Sunday, March 31, 2013

Back in the Saddle

I am back in the saddle in Bucharest.  Thailand is a still fresh but increasingly distant memory.  Dilation, ever easier but still maddeningly time consuming, has become as much a part of my life as breathing and eating.  I have been back to work for five weeks, to my own surprise not missing a day since getting over my post-Thailand fever.

There is much to do.  There were letters and reports to write in the wake of the anti-LGBT protest at the Peasant Museum.  Then came the season of annual employee evaluation reports (EERs), so dear to the hearts of Foreign Service Officers (FSOs).  (Unlike performance appraisals in private industry, EERs are the only documents used by a blind panel in Washington to make promotion decisions each summer, and, hence, they achieve a cosmic importance in the life of an FSO.)  Pride Month is just over two months away, and planning has begun in earnest.  In both work and personal life, I am back in the saddle.

I am also back in the saddle in a literal sense.  Dr. Kunaporn stipulated three months as the time frame before I should be riding a bicycle again.  I took that time frame seriously, sort of.  Although Dr. Sanguan is the expert on gender confirmation surgery (GCS) and recovery from said surgery, I posit that I know a bit more about riding a bicycle than he does.  Throughout my life, I have had to field warnings and expressions of dire concern from friends and colleagues who cannot fathom the reality of my life in which the bicycle is my main form of transportation.  Thus I took Dr. Kunaporn's instruction as a guideline only, as sincerely expressed as the warnings of friends who do not understand that I have ridden my bicycle in traffic for as many years as they have driven their cars.  I would make my own decision on when to return to the bicycle, listening and looking to my own body for instruction.

I first tried to ride my Rivendell Atlantis a month ago, shortly after returning from Thailand.  This was an indoor ride on rollers, and I lasted for only 30 seconds, if that.  The message from my new anatomy was very clear.  "Don't even think of it," my soft parts yelled.

I tried again indoors three weeks ago.  Based on the experience of my earlier attempt, I covered my Brooks leather B-17S Ladies Standard saddle with two layers of foam rubber and a layer of bubble wrap.  I road indoors on the rollers for some twenty minutes, only to regret my determination afterward.  My soft parts had tolerated the ride but had become inflamed and swollen from the pressure of being pressed against the saddle.  A second attempt the next day after lowering and adjusting the angle of the saddle did not give a much better result.  I abandoned further attempts and turned instead to research.

In the days following, I learned that I was not the only woman to experience bicycle discomfort.  As much as I love my bicycle, the industry has catered primarily to men, not thinking much if at all about female proportions and differences in anatomy.  Before long, I came to Terry Bicycles, The Original Women's Bicycling Company (  I ordered a Butterfly Cromoly Gel saddle and waited anxiously for it to arrive.  Unlike my Brooks, the Terry saddle has a long open slit in the center of the saddle designed to relieve pressure on a woman's soft parts, in particular her labia, urethra, and clitoris.

The Terry saddle arrived in less than a week.  I mounted it and tried a twenty minute ride that Friday evening. I then rested and mounted the bike for another twenty minutes.  Even after careful inspection the next morning with a mirror, I saw no reddening, no swelling, nothing indicating that I should stop riding.

Bicycle Protest, April 23
With Alexandra at the Bicycle Protest
It was then Saturday morning, time to try my first ride on the road since before Thailand.  I had no big plans, just a short ride to find out if I could ride at all.  Then my friend Alexandra called.  "Robyn, there's a bicycle protest today.  Can you come?"  A couple of hours later, I found myself among more bicyclists than I had known existed in Bucharest.  There were at least a thousand, perhaps two, who had gathered for a sanctioned protest of Bucharest city government plans to expand the system of bicycle lanes on sidewalks.  These were clearly my type of people, bicyclists who know that their place is on the road with traffic.  We road together slowly for more than an hour, stopping in front of the city government to blow our whistles, sound our horns, and yell as loudly as we could.  This slow group ride was the best possible test of my new Terry saddle, as it forced me to stay forward and in the drops so as to keep my hands near the break levers.  If there was any ride that would cause my soft parts to scream, this was it.  They stayed silent the entire time, and a close inspection by mirror that evening showed they had slept through the entire experience.

Riding the Rollers
No, I was not ready to hop on the bicycle and resume daily commuting that Monday.  My legs, heart, and lungs had paid a price for my being largely sedentary for three months.  Instead, I road the rollers each evening, coaxing myself back slowly.

The Bucharest weather cooperated in keeping me indoors.  A surprise spring storm dropped six inches of snow on the city on Tuesday.  While others grimaced at the sudden return to winter conditions, I smiled to see the snow.  The Embassy opened two hours late.  I stayed indoors with my coffee, admiring and loving the view of the continuing snowfall.  I had missed most of winter by going to Thailand, but winter had saved itself to give me one last display.  I could not resist the urge to go outside and play in it, even attempting a snow man that ended up more like a snow pomegranate.  It was wonderfully beautiful, and a tear fell, the first of many in the months to come, as I thought that this will be the last snow that I see in Romania.

My Snow Pomegranate
The snow melted, I headed out on the road this Easter Sunday, riding in the direction of the Embassy and back.  The time has come.  Tomorrow I will resume my normal life, riding by bicycle to and from work as I have most of my life.

I am back in the saddle in Bucharest on this last day of March, making every minute of every day count, holding on but preparing for the changes that I know this spring will bring.

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