to your community, and who is barred, and who’s in charge of that?

      I personally believe that the more people who stand up and say “Hi, I’m gender variant to some degree, fuck the binary,” the better the world will be. And I’m not going to sweep my identity under the rug because a few self-appointed gatekeepers have set up YOU MUST BE *THIS* GENDERQUEER TO ENTER signs at the entrance of the carnival and don’t think I measure up.

      I do have regrets about this article, and one of them is the focus on clothing and activities. Please understand I was trying to write a fun, easy to understand article for a lighthearted bike blog for an audience who mostly doesn’t think about these issues a lot. This is not my Gender Studies thesis, and I didn’t go to college at all, actually, and I’m genuinely sorry it wasn’t academic and nuanced enough. You’ve got to give me credit on the fact that it was well-intentioned and that I tried the best I could, though. I understand that when you’ve spent a lifetime being dogged, it’s very easy to take offense when someone says something you disagree with, and to lump them in the same group as the haters. However, I think we’re fundamentally on the same side.

      *for the record, I don’t think it should matter whether you “pass” or not, that everyone deserves to be treated with respect, with their wishes on how they like to be addressed and privacy regarding their past respected

    • Lorena Cupcake

      One last thing I thought about while walking home drunk: I have taken the critiques, from you and other people that this article seems like it is speaking for all genderqueer people and doing a shitty job of it, to heart. If I could do it over again there’d be a big THIS IS NOT THE END ALL BE ALL OF GENDERQUEERDOM, THIS IS JUST SOME STUFF THAT ONE SINGLE PERSON (ME) WHO CONSIDERS THEMSELVES GENDERQUEER (BUT IS NOT THAT EDUCATED OR ELOQUENT) THINKS ABOUT disclaimer. I was not trying to take away anyone’s voice; I was just trying to add my own, imperfect as it may be.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Today’s Headlines | Streetsblog Chicago - [...] A Treatise on Cycling and “The Gender Candy Store” (Tiny Fix) [...]
  2. Genderqueer is a candy store | EQCA Blog - [...] of Chicago, and started TinyFix, an open and affirming bike collective that welcomes everyone. In Biking While Genderqueer, she …

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