spew: bikes, gender, and circular journeys

07/04/2012

I haven’t wanted to write much lately because I’ve felt closed up. This happens–it always does. And then I un-clam, so to speak, and it all comes running forth, a spew. There is a daily dialogue in my head that keeps turning around and around about gender and transition (esp. medical transition). What do I want, what do I want, what do I want. I keep thinking: there are so many different ways to be a woman, why can’t you just carve out a space for yourself there? Sometimes I feel like I can, but most times I feel like I can’t. Not satisfactorily. My confident space, my best space–is in my masculinity. I own my femininity, yes yes, yes yes, but it feels like I’m at a place where I want to keep my femininity closer to my chest (so to speak), and live in my masculinity more. I could be a shy, soft-spoken and reclining woman (always vaguely unhappy and gender dysphoric), or a proud, strong and smart outspoken boi/y. So I pick boi/y. Which for me means binding my chest (and probably later top surgery), possibly a low dose of hormones (tho I am scared of losing my ability to cry, and having to re-train my singing voice). I want my body to masculinize further, it feels good, feels right.

I’ve missed my fixed gear the last couple of weeks. I got a couple of flats in quick succession and didn’t bother to fix the second one, decided to ride my geared bike instead, work out its kinks before the trip. It’s strange, but my fixed gear feels like an essential part of how I cope with gender dysphoria. Riding fixed has literally altered the landscape of my body, and thus helped me feel more in myself.

There are other aspects I like, too, the sensation of working a machine that becomes more like an extension of my own body when I’m riding it. “the rider is but a ghost of the machine/cog teeth willing/speed and journey.” (from Velocipede) When well-tuned, my fix is nearly silent–even with fenders. There’s a joke that the captain (ex, the first of the many nigh-religious fixed gear enthusiasts I met, and the person who introduced me to bike camping) told me, that you can pick up a fixed gear bike, drop it (so the whole thing, tires and all, bounces off the concrete), and diagnose any mechanical issues by the peculiarities of its rattle. While that’s not ENTIRELY true, it nearly is. My geared bike is like a locomotive in comparison (okay, the metal fenders don’t help, either!). I can never pinpoint all of its many rattles, and its mechanical issues often end up flummoxing me completely. And. And it’s prone to an awful lot more of them.

Friends tell me they “hate bikes” because there’s such a learning curve, an intense and problematic hierarchy (mostly cis white dudes, let’s be honest) lording over that knowledge, and because at entry-level, bikes can be prone to a lot of issues (flat tires, flimsy components, uncomfortable setups, etc) and of course in big cities bikes are prone to theft. And then of course there are poorly designed/marked bike routes, shoddy pavement quality, and the worst–downright murderously angry or oblivious drivers. In my city there are the additional barriers of the (often steep) hilly, glacially-tilled terrain combined with the extremely unpredictable weather of the Pacific Northwest. We do call it temperate for a reason, after all! I organized (and still occasionally do stuff in this vein) for a few years to both democratize knowledge (bike fit, how to ride in traffic, best routes, etc) and the streets (protests against anti-bike infrastructure, waging campaigns to get the city to fund a Bicycle Master Plan, and so on). In the last few years I have seen the city’s cycling culture grow and diversify, and the very landscape itself change, especially in terms of infrastructure. There’s a particular bike lane that I can honestly say is there because of organizing my comrades and I did, when residents protested en masse the city’s efforts to cave to business owners’ concerns over bike and pedestrian safety.

I am so grateful to have been a part of that work, and to have cut my teeth there. It very nearly led me to a career in liberal politicks, culminating as a stint as a campaign organizer during the 2008 general elections. But at the same time, the bubble burst on the U.S. economy, I began to actively critique capitalism, the state, and representative politics, and I became utterly disillusioned as I witnessed politicians (and the organizers who support them) treating their constituents as pawns. In short, I began the journey of radicalization, a long strange trip. And here I am, getting ready to embark on the same route (biking the Pacific Coast) again, the same journey that served as a direct precursor to my stint in liberal politicks and my subsequent radicalization. I’m interested to see what perspectives are to be gained along the way, and what will follow in the complicated months to come. I expect these revelations to be more personal than politickal, but who knows? “The personal is political”, after all.

-RD

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