Queer Youth Backpacking Last Summer

Last summer I hopped a plane to Hartford, Connecticut from Tampa, Florida. Travis picked me up at the airport and we drove to TVOP's base, where the other teens and I piled into the queerest van on Earth.

It was beautiful with its rainbow breathing dragons, solar system, and quirky bumper stickers. It took us to some cabins where we would spend our first night filling our packs, eating s’mores, and enjoying indoor plumbing for a bit longer. The next morning we set out. Throughout the next six days, we learned why Vermont is affectionately called "Vermud" by hikers and that there are at least two different types of rain: tree piss and sky diarrhea. A few other lessons we learned were wet boots aren’t so bad compared to burnt boots, freeze dried bananas are not delicious, and hiking two miles at a steep incline is totally worth the view, and the victory candy bar.

A short summary of each day is: day 1, I tried a tofu hot dog for the first time. Day 2, I slipped on a boardwalk and landed right on my ass. We also went swimming in a foggy lake and it was awesome.  Day 3, I took a dump in the most scenic place yet and we all sat by the fire singing songs with a thru hiker. Day 4, I swam in a second beautiful lake while overhearing another backpacking group discuss hypothetical situations taking place at a Denny’s; it was one of the stranger things I’ve heard. Day 5, we were ambushed by flying squirrels (whom Perry valiantly fought off). Day 6, we set up camp beside a river and I made a giant carne. We also made pudding and I put too much peanut butter in the peanut noodles (I am so sorry). Day 7, we piled into the van and said our goodbyes back where we started, after getting some homemade donuts at a country store.

Overall, I believe we hiked about 32 miles. I will never forget last summer’s TVOP trip and I can’t wait to join them this summer. If you’ll be coming too, be ready to poop in the woods, take a dip in a lake or two, and tell stories you’ve never thought you would. See you then!

Posted on February 7, 2017 .

Surviving An Avalanche Course and Our Visit with Malcolm, the FTM Traveler

I sat on the plane, holding on the tarmac, waiting for the pilots to let us know if the weather was clear enough for us fly.  I had anxiously been awaiting my trip to Mt. Hood to take my AIARE level 1 Avalanche Certification Class.  I was eager to practice digging snow pits to understand the snowpack, using my beacon to search for skiers who'd been caught in a snow slide, and most of all, I was excited to see my co-worker and friend Travis and to ski some deep powder with him.  We don't travel in avalanche terrain on Venture Out Project trips, but still I thought this was a safety certification worth getting since backcountry skiing is one of my all time favorite activities.  I love the freedom of the mountains, the feeling of strapping climbing skins to the bottom of my skis and climbing uphill like a member of the 14th Mountain Division.  I love that in the backcountry there are no lift lines, no crowds, no groomed runs and that the only sound is the hoots of joy that come from skiers and riders who've climbed their way up, just to ride their way down.  The pilots announced that we were clear to fly and I fell asleep dreaming of the freeskiing that lay ahead.  

Travis picked me up at the airport and we made the harrowing drive over snow covered roads up to Mt. Hood.  The snow was falling at rates of at least an inch an hour and I was twitching with excitement over the prospect of skiing the next day.  

The next morning we walked into our Avvy 1 classroom and oh so quickly our dreams of feeling free and happy to play in the snow were crushed.  Immediately we were consumed by dude bro ski culture.  Our instructors unironically asked us, "What do you rip on?"  "Excuse me, what?" I asked.  He responded, "You know man, what do you rip on to get down the mountain?"  

We sat in a freezing cold classroom listening to lectures on snow rounding and faceting while watching glorious snow blanket the slopes just outside our building.  All the while we felt smaller and smaller as the bros in the room took up so much space, literally and figuratively.  They asked questions with a 2 minute preamble just so the rest of class could hear how much they already knew about avalanches.  They told tales of "epic pow days on gnarly peaks" with their bros.  It was like I was at Ridgemont High.  And to top it all off, our instructor just couldn't get Travis' pronouns right.  

We never actually got to ski during the class.  Turns out there was too much snow!  Avalanche danger went from Considerable to High which meant it was just too unsafe to travel in the backcountry.   

But wait!  it does get better!  In the midst of feeling like such outsiders in a place that both Travis and I feel so at home in (the wilderness), we had the immense pleasure of spending the weekend with our friend Malcolm, the FTM Traveler.  It was such a breath of fresh air to come home to our condo and meet up with Malcolm at the end of our long class days.  Being a group of 3 trans folks made us feel strong and good and supported.  We shared stories of outdoor adventure, of family, of love, of friendship, of leadership and of being trans.  We made each other feel safe and strong and supported.  Hanging out together fueled us and showed us first hand the power of our queer and trans community.  Being in the company of Malcolm and Travis each night helped me remember why I put up with the dudes at the Avvy class.  I do that so I can be trained and safe and take queer folks out into the woods to feel the freedom of the backcountry unencumbered by dude bros.  I do this because we deserve the woods and nature just as much as anyone.  I do this in the hopes that I can bring other trans folks out on an adventure and they can hoot with joy at the thrill of riding down a mountain; so that they can feel proud of summiting a peak.  I do this so folks can feel like their body, even just for a moment, is something to feel good about.  

 

Posted on December 22, 2016 .

Cariboose Raises $1791 for Queer Youth Backpacking

It has been one month since Cariboose (Tam) and I (Travis aka Bear Bait) finished our 272 mile trek on the Long Trail in Vermont, starting at the Canadian border and walking south to the Massachusetts State line, and into North Adams, Mass. where we celebrated our journeys end. My feet still ache every morning, but not to the degree they did while hiking 8-9 hours, days on end, over roots, and rocks, always wondering where the "footpath" was that we were promised from the map describing the The Long Trail "A Footpath in the Wilderness".  This mostly served as a funny joke that we laughed over several times.  

This trip was journey of friendship, pain, love, challenge, tears, laughter and an opportunity to not take our everyday comforts for granted.  I also had the opportunity to have Cariboose describe for me, scene by scene, script included, Rocky I-V for I've never seen any of them, and she is a devote fan. This ate up an entire day, and few weeks later, I secretly wanted her to tell it to me again. 

Tam has always loved an underdog story.  Doesn't matter what the sport is, if there is a marginalized, oppressed, or evidently weaker character that beats all odds, Tam is there in the front row.  And one could say our journey on the Long Trail was an underdog story too. 

Being in the woods we were finally both free from navigating restrooms, stares, peoples ignorance and fear.  At least for the most part.   We had a few encounters that left us reeling and saying "did that really just happen?".  While I generally don't feel safe in a public restrooms anywhere, I always feel safe with Tam.  I would not have been able to finish (or start) this trail without her.   And she was the courage behind this journey.  

While keeping a blog of her thru-hike on the Long Trail, she ran a fundraiser effort which benefited The Venture Out Project.  Tam raised a whopping $1791!  This money will go towards scholarships for our Queer Youth Backpacking trip next summer.  

Tam has been dedicated to queer youth for several years, through being an Adult Adviser for BAGLY (Boston Alliance Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Youth) and working with The Theaters Offensives' queer youth group True Colors. Because of Tam, queer youth who might not otherwise be able to attend a backpacking trip, will be able to.  Last summer, we had several queer youth utilize our scholarships to join us on our backpacking trip. Witnessing the transformation of what these youth think they can do is truly inspiring.

We want to thank Tam with our deepest gratitude for her dedication to queer youth  & backpacking and for sharing her fundraising efforts with us. Tam's fundraising page is still open if you'd like to contribute to the Queer Youth Backpacking trip: August 6-11. 2017.   And be sure to read the blog!  It was an amazing adventure, and Tam captured it so eloquently. 

THANK YOU CARIBOOSE!

 

On the summit of Camel's Hump (and the top of Vermont)  

On the summit of Camel's Hump (and the top of Vermont)  

Hitching into town became a normal thing every 4 or 5 day activity. Thankfully, Vermonters are very friendly to hikers! 

Hitching into town became a normal thing every 4 or 5 day activity. Thankfully, Vermonters are very friendly to hikers! 

And we made it to the end/beginning of the Long Trail.  (Most hikers head north, but you know, we wanted to be different) 

And we made it to the end/beginning of the Long Trail.  (Most hikers head north, but you know, we wanted to be different) 

Posted on October 7, 2016 .

We Stand with Orlando #Pulse

When I started writing this blog post the horrific shooting at Orlando Pulse hadn't yet happened.  I was writing about the amazing time we had at the 15th Philadelphia Trans Health Conference.  I talked about the people we met and the community we were a part of for three wonderful days.  I talked about the celebratory nature of the conference and how inspiring it was to see trans people from all walks of life being out and proud and happy.

Then I woke up to read the news that 50 of members of our LGBTQ+ community had been brutally murdered while celebrating their Pride. They were dancing and creating community in a space that was supposed to be safe.  A space that generations of queer people had fought to achieve.  A Pride that had started in 1969 at the Stonewall Inn as a protest and as riots against police brutality.  And a Pride that had evolved into celebration.  A Pride that I admit, I had come to take for granted. Reading this news, thinking about the predominantly Latinx queer community that was a target of this violence, I found myself unable to write about the good time I had, about the pride I felt and about the inspiration I get from seeing a whole generation of young queers who are so unabashedly out.  

I just started writing to help me process what had happened and what I was feeling.  In writing, I realized that I needed to write to remind myself, and as an explanation to others, why The Venture Out Project and other queer spaces and groups exist.  People sometimes ask why we need trans and queer spaces.  This is why.  We need them because despite the progress that has been made, despite the fact that even trans and queer folks sometimes take Pride celebrations for granted, we cannot assume our safety.  We need our community.  We need to support and love one another and we need a community to hold us up when times are hard.  As a former soccer player of mine wrote so eloquently, "Unlike the aftermath of hate directed at people because of their skin color or religion, I do not share this previously unfamiliar feeling with my cis-gender, straight family. That fact – that for most LGBTQ people, we do not share something so core to who we are with our families – makes the safety and solidarity of the LGBTQ community so profoundly important. " (Katie Kraschel)

And so I look to my queer and trans community.  I look to the Venture Out Project to help me through this.  To provide me a space to be with my community.  I hope you have a community and a place where you can feel safe and be vulnerable and share your true self.  I thank the people in my life, in my family, at The Venture Out Project, at Camp Aranu'tiq, at Philly Trans Health, and those who stood and stand at the vigils this week.  Thank you for being visible and helping me be visible.  

 

Posted on June 13, 2016 .

I was nervous but I kept coming back to TVOP!

Hi, my name is Gabe.  I have been a regular participant of The Venture Out Project for over a year.  I had discovered TVOP by stopping by their booth at the 2015 Northampton Pride.  I had never heard of them before and I shyly and quickly grabbed a brochure, and then made a mad dash away from the table.  That evening, I read the brochure I had ran away with and realized I was interested in the hikes, but I felt really timid!

After a few weeks, I decided to join a hike. As I pulled into the parking lot of the Notch for my first Thursday Night Hike I was so nervous.  I was certain that everyone had known each other for years and were much better hikers than I was.  After some introductions we were started to hike!  I noticed I hung to the back of the group, didn’t talk much, and just listened. I really enjoyed the hike, and the people were so nice!

I kept coming to the weekly Thursday Night hikes but I didn’t know how everyone identified.  I thought they were surely different than I was.  After a month of regular hikes with TVOP, I finally started to realize that a lot of the folks in the group were trans just like me.  As I became more familiar with the weekly hikers, I started to open and up and felt I was fitting in. 

In hindsight, I’m so grateful I stuck around during those first few weeks of awkwardness!  I’m still a regular on Thursday Night Hikes, along with attending other trips as well including backpacking & skiing.  

Posted on May 20, 2016 .

Pride, Mother's Day and my Manniversary

Noho Pride Parade with my family and The Greenfield Center School

Noho Pride Parade with my family and The Greenfield Center School

Today is Mother’s Day.  It is the day after Pride.  And tomorrow will be my two-year anniversary of being on T.  It’s kind of a wild confluence of events for me.  I’m celebrating being my true self, having a mother, having been a mother, being partnered with a mother, and being lucky enough to lead an organization dedicated to creating a safe and fun outdoor community for our LGBTQ+ community.  And at the same time, all of these events give me pause. 

In some ways being on T for two years is a fairly short amount of time, and yet in so many ways it puts me so very far away from being a mom, being a lesbian and being part of a community of women that for so many years felt like home to me.  I felt this acutely yesterday at Pride when two women came over to The Venture Out Project table.  They were excited about what we do but looked concerned.  I asked them if they were interested in joining us for a hike.  They looked up and asked, “Are women allowed on your trips?”  In that moment I realized that these two lesbians, who only two years ago would have passed me on the street and given me that knowing look, had no idea that for 38 years I had outwardly represented myself as a woman, that I carried and gave birth to my now nearly six-year old twins, and for three years was called Mommy.  They had no idea of our shared connection, of my intimate lived experience of what it means to be a woman, a lesbian, and a mom.  And yet I realized that my telling them I’m trans, that of course women are welcome because many of us have lived as women, would do little good because no matter what I told them, they saw a man standing in front of them. 

Some tell me I should feel good about the fact that my physical appearance represents my gender identity.  And to be sure, in many ways and in many contexts I do.  But yesterday at Pride in Northampton, the self-proclaimed lesbian capital of the world, I felt sad that folks I was meeting for the first time had no idea the complexity of my gender identity, my past and my connection to the lesbian community.  Which is of course to say, none of us can see the complexity of someone’s identity just by looking at them.  We can read some things on people’s bodies, but they’re not always accurate and they’re certainly incomplete.  What I like about The Venture Out Project and the community we are creating is that it is a place where we can all share the complexity and nuance of who we are and that we welcome and affirm each other for that very reason. 

So on this Mother’s Day, day after Pride, and Manniversary Eve, I want to shout to the world that everyone is welcome at Venture Out – that we seek to be a space that attracts a diversity of people, a space where we recognize each other for who we are and where we seek community in our shared and unique experiences.  In fact, my favorite trips have been those where we have people from age 20 to 60 sharing a tent, a genderqueer college student teaching a 50 year old lesbian how they use the word queer, and a 55 year old gay men telling a group of young queers about what it was like to live through the AIDS crisis of the 80s and 90s.   That to me is really what all three of these holidays are all about.  They are about recognizing that there is a Mother in many of us who takes care of our chosen family, that the anniversary of starting T is for me more an anniversary of becoming my true self, and that Pride is about celebrating all of the past, present and future in our community.  Thank you all for being part of my community. 

Posted on May 8, 2016 .

I found Venture Out Project through a friend.

I found Venture Out Project through a friend. The moment I realized such an amazing organization existed, I was immediately hooked and wanted to book a trip. Being an outdoor person living in Colorado is a pretty common thing. But doing those activities with other trans and queer people is not as common. The idea I can be with like minded people who understand the journey I have been on, and able to share their journey felt like a tall glass of water on a hot day. 

I have always been into nature and outdoors. As a kid my parents taught me young how testing yourself on a trail, or camping in the rain can teach you so much about yourself, and how to be self reliant. It taught me what l it feels like to be uncomfortable but to keep going because around the next corner could have the view of a life time.  All that I learned in the outdoors prepared me for my transition and  molded me into the trans man I am today. 

During transition the outdoors was my safe space. I knew I could go hit up a trail and work all my frustrations and fears out in a healthy way. It was my own personal therapy and kept me from drugs and alcohol. Through my love of the outdoors I have been able to challenge myself. This summer I will be competing as male in a 100 mile mountain bike race in the Colorado Rockies. The race has a 12 hour cut off time which will push me to the limit. I know no matter what happens I will be pushing myself to see what I really can do. My reward after will be flying to Vermont and backpacking with the Venture Out Project. 

As a transgender person we spend so much time on self reflecting. Wondering who we are and how to get there. Sometimes it feels overwhelming, and that we as trans people don't have outlets to express ourselves other then to talk about being trans. It becomes consuming and exhausting. We need positive outlets to express ourself. The Venture Out Project allows our community to express ourself in a healthy and positive way. To become an outdoor person, to find peace in a sometimes confusing world.  Remember you are better then you think you are, and you can do more then you think you can. Get outside!

Posted on April 25, 2016 .

My name is Eli Garza. I am a transgender man from San Antonio, TX.

Eli.JPG

Hello, my name is Eli Garza. I am a transgender man from San Antonio, TX. I discovered The Venture Out Project through a post on Facebook. When I read the information on their website, I instantly felt like I found what I had always been looking for. Without hesitation I signed up for a week long ski trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

I have lived my whole life in Texas where our winter’s average to 60 degrees and snow is that very rare occasion where we shut down the whole city. In San Antonio I am very involved in our LGBT community. I serve as a board member for our San Antonio LGBT Center and I am the chair of the LGBT employee resource group at my job. I love the outdoors. As a child, my family took camping trips every Easter weekend. This past summer my brother and I hiked Big Sur in California, and in December I gathered a few friends for a “Texas” winter camping trip. It wasn’t until I discovered The Venture Out Project that I found the two things I am most passionate about (the LGBT community and the outdoors) together in one.

Going to Jackson Hole, Wyoming for a week long ski trip was not something that was in my comfort zone. I had only seen snow twice, I had never skied before, and I had never taken a trip with strangers. My friends and family worried about my well-being in 30 degree temperatures. I was anxious about what this experience would be like, but Perry and the whole crew from The Venture Out Project were very helpful and comforting. Before the trip they kept constant contact with me letting me know what kind of clothes I should take, where to find discounted ski tickets, and workout tips to prepare for the skiing.

During the trip, the people that were once strangers soon became friends and mentors. They all helped me with dressing appropriately for the day, they would lend me gear, and they helped me learn to ski. I had an absolute blast. From crashing into trees to pizza wedging down a steep hill, it was all amazing. I learned that hot tubbing is crucial after a day of skiing, that Travis and Luke need to become my personal chefs, and a puzzle of Jackson Hole Resort is impossible to complete.

The snow and the skiing were a great part of the trip, but that is only a small portion of what I took away. Since my transition, I had never been around other transgender men I could relate to. I know trans guys in my area but none that I am close to. I was so inspired by the other trans men in the group and how comfortable they were in their skin. One night, we were having a conversation about tattoos and one of the guys said, “I have a tattoo of a transgender symbol so I never forget I am trans.” He doesn’t know this, but that comment stuck in my head. Since my transition, I have been trying to forget that I am transgender. I had never seen how comforting and easy it was to love yourself for everything you are. I took off my shirt for the first time during this trip and it was as if I took of a mask I was so desperately trying to keep on. Through these seven days, I began to love myself more and more for who I am.

I’d like to thank The Venture Out Project for all the work they put in to making these trips happen. To everyone who I met at the trip, thank you for helping me discover the love for skiing, Jimmy Chin, and myself. I left San Antonio as a self-conscious (transgender) man to spend time in the snow with some queer people and I returned as a very proud TRANSGENDER MAN who is okay at skiing.

Posted on March 31, 2016 .

Boston Based Weekend Morning Hiking Series Begins April 30

Hi TVOP!  I'm Tam, I'm queer, I live in Jamaica Plain and I love hiking.  I also love The Venture Out Project.  I believe that creating queer community in the woods is important and fun and I want to be part of this movement.  So come join me on the first Boston-Based weekend morning-hiking series. Inspired by TVOP's Thursday night hiking series in the Pioneer Valley, this series offers a chance for us Boston area folks to gather in nature and enjoy a great local spot, take in some views, and get a little exercise.  All LGBTQ+ folks are welcome regardless of hiking experience.  Join us as we gather and see what the Blue Hills has to offer!

April 30 - Meet at Green Street T-Station, 8am.  Click here to sign up!

Posted on March 28, 2016 .

What I Gained by Venturing Out - Guest Blog by bo Clark

As a non-binary trans person, venturing out into daily life can be a struggle. Often you can’t even think about backpacking in the wild, surrounded by strangers, and presenting as your gender identity. Fortunately that is the exact opposite experience I had with The Venture Out Project when I went on a 6 day backpacking trip on a section of The Long Trail and the Appalachian Trail. In what I will call “outdoor adventure” spaces that are not exclusively queer, I have often been misgendered and not really felt safe presenting as a non-binary person. At TVOP, we always start outings by asking each others pronouns and everyone in the group is respectful of everyone else’s identities. This basic respect and understanding from other queers were necessary for me to have a comfortable and positive experience. I didn’t have to try to present or act in any certain way. I was just accepted and seen in the way I want to be seen.

The trip was completely transformative for me. For the first time in a long time I was appreciating my body for what it could do. This body hiked 40 miles. This was an experience I needed with my body. It was truly unifying. I had time for self-reflection that I usually don’t get in my hectic life. I shared stories and had conversations with other queer and trans folks about politics, transition, our childhoods, hiking, and our favorite foods to cook. I learned about survival in the wilderness and in the world as a trans person. We truly created a community and were supportive of each other through the tougher times on the trip. I laughed, I cried,I played games, and I drank tuna mayo water. I am so thankful for the chance to have gone on this trip through TVOP's sliding scale philosophy. I gained so much and I really believe that without the community of Venture Out it would have been impossible for me to have this experience.

Posted on September 24, 2015 and filed under Gender, Hiking, Safety, Scholarships.