It’s weird: while the Irish are generally by far the most bicycle-friendly folks I’ve ever lived among—bus drivers routinely give way to me on my bike, as do most automobile drivers!!—the one thing that seems to drive Irish people crazy is bicycles on sidewalks.
I don’t know why.
Now, I don’t often ride my bike on the sidewalk—or “footpath” as it is known here. But I’ve been cursed for walking my bike on the footpath! More than once. A friend of mine was deliberately “clotheslined” by a guy who used his arm to knock him off his bike and if he hadn’t been young and agile, could have been badly hurt.
And then there was this evening.
I live on a very busy road with four lanes of traffic—one of which in each direction is reserved for buses and taxis. At rush hour, it can be very difficult to cross the road safely, so frequently as I come home from work on my bike, I will pause at the traffic light which controls the flow of traffice at an intersection about 10 meters before the front of my house. I’ll wait for the light to change, cross, then ride the 10 meters to my gate on the footpath, against the traffic-flow, otherwise I’d ride on the street.
This evening, a young woman on a bike was doing the same thing. We crossed together in the crosswalk, then even before we reached the sidewalk, this man, looking to have lived hard during his approximately 60 years, started yelling at us. “This is a footpath!” We were slightly ahead of him as each of us turned onto the sidewalk, so it’s not like we were at all confronting him, or threatening him, or doing anything at all to him!
She turned, as did I following her, and the guy behind us let go with a barrage of abuse, calling her a “cunt,” and telling us among other things in his Irish brogue to “go back where we came from.” She stopped almost immediately and I thought she might be about to confront him, so I paused to back her up. But instead she turned in at a gate. A few feet beyond, I found my way partially blocked by a group of Arabic guys approaching from the opposite direction, one of whom funnily enough, was walking a bike. He apologized for blocking my way and made space for me to pass. I considered warning him about the guy behind me, but as the guy was approaching and still yelling, I felt it was unnecessary. I just decided to beat a hasty retreat.
I rode the 8 meters or so more to my gate, as the angry man called me a faggot and yelled something like, “Yeah, I know where you live. Don’t’ worry, I live across the street,” as I turned in at my gate and rolled up to my door.
Quite frankly, I was a bit worried that he was going to follow me to the door. But he didn’t. I entered my building and watched him through a hole in the door where a lock used to be (the landlord just left it, lol!) as he stood on the sidewalk in front of my complex for a moment, staring at my door.
I was still shaking a bit after I climbed the stairs to my apartment and entered, as I do after I’m confronted with male violence. Another part of me was really wanting to go out and hurt the guy. I was so angry he called me a “faggot” as an insult! I wanted to make him pay, make him realize that faggots aren’t cowardly pushovers.
Since transition, I’ve come perilously close a few times to fighting. Physical confrontation is regular part of male culture. And one effect of higher levels of testosterone, from my experience, isn’t aggression per se, but rather a much quicker temper. Lightning temper, combined with the cultural expectation and indoctrination that you will physically hold your ground or you’re “not a real man”, makes for a volatile combination.
Unlike a lot of female-bodied people I know, I have “body memory” of fighting as a kid—I was very rough and tumble growing up in El Cajon, fearless at the time though I’ve lost that foolishness, and I more than held my own even against older, bigger boys. Also, 5 years ago I studied “Universal Fighting” for about a year, meeting to train and spar for 6 hours a week. That’s not enough time to become an expert, but it is enough time to learn how to hurt—even kill—somebody with my bare hands. Not that I wanted to do that with this guy!!! My point is, I didn’t feel fear, just burning anger, and a desire to engage with this jerk. Even if that just meant yelling back.
But another thing I’ve been learning in the years since I started living as a man is not to yell back. Walk away. Ignore the insults, even when they’re homophobic. It doesn’t make me less of a man. On the contrary. One of the first lessons we learned in Universal Fighting: Only fight if you can’t run away and have absolutely no other option. Aside from the morality or emotional aftermath of possibly hurting or killing someone—even accidentally, for you can never be sure what’s going to happen in a fight—you never know what training the other guy might have. One tiny wisp of a guy, a Universal Fighting instructor, looked insignificant enough to blow over with a strong breath. But that guy could literally kill a person armed with a baseball bat, knife, or even handgun in a heartbeat, so fast you wouldn’t be able to see the moves, and he wouldn’t be breathing hard or breaking a sweat afterwards. I’m not exaggerating.
And not everyone who knew the system of fighting was goodhearted. One guy who became an instructor after I left enjoyed going out on weekends to bars and provoking confrontations. I can only hope that changed after he became an instructor.
I live in a neighborhood in Dublin which is favored by immigrants of all sorts. My apartment complex, with 7 apartments, only just gained its sole Irish resident this week–previously, we were all immigrants. Mostly from Poland and Spain, although I think at least one guy is from the Middle East.
I found myself wondering, as I calmed down, how much that had to do with this evening’s confrontation and the man’s anger at the world. His neighborhood, which undoubtedly was predominantly Irish as recently as 10 to 15 years ago, is now predominantly peopled by immigrants. It’s a huge change, and if life hasn’t been treating him well in the interim, it would be easy to fixate on that.
Then, on the other hand, it might just be that Irish thing about bicycles on the footpath….