It started so much younger than it should have. At eleven years old, with a sister just two years my senior, walking through our neighborhood sometimes meant catcalls and whistles from grown men in passing cars. At such a tender age I wasn't sure exactly what it meant but I knew it felt nefarious and that I didn’t like it. It didn’t take me long to realize that if I tucked my very long blonde hair up into a baseball cap, the uncomfortable looks and whistling stopped.
Long before I ever realized I’d grow up to be a super gay lady, it was intensely obvious that I did not appreciate the sexual attention of men. So, I adapted. My clothes got baggier, my hair got shorter, and even my body language grew to be more masculine.
By the time I got to college, and partially thanks to my severe lack of curves, I was often “warned” by strangers that I was entering the wrong restroom. It was usually polite and easily remedied by the use of my still very feminine voice. It wasn’t until the politicization of transphobia in the US, which blasted bathroom bills all over social media and the 24-hour news cycles, that those “warnings” became more aggressive. More than once they escalated into assault.
Regardless, the attention from men has almost completely waned and I've found an incredible sense of safety hiding securely off the entire gender’s sexual radar. My whiteness and CIS-gendered-ness comes with the privilege of simply using my voice in public restrooms to deescalate gender-based harassment. My whiteness and ability to be mistaken as male when desired grants me the privilege of walking alone after dark and hiking solo. It creates a cushion that has led me to feel very safe alone in the backcountry for weeks at a time.
I've been called everything from "bud," and "son," to "sir" when passing other hikers. I find great relief from anxiety knowing that I appear male at a distance. All the ways and techniques women use for self-preservation when we are made to feel uncomfortable are still at my disposal; but, through some magic masc loophole, I avoid needing them 90% of the time.
I have spent the last 5 years backpacking regularly, most often going solo with the exception of a tiny dog. People in the front country are usually shocked. They ask me if I carry a gun. They ask me if I want to be introduced to a male friend they know who hikes. They ask me how I could be so foolish. Some even tell me to stop. I don’t usually have the time or desire to explain to them that by presenting masculine I can hide in plain sight and have rarely been made to feel unsafe in the wilderness. Yet, perhaps I should.
Perhaps through having those exact kinds of conversations I can parlay my privilege into advocacy for those who cannot simply change their appearance or body language to protect themselves. My transgender brothers and sisters still face discrimination for simply trying to pee in a public toilet. BIPOC individuals, female identifying individuals, and humans all across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum who love the outdoors can more often than not fear for their safety while camping, hiking, backpacking, fishing or simply existing in remote areas.
That needs to change and it needs to change now. While I don’t possess the perfect solution, I do possess a voice and acknowledge the privileges society grants me that are not granted to others. I am happy to lend my privilege to others who feel unsafe and walk with them wherever they feel they may need it. I would also love to learn how I can do more.
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