Some of our members are surprised when we let them know that Escaping your Comfort Zone isn’t just for cisgender women. Transgender women and gender diverse folks are welcome on all our adventures with open arms! But what does that mean? What does it mean to be transgender? What does gender diverse mean anyway? Today we attempt to answer some questions you might have about our trans members and what all Escapees can do to support us.
Note for transgender readers – today’s blog article covers transgender topics for people who may not have exposure to trans issues. Some of the language used as examples may be offensive and upsetting, but is used to educate rather than perpetuate transphobic actions and language. If that’s going to be an issue for you, please have a big EYCZ hug, know it doesn’t matter what gender you were assigned at birth, if you identify as a woman or gender diverse you are welcome on our hikes, and give today’s article a miss. If you’d like to join the discussion and help educate our cisgender members, please do because we want to amplify your voice.
Still with us? Lets get some terminology out of the way. What does transgender mean?
Most of us are assigned a gender when we’re born. This happens when someone, usually a doctor, nurse, or parent, says “it’s a girl!” or “it’s a boy!”. This is then reinforced by the people around us as we grow up. But for some of us, the gender we are assigned at birth isn’t one we feel comfortable with.
Transgender women are women who were assigned as boys when they were born, and then identified that they were a woman or girl instead of a man or boy. (For transgender men, the opposite is true – but as transgender men are men, they don’t form the audience for membership to Escaping your Comfort Zone.)
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“I grew up loving the outdoors but almost gave up my dreams of being a climber because I didn't see anyone else out there who was also transgender. I definitely had concerns about my safety and if I would be accepted by the community. But my decision to not be deterred has resulted in some of the best experiences of my life. I found a community of people like me (turns out I'm not the only one!), friends that love me, and an opportunity to help increase representation. Best of all I am able to enjoy nature as my authentic self." -Halcy | @halcyhoo ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Pronouns: she/her ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ 📸: @valerie.paulson ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Location: Anka-ku-was-a-wits, aka Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. This is Southern Paiute+ land. #brycecanyon ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Tag #unlikelyhikers or #unlikelyhiker to be featured! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ [Image description: person smiles a big, toothy, genuine smile up close to camera. The wind blows her hair slightly back. Red rock hoodoos are illuminated by sunlight in background.]
Transgender people aren’t just men or women, there are also people who are non-binary or gender diverse. These are umbrella terms people use to describe gender that doesn’t fit squarely into male or female. This can include people who feel their gender is a mix of both, changes often, is something totally separate, or have no strong sense of a gender at all. Non-binary or gender diverse people, regardless of their physical presentation or their assigned gender at birth, are welcome at Escaping your Comfort Zone.
Gender diversity isn’t new, either – it’s been around as long as humans have! Many different cultures have recognition of people who are transgender or have a non-binary gender, such as the dong co of the Dao Mau of Vietnam, or Two Spirit people of various Native American nations, and have been doing so for thousands of years. More recently, transgender people have become more comfortable in coming out and expressing their true selves publicly, and have support to do so. This support might be major medical treatments such as taking hormones and having gender affirmation surgery (what used to be called sex change surgery), but also less invasive but still important options, such as wearing certain types of clothing, changing hair styles, and wearing makeup. This process, of changing how you look, dress, groom yourself and speak is called transition.
There’s another word for people who feel that the gender that was assigned to them at birth was the right one for them – cisgender. So if you’re not transgender (also shortened to trans), you’re cisgender, or cis for short.
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📸: Lupe / @transplanter_ biotech at Saguaro National Park, ambassador for @LatinoOutdoors in Tucson. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Pronouns: they/them ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ “The mountains, streams, valleys, oceans, deserts, and all things are related to our thoughts and actions. All things are in relationship with each other.” -Jasmine Wallace, Tsalagi (Cherokee) medicine woman, Gaia Greenhouse Enterprises ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Location: Xochicalco, Morelos, Mexico. Ancestral lands of the Mexihcah, Nahuatl (Aztec)+. #xoxichalco ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Tag #unlikelyhikers or #unlikelyhiker to be featured! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ [image description: person looking steadfastly at camera, verdant leaved trees roll into distance giving way to ancient pyramids below.]
Finally, all of this relates to gender – not who you’re attracted to, have relationships with, or even if you don’t feel like that’s really for you. Transgender women and gender diverse people can be straight, bi, gay and everything in between. A transgender woman isn’t the same thing as a gay man in a dress.
So what’s this got to do with Escaping Your Comfort Zone?
One of the most important aims of Escaping Your Comfort Zone is to provide participants with the mental and physical health benefits of exercise in an environment that is welcoming and encouraging. That comes under our remit of body positivity – we want everyone to feel good about their bodies and good in their bodies, just as they are right now.
Trans women and non-binary individuals often experience poor body image, over and above the experiences of cisgender women. Mental health is often impacted by stigma, so if we work not just to avoid causing it, but work against it, we are making it easy for people who really need that support to participate. Because one of the main things that Escaping your Comfort Zone stands for is body positivity, we provide a space that improves how everyone sees their bodies, and improves their mental health.
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“As a Latinx, queer & trans non-binary person from a working class background, the ways in which I’m an unlikely hiker surface often while I’m adventuring—always, as dreams for more access points for those of us with less represented identities to (also) enjoy in the outdoors. Sometimes, as fears for my safety, or placing myself in a setting that reminds me that my existence is not seen, valued, or wanted. Always, in thinking of the people (sometimes even my own ancestors) who once called these lands home. Always, in wondering how they protected, preserved, and honored the land with reciprocity. Always, in knowing that connecting with nature is a soulful experience that brings me back ‘home.’” -Riley / @lhewko ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Pronouns: they/them/theirs ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Location: Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Ancestral Land of the Havasupai, Hopi, Ute & Navajo. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Tag #unlikelyhikers or #unlikelyhiker to be featured! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ [image description: person stands smiling at camera at dramatic overlook of the Grand Canyon.]
I love the female-centric environment that Escaping Your Comfort Zone provides – won’t opening our doors to transgender hikers get in the way of that?
We love the energy that comes when women and gender-diverse people come together and do amazing things! In particular, we love the mutual support, encouragement and humour that is a visitor to all our events. Being clear and explicit that our membership includes transgender women and gender diverse individuals will not change the same supportive, encouraging and fun culture we have built together.
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“As a high-femme transgender woman always keeping my makeup and nails on point in my day-to-day, people are often shocked when I share how much I love to go hiking or camping. There's still a surprisingly common idea that femmes like me don't enjoy bugs and dirt and being away from our treasured first world amenities. For me, the opposite couldn't be more true. I get on a trail as often as I can because connecting with Earth and Sky is a big part of my pagan(ish) faith. Furthermore, living with often debilitating depression and anxiety, it's the one thing that always reminds me what it means to be Alive.” -Drewsilla / @giraffemagick ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Pronouns: she/her ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Location: Beaver Brook Trail, Colorado. Ancestral home of the Ute, Cheyenne, Só'taeo'o, Tsétsêhéstâhese. #beaverbrooktrail ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Tag #unlikelyhikers or #unlikelyhiker to be featured! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ [image description: smiling person in glasses and a fun outfit unlike the usual outdoors garb with a shirt that reads “the future is queer as fuck.”]
I want to welcome transgender hikers, but I’m afraid I’m going to say the wrong thing and offend someone! How do I avoid that?
Well, that’s an excellent start. Trans people come in all shapes and sizes – not all trans women are super feminine, and not all non-binary people are really androgynous. What that means is we all need to put stereotypical views of what a transgender person or gender diverse person would be in the bin. Let’s start with some simple things to do and avoid in your conversations!
- Get to know people! If you think someone might be trans, start out with the same kinds of conversations as you would use with a cisgender person.
- Always use the name and pronouns that the person prefers. If you muck it up, apologise, repeat it correctly and move on – no need to make a fuss.
- Use gender neutral language – when you’re talking about a group of people, try “friends” instead of “ladies and gentlemen”. It makes people who don’t identify as either feel welcomed.
- Introduce yourself with your name and pronouns. It tells any trans people present that they can feel safe in telling you their pronouns.
- Don’t assume someone’s gender identity, and try to use gender neutral language until they let you know what language they want you to use.
- Ask personal questions immediately on meeting someone. It’s OK to be curious about what its like to be trans, and the process of transition. But it can get pretty tiring and intrusive for transgender people to have to talk about stuff like what medications we take or what surgeries we have had or are planning, as well as pretty personal stuff like sex and relationships. If you have a question about someone’s transition or their relationships and sexual attraction, take a minute to think about how well you know them, and if you would ask a cisgender person that you had that level of friendship with the same question.
- Use the word “normal” instead of cisgender. As we’ve discussed, transgender people have been around for thousands of years, and are part of the normal variation of what it is to be human – just like any other category – “people with red hair” or “people who never had wisdom teeth”. Being trans is normal, just like being cis is normal.
If you have any further questions, I’d really recommend checking out the Trans 101 website put together by YGender and Minus18. Its got great videos about all sorts of things that you might not know about transgender and gender diverse people that might help you understand better – I used it extensively in putting this article together.
If you have any further questions and comments, please leave them in the comments below, or on our Facebook page! No question will be considered offensive – just ask and we will do our best to answer.
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 Tabaac, A, Perrin, P, & Benotsch, E 2018, ‘Discrimination, mental health, and body image among transgender and gender-non-binary individuals: Constructing a multiple mediational path model’, Journal Of Gay And Lesbian Social Services, 30, 1, p. 1-16, Scopus®, EBSCOhost, viewed 30 June 2018.
McGuire, JK, Doty, JL, Catalpa, JM, & Ola, C 2016, ‘Body image in transgender young people: Findings from a qualitative, community based study’, Body Image, vol. 18, pp. 96-107. Available from: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2016.06.004. [30 June 2018].