Real men don’t fight….

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….

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21 Comments

Filed under 08_brynn

21 responses to “Real men don’t fight….

  1. magikmama

    Well, I don’t know why the Irish in particular hate it, but I’ve been seriously injured by 2 different people who rode me down on a sidewalk while riding a bike.

    Especially on very crowded sidewalks (both happened in the Loop in Chicago during rush hour) riding a bike on the sidewalk can be quite dangerous.

    I certainly didn’t die from my injuries, but I did suffer 3 broken bones, a contusion to the head and a concussion from smacking my head on the concrete sidewalk.

    I, myself, have been known to rant at idiots speeding down the sidewalks on bikes (usually messengers who don’t want to wait at traffic lights) but somehow, I’ve never felt as though who they like to fuck had anything to do with their idiocy.

  2. Yeah, I live in SF and it is totally dangerous for pedestrians the way folks ride their bikes on the sidewalk. And then here, they get mad if you point out they are on a footpath and so I need not give way for them.

    As for your experience, brynn, I think it is terrible that this happened to you. It is an interesting phenomenon among men. I noticed it with my ex-gf too, she tended to not back down from a fight and had been in more than one fight over her lifetime, but maybe that is unique to butches.

    I am sorry that this happened, it must have been frightening and maddening all at once.

  3. I have not had magikmama’s experiences, but several times I was almost hit by bicyclists. Having to dodge bicycles in addition to all the other pedestrian hazards is pretty maddening.

  4. I live in central NJ, where it is illegal to ride a bike on the sidewalk, as I’m sure it is elsewhere in the U.S. A bicycle is a vehicle, with all the rights and responsibilities thereof. However, walking the bike on the sidewalk or in crosswalks is perfectly legitimate, and I have seen it required in places such as open grid decked bridges.

    I gather that the point of this is more about the confrontation than it is about the bike. I wonder what it is that sets the Irish off so badly about bikes on sidewalks. I’ve been known to give people riding on the sidewalk a hard time too, but I can’t imagine what the issue is with walking the bike. It seems more like the guy in this story was looking for a fight, FSM knows why.

  5. My little city in the southeastern US is extremely hostile to both bicycle and pedestrian traffic — little or no attention paid from the city/planning end, and outright hostility from motorists [a recent letter to the editor excoriated bicyclists as “crazy yuppies demanding taxpayer money for their dangerous, freaky hobbies,” when the question of commuter bike safety was raised]. I frequently ride on the sidewalks, and the few pedestrians I encounter are pretty friendly about it, as they know what I’m up against on the street.

    My worst pet peeve in even my quiet residential neighborhood, though, is that nobody trims their shrubs or trees, and a surprising number of folks park their cars in such a way as to block the sidewalk entirely. It’s as if the part of the sidewalk in front of their house is their yard and they can’t imagine that anyone else would use it.

  6. Brynn

    I should have clarified up front that I never barrel down the sidewalk on my bike. I am a neurotically careful bicyclist, who respects the rules of the road. The behaviour I’m describing in this post is rolling along at walking speed, ready to stop and defer to pedestrians, for a space of approximately 10 feet, til I turn into my gate.

    Short of walking the bike, or cutting across 4 lanes of traffic where there is no intersection, or passing my house, turning across 4 lanes of traffic at the next intersection and doubling back, there is no other way to enter my gate.

    This is the only time I ride my bike on the sidewalk. Like several people are saying here, bicycles do not belong on the sidewalk. (Even in this case, if the sidewalk is crowded, I walk it.)

    However, that doesn’t seem an adequate explanation to me, considering that several times I’ve been yelled at here I’ve been walking my bike. Literally, off it on my feet, walking it, on the footpath.

    There is something more going on here.

  7. Brynn,

    I just had a bike path vs. footpath incident of my own! But, mine involved pedestrians on the bike path.

    Here in Monterey, there are many beautiful bike and pedestrian paths. My boyfriend and I like to walk along the beach through Cannery Row and down to Pacific Grove. The view is breathtaking.

    They have an asphalt bike path that is clearly marker “Bikes Only” and next to that is a dirt footpath for pedestrians.

    The route is usualy crowded with tourists and many of them walk on the asphalt, oblivious to the signs. They’re enjoying views of the deep blue ocean and the sea life — sea lions, herons, even rare puffins.

    As we we walking a few days ago, there were many people on the bike path impeding traffic. From behind us, we heard a man shouting “Get off the bike path! Bikes only!”

    We turned around and saw an older man with a bushy gray beard shouting at the pedestrians. He zipped past us (we were on the dirt footpath) and continued shouting.

    We watched as he came up behind two Marines who had walked past us a few hundred feet back (we knew they were Marines from their t-shirts). They both had backpacks and were wearing iPods.

    As the man on the bike came up behind them, he shouted and startled the men. One of them turned around and knocked the man right off his bike and then began punching him.

    We ran up and joined a small crowd that had gathered around the fight. The Marine’s buddy pulled him off the bicyclist, who had skinned his knees and was bleeding from the nose.

    We didn’t stay around for the police, but we speculated as to why the Marine may have reacted so violently. Perhaps he’d just returned from Iraq. Who knows.

    But, it is obviously NOT a good idea to startle a U.S. Marine. They’re men who have been TRAINED to fight.

  8. (Fritz- we are practically neighbors! I live in Aptos.)

  9. Zardeenah

    What do folks think about little kids riding bikes on the sidewalk? We live in San Francisco, and I could not imagine my 4 year old riding his bike on the streets here! It’s always a tough call…we just try to avoid all crowded sidewalks.

  10. Alix

    I’m a pedestrian, and frankly, I’d rather have the bikes on the sidewalk. I can dodge. I can walk in the grass if I have to.

    But my area (northern Virginia) is really hostile to both pedestrians and bikers – to the point of not having sidewalks in some really inconvenient areas. I’ve seen bikers chased down and tailgated by cars, I’ve seen cars try to sideswipe bikers, and I’ve often – as in at least weekly – had a driver decide to ignore the traffic lights and try to run ME down when I’m crossing the street – in the crosswalk, with the little walk light on.

    The only time I was ever run down by a biker was in the grocery store, and store security threw him out for riding down the aisles.

    If it’s a choice between bikers on a busy road where cars will make sport of trying to kill them, or bikers zipping by me on a sidewalk, I’d prefer them on the sidewalk. Like I said, I can dodge – but it helps to pay attention. I HAVE seen really oblivious pedestrians get nearly run down.

  11. the lurking librarian

    It’s tough to be a cyclist. We certainly provoke strong reactions from motorists – and not in a good way. I agree that bikes don’t belong on sidewalks, but, that said, sometimes you have no option but to ride slowly or walk your bike along a sidewalk to get somewhere. I’ve been commuting by bike for sixteen years in albuquerque, and although the city has made great strides in becoming more bike friendly, we have a long ways to go. Most of the cyclists I know have had serious interactions with cars – motorists turning illegally in front of them, passing too closely at high speeds, had things thrown at them or been spit upon, etc. A good friend of mine was hit two years ago by a woman who ran a stop sign – in a quiet residential neighborhood. Fortunately, she’s recovering fine and is back on a bike.

    For some reason we cyclists are deeply threatening to people in cars and people who routinely only get around by car. I’ve wondered about why, and can’t really come up with a good answer. Do we somehow represent something that seems like a scary fringe element? I dunno – but to me, there’s nothing more liberating than cruising around on a bike.

  12. RQ

    I’m not Irish, so I can’t add any insight as to why they’re so anti-bikes on the sidewalk. Have you tried asking any of your Irish friends?

    As to bikes on the sidewalk in general, I think it depends. I’m in college in a biker-friendly college town, so many of the important roads have bike paths. If there’s a bike path, I get annoyed if a bicyclist is biking on the sidewalk. If it’s a busy street without a bike path, I don’t mind bikers on it as long as they’re biking carefully. I think cyclists should walk their bikes if the sidewalk is crowded.

    I think it’s okay for young kids to ride on the sidewalk. As the kid gets older, I think they should transition to more road biking though.

    My pet peeve: cyclists on the road who run the red light (when there’s not a pressure sensor): you can’t pick and choose which laws to follow, as it suits you.

  13. sundry

    My town is rural, an my neighborhood is quiet – the sidewalks in my neighborhood are presumed to be for kids on bikes (and other kid vehicles). People walk in the street, sometimes 3 abreast. Joggers jog in the street. And adults ride their bikes in the street. Drivers know this, and drive accordingly.

    And I’m one of those bad people who don’t trim their bushes and let them block the sidewalk. But its an azalea and it’s soooo gorgeous when its in bloom in it’s natural shape (which is huge and round). It’s going to look like crap for a few years once I prune it. I keep promising myself that I’ll prune it back in the spring, but I never do. Anyway, my grandson is the only small child on our end of the street, so he’s the only one inconvenienced by it. I think.

    I think people in cars just feel entitled to the road, and don’t feel that it’s their responsibility to concern themselves about cyclist. They don’t even see the bikes, bikes are not important.

  14. magikmama

    I didn’t want to give the impression that I don’t appreciate the woes of bicycle riding – I am an avid bicycle commuter in my suburban town. My experience was specific to the most pedestrian-congested part of a major city – sorry to say, but bikes do NOT belong on the sidewalk there.

    However, children under 16 or so totally get a pass if they are riding slowly and paying attention to not run people over.

    And people who block sidewalks with cars, bushes and, my personal favorite, SPRINKLERS ON SOAKING SPEED, get my wrath.

    Actually, I just walked along my route home from the train today with a stack of flyers listing the various city, county and state laws they were violating, as well as a notice that next time I walk past, I’ll be making phone calls to people who like to make easy money on citations.

  15. librarian said: “For some reason we cyclists are deeply threatening to people in cars and people who routinely only get around by car.”

    I think that, for some motorists these days, there is an element of guilt. Bicyclists are a reminder that they could be doing their trip in a different way.

    And to Brynn — I think that it could be any number of things, or any combination of things that set this fellow off — I think the xenophobia might actually be the most likely — he probably feels scared — and the simple act of you trying to figure that out, rather than simply chalking him off as a another asshole, is a sign of compassionate humanity in you. *applause* Go Compassionate Humanity!

    That said — if he comes after you, send me a psychic Dyke-o-gram, and I’ll stand with you from the other side of the world.

    I’ve only had one real “fight” in my life (I consider a “fight” as different than engaging in self-defense tactics or assisting another person to escape harm)– when I was 13. I prevailed by fighting very dirty, and the local bully stopped picking on me, but I never wanted to do it again if I could help it.

    I now practice “Brave Sir Robin” tactics if at all possible (when the threat is to myself alone), although I have stepped into several physical altercations when someone else was being threatened.

    When danger reared its ugly head,
    He bravely turned his tail and fled.
    Yes, brave Sir Robin turned about
    And gallantly he chickened out.
    Bravely taking to his feet
    He beat a very brave retreat,
    Bravest of the brave, Sir Robin!

  16. In Washington State at least, it is technically illegal for bike-riders to use the sidewalk. If you’re on a bike, you’re supposed to obey all the rules that car-drivers do. That said, I agree with those who don’t mind if careful bike-riders use the sidewalk, provided there isn’t a designated bike-lane for them; lotsa crazy drivers out there.

  17. We have an active and growing bikes-are-valid-transportation group in the capitol region, which has resulted in bike lanes on some downtown roads, and plans to join together the East Coast Greenway, which is a bike path that runs from Calais, Maine to Key West, Florida – although it’s not complete straight through, parts of the ECG run through my town.

    I’m actually gearing up to try riding my bike to work – one of the projects our transportation department works on is a bike to work program, and I’m keen to give it a try. I have a 10 mile trip, most of which I could do on the ECG, but it would get a little tricky once I get to East Hartford and the trail ends…I hate riding on the street, because rush hour commuters are assholes to bike riders.

  18. hk

    One of my friends recently sold his bikes b/c he was constantly having stuff thrown at him (bottles, trash, etc) when riding.

    I ride on the sidewalks here, mainly in residential areas though. If a pedestrian is on the path then i just ride up into the grass to give them full right-of-way. I get some “looks” but it is much safer for me than the bike lanes (where cars seem to want to sideswipe me). Plus I sometimes have guys drive by who pay too much attention to me, even turning around for another look or seem to follow and I’d rather have that extra space away from vehicles.

  19. pokerbutt

    Oh boy.

    It doesn’t matter how careful the fucking bicyclist is. I am deaf, and I have been hit from behind more than once because of some asshole assuming he can scream out “ON YOUR LEFT” and I’ll nimbly hop out of the way, in the right direction to boot. The only reason I have not been seriously injured is because they were not barreling down.

    So, sorry. No sympathy here. Just get off the freaking sidewalk or pavement or whatever the hell it’s called. Or walk the fucking bike. Otherwise you’ll probably hit someone someday even though you don’t mean to and think you’ve taken precautions.

    I like the Irish even more, now.

  20. Erin M

    I have exactly the opposite problem in Germany, it seems. Here the pavements are frequently meant to be shared between bikes and peds, though at least you usually have fair warning in the form of signs marking it as a shared path and a different color or texture for the bicycle lane. But God help you if you walk in the bike lane, because as far as I can tell from the way people ride, it’s your problem to stay out of the way on foot, sort of like if you’re caught jaywalking. On the other hand, they have the cutest little bicycle traffic lights (standard red-amber-green, but with a bicycle silhouette in the middle) at crossings, so that kinda makes up for it. 🙂

  21. I’m not sure, but I think it’s likely that the Irish probably have very similar laws to us over here in Scotland (and the rest of the UK for that matter) it is explicitly prohibited to cycle on the pavement. That’s probably why people are getting angry about it- unless somewhere is marked as a cycle lane then it’s the road only. If you really want cycle friendly countries then you need to go across to continental Europe, especially the Netherlands and Germany where they are very pro-cycling.

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