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Biking While Trans

The world is built around walkers and drivers. Being something in-between makes people uncomfortable.

July 17, 2017

Amanda Roman
lane splitting
Sam Cox

hen I was first learning to ride a bike, somewhere around age 8, I was told to never ride in the street. It’s too dangerous, everyone said. Stay on the sidewalk so you don’t get hit by a car! I followed this direction more or less faithfully throughout my childhood, and I remained safe from harm.

When I was first taking up bike commuting, somewhere around age 28, I was told to never ride on the sidewalk. It’s too dangerous, everyone said. Stay in the street so you don’t hit a pedestrian! I followed this direction more or less faithfully as a young adult, and I’ve managed to avoid colliding with innocent people.

I’ve almost gotten run over by cars a few times though.

I get yelled at while riding my bike. When I’m in the street, even if there’s a bike lane, drivers sometimes shout out their windows that I need to get off the road. If I venture onto the sidewalk to avoid traffic on a busy street, I’m given glares by the pedestrians and told to ride in the street! (With the other dangerous vehicles presumably.)

I try not to take it personally. The world is built around walkers and (especially) drivers — and being something in-between makes people uncomfortable. I just want to get where I need to go, and if I could do that without interfering with either group, I would. I just wish they’d first agree on where I should ride before telling me where I shouldn’t.

According to local laws, cyclists should ride in the street, on the shoulder if possible, and drivers should give us ample clearance. However, the law also states that cyclists should not impede the flow of traffic. So I ride in the street until someone gets upset about being impeded, then I retreat to the sidewalk where others can get upset about being put in danger. Unfortunately, nobody I encounter is interested in having a discussion about the law. They’d rather just yell at me.

It’s clear there is no correct place to ride. All anyone really wants is for me to just not be around them. They want me off their street or off their sidewalk, but they give no thought to where else I should go and whether I would disturb the people in that other place as well. My own comfort and safety is of even less concern.

Is it obvious yet that this is a metaphor about gendered spaces and trans people?

Whenever I see a heated discussion about bathroom laws or crisis centers or even just gendered social circles, it reminds me of the people who shout through their car windows. They’re yelling about their own safety even though I’m the one who’s exposed and vulnerable. They’re upset not because I’m breaking any laws or inconveniencing anybody, but simply because I’m existing in a space that was designed for them. They want people like me to go somewhere else, but rarely do they give any thought to where we should actually go.

We are treated as interlopers, not fellow members of society who have needs that must be accommodated.

I get the same impression when listening to town hall meetings about bike laws. Accommodations for riders are made grudgingly. Drivers don’t want us on their roads, and they also don’t want to build bike lanes. There’s an undercurrent of annoyance about the fact that we even need to have this conversation, as most people would rather we simply choose not to ride a bike in public areas.

With the debate around trans people, that undercurrent is often made explicit.

It’s clear the discussion is not about how to accommodate us, but whether we should even exist.

Is it any surprise the argument gets so heated?

Despite many of our lawmakers’ explicit or unspoken desires, cyclists and trans people are not going away. We need to have an honest discussion about how to incorporate us into society, not a shadow debate about whether our existence is acceptable.

And as with any political issue, while the debate is being held at a high level, the reality on the ground is much more practical. We ride and pee where we must, and we endure the consequences. Sometimes the outcome is tragic. It’s rare, but when it does happen, it’s nearly always the supposed intruder who actually suffers.

While the comfort and safety of the majority is being debated, the minority is being injured and killed on a regular basis.

Accommodations for people like me are needed in bike and bathroom laws, but to be honest, they really won’t affect my commute and shower tomorrow. I’ll still ride and pee wherever I feel most safe and will do the least harm.

For me, it’s not really about laws.

Sure, if I’m ever hit by a car or assaulted in the restroom, I want to know that society did everything it could to prevent that from happening. But more than that, I simply want everyone who is made uncomfortable by my presence to understand that I’m really not trying to invade their spaces.

I’m just trying to move through the world while doing the least harm — and without anyone yelling at me.

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