Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Microaggression on two wheels

I'd like you to imagine something with me.

Imagine you're biking home from work. It's a fine day, verging into hot, and the two-lane road you're riding on, like many here in America's heartland, giveth and taketh away its bike lane as it meanders through the residential and commercial spaces. This means that you get up close and personal with cars and trucks of all varieties, as they work to keep their left mirror from breaking the double yellow plane and their right mirror from breaking mine. Never mind that three-feet shit -- that rule isn't even aspirational at these scales. Not even the cops maintain a three-foot spacing when they cruise past on roads like this.

Imagine that, as you've spent some time out on the roads, you've accumulated a bit of a sense: that some (not all, surely, but a goodly some) of the drivers out there resent the hell out of your presence on their roads. If you've done any level of cycling, this will not require any imagination at all.

Imagine that you're on this road I've described, and you've pulled up to a red light. You've pulled up to the white line, alongside the front vehicle, a heavy pickup. No late-model vanity vehicle this; it's got some discolorations, some dings, it ain't shiny. And on the rear window it sports a sticker: "When the tailgate drops, the bullshit stops."

Like I said, imagine it's a hot day. The windows of this truck are rolled down -- you'd be willing to lay money they crank down by hand, none of this electronic window operation. But it's not until the light turns green that you hear anything said by the two occupants of this truck, as you hitch your weight back into balance and dump kinetic energy into the first downstroke to get across the intersection: "Lucky I don't just run you the fuck over".

Imagine that the truck turns through where you were a moment before, so you don't even get the chance to look in the window to see if you might possibly have misheard.

Do you imagine that this completely unwarranted outburst might have the effect of communicating that you and your bike are unwelcome -- that these roads are in fact, not our roads (meaning yours and mine and the car- and truck-drivers') but ours (meaning, excluding you)? Do you imagine that you might run through this event the next time you're swinging out from your dwelling with no airbag but your helmet? Do you imagine that you'll stop biking because of it? Me neither. That wasn't the question.

Now, imagine if you would, a world where you had no option but to use the public roads as a civilian, and the armored cavalry frequently remind you of your second-class status. Some do so with words; others do so by driving as if you weren't there. Imagine years and years, a lifetime, of being unable to get to school, to work, to any part of your life outside the narrow confines of your house/apartment/cardboard box down by the river, without being made to feel an interloper. Taking up someone else's space, richly earned by virtue of them piloting something heavier and with seat belts and airbags.

If you have imagined with me thus far, dear reader, you'll have some sense of what I, as a white straight cis male, imagine that life must be for many of those who are not white, not male, not cis, not straight. To have to move through worlds where you are constantly treated as encroaching.

And in the event that you, dear reader, identify as a Men's Rights Activist or something isomorphic, imagine for a moment if there were organizations founded, websites set up, hordes of dittoheads and DDOSbots deployed, to sully the name of every cyclist left bleeding on the side of the road and to insist on the uniform innocence of anyone accused of running them down. It must have been the cyclist's own fault, the dirty slut. Just look at those skin-tight shorts he was wearing.

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