We’re out here too!

I approach the trail junction at Haypress Meadows after the long climb from Echo Lakes. It’s great to be back on trail again, and I have big aspirations for my weekend adventure. Working behind the scenes helping to coordinate volunteers to make the trail possible is something I’m passionate about, but there’s nothing like getting out in the mountains to experience the majesty of the Pacific Crest Trail.

A portrait of a hiker on the trail with a pin reading "Ask me about my pronouns"

On a long weekend hike along the PCT.

“What am I supposed to ask you?” calls a volunteer stationed at the junction, out assisting the Forest Service with managing the intensity of the holiday weekend visitation.

“Oh,” I look down at the pin on my pack strap and chuckle to myself, “it says, ‘Ask me about my pronouns.’” My roommate had given it to me the day before, and I forgot that I had fastened it to my pack on my way out the door.

“What about your pronouns?”

“Uh, well, I use they/them or he/him pronouns,” I reply, hesitantly.

“Oh, like he, she, they, I see, I guess, I just — I never thought about that, ya know, like out here in the wilderness,” says the volunteer, seeming a bit flustered.

“We’re out here too!” I respond, as cheerfully as possible. I wish the volunteer a good day as my friends catch up and we continue down the trail to Lake Aloha.

A hiker poses on a rocky outcropping overlooking a lake

Being out while being out is both empowering and — at times — far more difficult than climbing a mountain.

Being trans is less stressful in California — the burden tends to be relatively light in comparison to the open hostility that many transgender people face in much of the country and the world. It typically looks like awkward social interactions, determining if or when to address your pronouns in a conversation with a stranger, and the occasional uncomfortable question or concerned glance in a gendered space.

Like other queer folks who have the option, I chose to leave a rural, conservative region where I had experienced overt homo- and transphobia to move to an urban area in a state where trans healthcare access is not being threatened by legislation and laws protect people from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression. And, in doing so, I hung up my budding career as a wilderness ranger in favor of finding a place where I could be myself without fear.

A group of people pose with a large Pride flag in the forest

A LGBTQIA+ community hike with outdoor drag queen and advocate Pattie Gonia in the Bay Area in March 2022.

Still, leaving the house usually means awkwardly navigating gender, especially in the casual social interactions of public spaces. Perceived gender can be remarkably fickle and there’s always some anxiety about being confronted for being in the “wrong place,” which has happened before. It means constantly keeping a mental checklist of the spaces where I can find a single-stall bathroom, and where I can’t.

Getting out on the trail is quite literally a breath of fresh air – in the great outdoors, the pressure of living in a binary-gendered world is less intense. After all, nature is a gender-neutral bathroom.

Out here I can walk for miles without having to think to think about my other-ness in a world where I must regularly choose between two categories I don’t belong in. Looking at the landscape and its inhabitants, queerness is all around – rarely does nature fit so cleanly into defined boxes.

A mountainous view overlooking an alpine meadow

View of alpine meadows in the Granite Chief Wilderness near Lake Tahoe.

Precisely where does the meadow end and the forest begin? At what point does a stream become a river? What, really, is the difference between a large shrub and a small tree aside from an arbitrary definition? But the illusion of inclusion usually ends when I stop to talk to another trail user.

“Are you a part of that women’s hiking group?”

“You go girl!”

“Aren’t you worried about being out here by yourself?”

The irony of being queer in the backcountry is feeling completely in control while navigating off-trail in massive landscapes and completely out of my element when navigating small talk with strangers, especially in light of transgender people becoming a political wedge issue. As in most spaces, you walk around with your guard up, wondering how much energy to give to a casual interaction or if it’s even worth saying more than a passing hello. Not to mention, how much more tenuous those interactions could be if you are also Black, brown, disabled, or marginalized in another way.

A person wearing a hardhat and gloves uses a hand saw on a small, bent tree.

Relieving tension in a spring-pole at Tahoe Trail Skills College in June.

There’s something amazing about working in the outdoors, cleaning up campsites, digging in the dirt, pulling on a crosscut saw, and giving back to the wild places we love alongside others who are just as passionate about being out there. However, spending time in remote places with strangers can be a daunting if you aren’t sure whether you can show up fully or be respected for who you are.

We have a long way to go to make outdoor spaces more welcoming to the all people, as users, as workers, and as volunteers. Creating programs that allow folks from groups which are underrepresented in the outdoors to come together, create community, and try something that may otherwise be way outside of their comfort zones is just one step in making a more equitable and inclusive culture around long distance trails.

At PCTA we’re excited to building more inclusive programs and a volunteer community that is representative of all people who love the Pacific Crest Trail. Our volunteer code of conduct and upcoming LGBTQIA+ affinity projects are just the beginning of our work to diversify the communities that we serve. We are proud to stand behind our commitment to creating a more equitable outdoors.

Learn more about PCTA’s commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Author: Hazel Platt

Hazel Platt is PCTA's Volunteer Engagement Associate, working to support the PCTA volunteer community and connect prospective volunteers with opportunities to get involved. Hazel is a self-proclaimed nature nerd, and loves long-distance hiking.