Being Trans in the Outdoors

I’ve always loved being outdoors. I started backpacking in middle school, at a co-ed summer camp that taught me how to be myself around people of all genders. I’ve always loved the fact that there are no mirrors in the outdoors, no makeup, no expectation of style. Everyone’s clothes are practical and dirty, and you care more about your boots being able to take you over the next mountain than matching your shirt.

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As I got older and realized I was trans, I realized that the relief from self-consciousness that I experienced in the woods was largely a relief from the expectations of gender. Back home, I felt like I had to fit into one gender or another, or at least figure out a concrete way to present and explain myself. In the woods, I didn’t have to worry. The trees didn’t care what gender I was.

That didn’t necessarily apply to the few people I ran into.

My dog also doesn’t care what gender I am.

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As a cis-passing nonbinary person, I rarely experienced any trouble from other hikers. That isn’t always true for all trans folks.

Similarly, I’ve had a wonderful experience at TB&C, but that isn’t true for all trans folks in the outdoor industry. So I thought I’d share some tips for how to support trans folks in the outdoor industry, whether outdoors or indoors.

How to support trans folks:

1. Hire trans people and pay them living wages.

Trans people have a much higher rate of unemployment and poverty than their cisgender counterparts. This is largely due to transphobia in the job market, with no legal protections. To directly support trans people, hire them in whatever capacity you can, ensure that your work environment is safe for them, and pay them a fair living wage. Note: Rates of unemployment and poverty are higher for trans people of color, trans women, and disabled trans folks, due to racism, sexism, and ableism. Ensure that you aren’t “checking the box” by only hiring white able-bodied trans masculine people!

2. Challenge your own and other people’s transphobia

Oppression is everywhere, and transphobia runs deep in all of us. It is the air we breathe in, and thus is in the air we breathe out. Notice the way you stare at the 6’4 person with stubble and a sundress on, catch yourself before you tell someone “actually, the women’s clothing is over here.” If you hear your coworker, friend, or boss misgender someone, politely correct them!

3. De-gender clothing lines, tools, sports. The outdoors is for everyone!

There may be some physiological differences between the average person of each gender, but overall, humans come in all shapes and sizes. In order to be more inclusive of everyone, encourage brands to de-gender their clothing lines and produce clothing in a variety of shapes and a full range of sizes, including plus sizes. We can get creative in the descriptions of shapes, and we can remember that all of us benefit from all kinds of clothing. Pro tip for those of us with wider hips and thicker thighs: quick-dry boxer briefs are fantastic for preventing thigh rub!

4. Decolonize.

The land we hike on is Native land, and we should treat it accordingly. Respect the land, support native leaders, and refer to places by their proper names (learn the proper names!). Learn the stories of the places you go and the people who lived there. Financially support indigenous leaders working to protect the land.

You may be wondering why I include this in a list about supporting trans people, and the answer is this: white people created the gender binary. An explicit tactic of colonization was to erase anyone beyond the binary of “male” and “female.” Two-spirit folks and other nonbinary genders were intentionally killed and devalued during colonization. Transphobia is racist, and racism is transphobic.

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5. Support trans folks’ endeavors to get outdoors.

There are some fantastic organizations dedicated to assisting trans folks in getting outdoors. Donate to Venture OUT, a hiking organization that leads trips for LGBTQ+ folks. Give trans folks a discount at your shop. Donate old supplies to trans folks and local LGBTQ+ centers. Provide trainings at LGBTQ+ centers and on campus for free. Support organizations doing the work to get LGBTQ+ folks and people of color outdoors: my amazing coworker Ron Griswell founded HBCUs Outside and introduced me to the work of Bam Mendiola (@mynameisbam on Instagram), Queer Nature, Unlikely Hikers, Karen Ramos, and many many more.

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6. Ensure you have nongendered restrooms and fitting rooms

https://www.thedailybeast.com/why-all-public-bathrooms-should-be-gender-neutral

7. Display explicit signs that trans people are welcome there—flags, trans models, etc.

Note: Only do this is you’re going to back it up! Don’t show me a trans flag and then misgender me. If you’re going to talk the talk, walk the walk. Use the correct pronouns for folks (or ‘they’ if you don’t know), don’t assume people’s gender, and ensure your staff will be welcoming.

I want to acknowledge that Townsend Bertram and Company exists on the traditional territory of the Catawba people, and that as I write this in my home, I am also on the traditional territory of the Catawba people.

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Emmy Johnson Comment