7 Ways to Be “Trans Competent” on Trail
In the hiking community, we need to be proactive in making hiking and backpacking accessible and inclusive to all people. One way YOU can make a difference is by being “trans competent” on trail. To me, being “trans competent” means knowing how to refer to people respectfully and accurately; learning how to be respectful of people’s truths; and listening to the experience of trans people on trail if they offer. As a trans woman, I don’t speak for all trans people. These tips reflect what I want to pass along from my experience of being “trans on the trail”. With my thru-hike of the AT starting in March, I’m sharing my thoughts to hopefully head some of these issues off at the pass. Without further ado:
Tip #1 Use gender neutral greetings
Use gender neutral greetings – For those passing interactions on trail with people that you won’t be spending time with.
- If you don’t know what someone’s gender is, and it’s not important information for you to know, just use gender neutral language! This is a great practice to get into off trail as well.
- A few simple examples: “Howdy y’all!”, “How’s everyone doing?”, “Hello!”, “Hiya!”, “Hey folks!” … you get the picture.
Tip #2 Don’t make assumptions
Don’t take it upon yourself to assume or guess what pronouns someone uses based on characteristics like body type, voice, clothing, or anything else associated with stereotypical gender expectations.
- Remember that especially with hiking clothing and accessories, besides slight variations, items “for men” and “for women” often look similar.
- Gender presentation is diverse. Just because someone is wearing a “Men’s” jacket, does that mean you should assume they are a man? People of all genders wear “Men’s” clothing for a variety of reasons like sizing, style and comfort.
Tip #3 Share your pronouns
In newly formed groups of hikers, encourage everyone to go around and do a brief introduction that includes their name and pronouns. By normalizing everyone sharing their pronouns, you encourage people to learn about a couple things:
- Basic grammar – Unfortunately many people I’ve run into on trail aren’t aware of pronouns in general.
- Encourages brief, non-confrontational discussions about the meaning behind pronouns and why it’s important for everyone to work towards using them correctly and accurately.
Tip #4 Believe people
When someone shares their gender with you, believe them. Simple as that. Relevant factors at play:
- Gender transition – Since you don’t know someone’s gender background and transition status, no matter how someone presents, listen to what they tell you and internalize that. Try to deconstruct your assumptions and see the person as who they are, not who you think they should be.
- Non-binary genders – You may want to assume that someone fits into the gender binary because that’s our society’s default setting, but the reality is humanity is infinitely more diverse than two types.
- Gender is not black and white – Even as a trans woman, I will intentionally incorporate masculine attributes and gender markers at times, purely because I like them and they feel authentic to me! That doesn’t make me less of a woman. Think of all the cisgender* men and women in your life. People embody a patchwork of gendered aspects of their presentation, so just like you wouldn’t question their gender, don’t question a transgender person’s either!
Tip #5 Use context clues
Look for intentional markers that people may use to indicate their pronouns, and/or to let you know they are transgender on trail. Importantly, this is something that I’ve done, but I know many transgender people who would not be comfortable with using markers like these, it’s strictly personal preference, and a transgender/gender non-conforming person has every right to choose whether or not they disclose their gender to you. Personally, I’ve worn items on my pack etc. to give people a heads up in an effort to reduce incidences of being misgendered on trail:
- Transgender flag pins (blue, pink and white stripes)
- Gender pronoun pins – might say things like “she/her”, “they/them”, “he/him”, “xe/xem” etc. to denote how you should refer to them in the third person.
Tip #6 Do your own research
Relieve trans hikers of the “burden of education”.
- Most hikers come from a well-intentioned place, and when they meet a transgender person in their travels, they may want to ask questions to to gain understanding. Please see that it’s not our responsibility to do the emotional labor of teaching anyone about transgender people. I urge you to take it upon yourself to get answers rather than putting your baggage onto trans people you meet on trail.
- Truthfully, I’m writing this article so hopefully people will read it and won’t need the 101 from some unsuspecting trans hiker who’s just trying to enjoy their backpacking trip!
Tip #7 Acknowledge your own transphobia
Understand and acknowledge your own transphobic feelings, thoughts and biases.
- Just as we acknowledge our implicit bias towards different races, we need to do the same for transgender people.
- Without our knowledge, we have all grown up in a world that is deeply transphobic, and that’s not your fault.
- Don’t ignore the impact that growing up surrounded by transphobia has had on all of us. Transphobia takes many forms, and here’s a couple that exist in the hiking world and beyond:
- The sharing of dehumanizing jokes
- The use of transphobic slurs
- The implication and expectation that everybody falls into a neatly packaged gender binary
Hopefully these tips helped you gain a new or expanded understanding of how to be trans competent on trail. If you have hiking friends or outdoorsy family members, please pass along this info to them as a handy starting point for a discussion. Again, this list reflects my personal preferences and biases. I’ve likely left out tons of components to trans competence on trail, so take this as a call to action, not a “one-and-done” topic.
Lastly, you don’t have to do all of these perfectly to work towards trans-competence. All I ask is that you give your best good faith effort to consider the impact of your words and actions… and if you’re reading this post, it’s likely because you want to do just that, so thank you for your continued effort to make the outdoors welcoming to all.
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*Cisgender people are anyone who is not transgender. Generally speaking, they are people whose gender is the same as what the doctor ascribed to them when they were born.
PS. Want the “she/her” pin pictured in the feature image? Click here. I’ll be wearing mine on my pack during my thru-hike!
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Thanks for sharing these tips Lyla! Just like you said, this is a great starting point and an invitation to all people who want to be allies to learn more. In my experience, I’ve found the best way to be an ally is to educate yourself, use what you learned when you can, and don’t let your fear of messing up keep you from doing anything at all. Like you said, keeping in mind a positive intent but also acknowledging impact. Forgive yourself if you mess up, and do better when you know better. Good luck on trail!
My stepson is transgender using male, he/him pronouns. He has taught me so much. I have had my eyes and heart opened and, after reading this, they are open wider. Thank you, Lyla!
Thank you for sharing this perspective, Lyla! I feel like this is good advice when meeting anyone for the first time or when addressing a group of people. I appreciate the examples you gave so we can see better ways to frame our language when speaking to others 🙂
Eh, that’s too many instructions to worry about when hiking. A simple head nod, hello, and smile when passing another hiker will suffice. I could care less about your gender or who you’re attracted too. Happy trails ya’ll.
Another super helpful article. The “Share your pronouns” really sunk in with me. That tip could be applied to a wide array of social interactions. I also really liked the ‘pronoun’ pin idea as another way of normalizing the discussion of gender pronouns- I just ordered one for my packs! Hopefully this info is being shared far and wide across the community. Thanks for Sharing!
Thank you for sharing your perspective! I have several trans and non-binary people in my immediate circles, and Im always learning. I feel like Im always asking questions. So here’s one for you. Say the AT takes you 6 months, that’s roughly 180 days, and possibly 180 evenings at camp with new or different people. Do you want to have a gender/pronoun/trans 101 conversation with people every single night? Or would you want to have nights where the talk more revolves around mileage or ramen recipes, etc. Im generalizing here, of course. Im the first one to be nosey, but Im also the first one who worries about being too nosey, lol. From my perspective, if we’ve all just finished a brutal day of hiking, the last thing I would want to do is ‘bother’ someone with pronoun questions. What’s your thoughts on that? I so look forward to following your journey!
Although I’m sure I will be condemned & chastised (banned?) for my perspective I have to share. I’m sorry, but this prolific “woke” mentality has become too over the top when I can’t even visit a backpacking site without being “taught” human decency. Why is there the OVER emphasis for treating individual groups of people with extreme delicacy instead of just treating EVERYONE with respect? I would challenge that anyone who “doesn’t care” about a cis/trans person’s feelings is NOT going to be convinced by yet another “guidebook” on how to engage them in conversation. On the contrary, anyone who DOES care about others DOESN’T refer to someone with the incorrect pronoun out of spite or with the intent of denigrating the other person. Why isn’t there more discussion on how cis or trans people should understand that our incorrect use of a pronoun isn’t a condemnation of a person’s life decisions but a potential opportunity to engage in conversation and simply get to know the other person (I acknowledge that this point was made in the article… I DID read it!). I backpack to be FREE of all of our societal craziness but now I’m instructed to “worry” that I’m going to accidentally offend someone else when we’re all out just trying to enjoy life and the creation we live in. Sadly what the woke mentality is doing is just forcing us to pull away from others & wall ourselves off for fear of accidentally offending and being condemned resulting in potentially far-reaching repurcussions. The desire for “inclusion” has resulted in exclusion by choice.
Please read this for how it was intended… NOT a condemnation of a lifestyle but the expression of frustration that EVERYONE has to be treated as a delicate flower and ANY unintentional offense is taken as the ultimate humiliation and insult and that person should be treated as an anathema.