Yesterday my partner and I were tossing around some ideas for a birthday present for his mom.
“She got herself a treadmill recently,” he told me. “ I was thinking something from REI. Athletic wear.”
“That sounds good. She likes to walk. REI would have some good outerwear too.”
“Yeah, she’s not as comfortable walking outside anymore. That’s why she got the treadmill.”
“For safety reasons. She doesn’t want to be out on the roads alone.” The woman’s in fine health and in a mild climate. Since I’ve known her, she’s been in the habit of taking long, daily walks in the rather small farm community where she lives.
“Yes.” He confirmed.
This made me incredibly sad for her and angry too. She’s the third woman this year who has told me that they have changed their walking habits due to concerns about safety. My secretary, a woman in her late ‘50s said she no longer goes out alone in her normally safe, somewhat upscale, San Francisco neighborhood. My partner’s mother, on an isolated ranchette, has moved an activity she loves indoors. My own mother, now in her mid-60s, refused to give up her daily walks through the wildlife preserve near her house on the edge of suburbia. Last year she got her concealed carry permit and now takes a handgun with her on her walks.
As my mom explained to me, she’s reached an age where she feels she’d be more likely to be targeted as a victim. My secretary said much the same thing. If someone is looking for the weakest target, an older woman is going to stand out as easy prey. Neither my mom, secretary or my partner’s mother are frail, shy women by any stretch of the imagination. It’s depressing to think of these women being limited in such a simple activity, one which they all seemed to enjoy so much. Sure, one can take a companion on a walk but there wouldn’t be the same meditative experience as just going for a stroll on one’s own.
It’s a sad commentary on our society that no matter the environment, whether urban, suburban or out in the farmlands, women don’t feel safe on a solitary walk. It’s frustrating to realize that I don’t have any better solution to offer other than the ones they’ve come up with themselves. Yesterday’s conversation particularly reminded me that it’s been a very long time since I’ve felt the need to take precautions for my own personal safety.
Living as a girl, it was automatic. You simply lived with a heightened awareness of your surroundings and who was in your space. It wasn’t fear, necessarily, at least not as a young woman. Just heightened awareness. If you leave your dorm room, even in the middle of the day, you are going to notice right away if there’s a guy in the hallway who you don’t recognize. You might greet him, say hello, but you are going to be very aware that he’s there. And if he happens to start moving in the same direction as you down the hall, you’re going to wonder if he’s following you. You’re going to be thinking about whether there are people in the dorm rooms to hear you if you scream or wonder whether everyone is gone – sitting in a classroom. Nearly 100% of the time, that stranger in the hallway is there for perfectly innocent reasons. But as a woman, you’re guard is up 100% of the time.
Prior to transition, I hadn’t thought about the fact that I’d no longer have such an immediate need to be concerned for my personal safety. As a girl, I’d never experienced a serious threat, never come to any harm. I’d taken all the daily precautions that women take, simply incorporated those actions into my life. It was amazing, now that I think back, that once the testosterone had done its work and I was perceived as male, how quickly I came to take for granted the fact that I didn’t need to be so concerned about a personal attack any longer. I no longer look twice at the guy in the parking garage who happens to be getting into a car two spaces down from mine. If I leave work at 11pm and feel like walking a mile to the lot where my car is parked, I do so. And I walk completely wrapped in my own thoughts. I am not constantly scanning the area to see if anyone is unduly focused on me. I don’t have my car keys clutched in my fist.
It wasn’t something I thought about pre-transition but this freedom from concern about being a victim of an attack is a freedom I’ve enjoyed immensely. It is liberating, maybe more so because I hadn’t realized how much those daily pre-cautions occupied my thoughts. It’s not to say there’s never a time or place that I’m more observant than usual. Certainly there are situations where anyone needs to be more careful and aware of what is going on around them. But, there is a freedom in moving through the world as a healthy, youngish looking male. We just aren’t the demographic likely to be attacked.
When I lived as a woman, I simply went through all the needed precautions as a matter of course, and I think it’s part of what makes me so sad in hearing these older women talk about the changes they are making in their own lives. They each speak of the changes they’ve made as a matter of course. “Of course I’m going to stop taking walks.” “Of course I’m going to start walking indoors.” “Of course I’m going to learn to shoot a gun.”