My Body Took Me Here – Erin Parisi

A moment of doubt, a pause, a deep breath, followed by a step forward.

“You don’t belong here” … “You should’ve trained harder”…
I tamp down rising moments of doubt and mentally prepare for the next step forward. Step. Breathe. Step.

In the high alpine, summoning the strength to step forward comes from faith, training, and trusting your team. Training for and climbing the Seven Summits (summiting the highest mountain on each continent) challenges even the most seasoned climbers, and as the first known transgender person ascending the highest summit on each continent the challenges extend far beyond that; It’s a fight to redefine my outdoor experience and what it means to live as a trans person among the rest of the outdoor community.

I spent a lifetime hiding, running, and living in fear. So many years defined by knowing that my heart and body were mismatched, and also internalizing the world’s narrative of trans lives. I watched as trans lives were defined by violence, bigotry, and hatred. I believed that it wasn’t possible to love and celebrate myself while also being authentically me. I knew that I needed to avoid the pain by getting through each day in black and white, and resigning myself to desolation. The plan seemed easy: live a life of secrecy to avoid the loss of my friends and family and access to the places I loved.

I moved to Colorado and got closer to my passion for skiing and biking. Next came hiking, then climbing, and backcountry skiing. When alone, I challenged myself on the trail, found respite, therapy, and space to contemplate happiness.

The outdoors provided more than just exercise and escape – it also nurtured friendships. I discovered adventure friends who I learned to trust with my life. We worked all week and planned long weekend getaways. Then we began adventures around the world and the exploring of faraway destinations. I had found my place in the world, and I visually appeared to fit in perfectly. At the same time, my internal struggle became too great to hide. Having spent a lifetime hiding, the prison I created for myself became intolerably small. I calculated the risk of losing my friends, my family, and no longer being accepted and welcomed in the outdoor community. It was a risk I had to take. I squelched my internal voices of doubt, took a deep breath and began taking ownership of life.

First I chose to come out to people I assumed would be allies; those people who had been kind to LGBTQ+ people before they knew my secret. One by one I came out as trans to those family and friends – each time giving them just a few seconds to hear my story, configure their thoughts and then respond. As I knew was a risk, some did not accept this information and chose to leave my life. Many more shook the narrative and responded with unwavering love. For each friendship I lost, I kept two and even developed three more. Now, more than ever, my place in the outdoors was crucial to my happiness. Many asked how I would continue my outdoor life now that I no longer fit the stereotype. But I relied on those valleys and mountains as a place to grow, space to reacquaint myself with my body and with my friends. My confidence grew, and I became more comfortable owning my place as an unlikely hiker.

Having spent a lifetime allowing the world the power to relegate my voice to the shadows and force me to hide, I wondered how I would live Life 2.0 and the answer became clear: A lifetime is too long to hide, and it was never too late to begin writing the rest of my story. I began the journey to climb to the highest point on each continent – a mission to stand in the places where there were no shadows, and there were no places to hide. Places I can be unabashedly proud of myself, and let my voice be heard and show the world that THIS body got me here and I will not hide anymore!

I began my journey to retake my space in the outdoors in spite of the narrative the world had used to hold me down. In the year that followed, I summitted four of the world’s Seven Summits. My life’s path is mine to define, and I choose the journey of living authentically and continuing to see where my body will take me next! Pause, deep breath, step forward. I DO belong here.