Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Unexpected Changes

I knew I should expect social changes during the transition process. Some of these changes were expected, others came as a complete surprise. The ones that shock me the most are not the ones that I expected or even the ones that cause me to fear for my safety. The most surprising changes are the ones I did not expect. Because I did not expect them, I did not prepare for them in anyway. Some of these changes involve learning the unwritten social rules that govern behavior between women, and others involve me learning new vulnerabilities.

The first type of incident occurred several weeks ago. Even though the current summer has barely reached the 90s, I’ve still gone to the local lake on days where it’s particularly hot and humid.  I departed for the lake at the local park early in the day, hoping I would avoid the crowds that came later. The early departure provided the opportunity to get some swimming in without bumping into other people. Sure, I could go to the local pool or use the facilities at the YMCA, but locker rooms still scare me.

Although I managed to perform some cardiovascular exercise, people eventually started trickling into the area.  One woman struck up a conversation. She asked me about my children. This conversation did not involve any discomfort, because it is a normal conversation topic. When I replied that I don’t have any, she offered her sympathies. (If she actually met some of my younger relatives and my parents, she might understand my reluctance to produce younger versions of myself.)   The awkward part of the trip came as I prepared to leave. While I was walking out of the water to return to my vehicle, another woman asked me to rub sunscreen lotion on her back.

My brain went into a form of shock.  If a man had asked me that question several months ago, it would have led to violence. My body activated its own fight or flight mechanisms. I remained there.  The woman repeated the request.  Although the discomfort I felt remained, I did as she asked.  Not a single thing I feared happened. My hand got greasy and she gained sunburn protection.  I asked others if this was normal behavior later. Women have much more relaxed attitudes about this type of contact than men do.
Another incident that caused me to realize that my societal rules were changing occurred this winter.  I ran out of gas as I was driving to work. When my Chevy Astro started sputtering due to a fuel-starved state, I pulled alongside of the road.  I took the gas can out of the back and headed toward the nearest gas station. A number of drivers asked me if I needed help, and a few drivers offered to give a ride.  One person even told me that I could trust him.

Every word in the sentence was familiar, but the context was foreign.  Why would he need to tell anyone that was trustworthy? Wouldn't his actions let others know if he was worthy of their trust?  I experienced an epiphany. The complicated relationship between men and women made him feel that this statement was necessary.  Thousands of sexual assault stories began a woman accepting a ride from an unknown man.  The man wanted me to know that he was not one of those creeps.

I did not accept his offer despite the cold temperatures. It was my first encounter with a new-found social vulnerability.  I realized I needed to worry about sexual assaults far more than I did before.   This incident occurred a few months after I started transition.  I knew the increased risk on an intellectual level, but it never occurred to me on an emotional level.  As someone who knows the statistics, I usually carry pepper spray with me in case I have to incapacitate an attacker.  However, I started carrying this out of fear of physical assaults. (I did this before I moved to small city.  Carrying this item became a habit when I lived in a town of 7,000 people.   Anyone who has traveled to Shamokin, PA and met its inhabitants will probably have the same reaction I did.)


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