Let’s face facts: A historical look at great adventurers, from conquistadors to Louis and Clark, would show that the grand majority of them were white and male. The stereotype of an adventure was emboldened by the history books to highlight the greats as the grand trio of being white, male, and straight. Even York, a full member of the Louis and Clark expedition, had his name crossed out of the history books. This is not to say that woman or queer adventurers and explorers did not exist, but that time has proven to shun them out as the big name topics we come to learn as we grow. Taking a look at QueerBio.com, this article lists merely only 13 infamous LBGTQ adventurers in historical and modern contexts. Further reading into Wikipedia articles, Ranker articles, and The Great Global Bucket List all show that when searching online for a list of “great adventurers,” the vast majority are both white and male. Society today, in a world of instant communication and story-sharing beyond anything that has ever existed, has been proving that this stereotype for adventurers is no longer the norm – more and more often we are seeing humans of all divisions putting their existence into the call of adventure.
What we’re seeing is generations of queer and racially diverse people putting their foot down in the face of history, and stepping out of their comfort zone into well-deserved greatness. Alas, I digress. Despite any factual evidence of today’s people being as diverse as ever, being a queer adventurer still comes with that prying eye of locals and travel companions who instill doubt. I faced it myself. I could not tell you off the top of my head how many times I counted people asking me if I thought that being a transgender woman, alone and on the road with a skateboard would produce any ill social effects. I always kept my head high about it, exclaiming that I was seeking to find the good in the world I heard so much about- but the words of others certainly did make me doubt myself.
Thinking back to my first days of skateboarding across the USA, I was filming with CNN. They pulled me aside and interviewed me, with one question sticking out: “How do you think people will react to meeting a transgender cross country skateboarder?” I was surprised by the question. I hadn’t thought about it at all. Coming from Boston, Massachusetts and living in San Diego, California, I had a really welcoming and accepting environment everywhere I went. Even on days where perhaps my presentation leaned a little more male, or if my voice had caught a stranger off guard, the onlooking stares were minimal and generally I never had to worry beyond anything your typical female would worry about in the world. I was delving into lands I had never been to, and exploring cultures I knew nothing about. How did I think the people would react? I didn’t.
Of course, my absent mindedness about the fact that some people may not be okay with my gender identity essentially came off as cockiness. Though CNN and I broke off doing a documentary about my adventure, I won’t forget my callous response I gave them about how I had intended to show the world just how strong trans people could be. In the background, that one question that was brought up by more than just CNN ate at me. “What if they didn’t accept me?” Even at that time I hadn’t counted on the tens of people who offered me rides without my asking, the people who gave me homes to sleep in, or the ones who covered my meal costs at diners. “Was it a show of acceptance, or was it a display of that good-heartedness I wanted to find in the first place?” I doubled over in my mind on those thoughts. There was no way to know.
Being this visibly queer person in the true rural nowhere-land of the Midwest came with a huge set of worries for me. So many times I ducked into male bathrooms, assuming that perhaps they had clocked me as a boy from the second I entered the location. Other times I puffed out my chest so I would be seen as someone who couldn’t be intimidated. In retrospect- there was not one single person who ever commented on it. Any discussions I had on transgender or queer topics were usually brought up or even facilitated by me. My own worries limited how I was able to pronounce myself to the societies I delved into. Was it possible that if I had gone brashly into a rural bar with a giant gay flag and drag queen makeup that I would be attacked? Sure, but that rings true for anyone, anywhere.
In my latest adventure up the state of Florida by skateboard, I used Warm Showers to find hosts each night. I purposely put my identity as a transgender woman, so that anyone who was considering hosting me could decide if that was something they were okay with, without having to spring it on them. I managed to find a host each night without trouble. Also during that adventure, I was going through a particularly rough time in my transition where I had no access to Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), and the effects of the testosterone production I was undergoing (after 4 years of blocking it) began to take hold. My facial hair began to grow back, my muscles became taut, and my skin showed a certain coarseness to it. With the immense heat of the Floridian sun (even in January), I sweat off any makeup I may have worn, and my attempts to present in a more feminine way were proven futile. My identity as a trans woman upon a glance was as deep as the conversations I had about it.
Naturally, being a queer adventurer goes beyond my own experiences. Many gay and lesbian explorers are out there now, living digitally nomadic lifestyles, and getting along just fine. I know off hand a few people of color who escape the monotony of a nine to five job by bike, and the diversity of people living similar lifestyles in no longer limited in our new age. While hate is perpetuated by media and given public view, the one thing I personally learned on the road was that I had internalized what I learned from the media and internet or even other people’s experiences, and treated it as fact. There was no way for me to know if a stranger was glancing at me because of the eyeliner on my eyes with a five o’ clock shadow, or because I was carrying a 40lb backpack on a skateboard. Others have learned the same lesson: never be afraid of who you are until you’re given a reason to. You may find acceptance in the weirdest corners of Wyoming like I did.
The major tie in of my transgender identity to my travels is what I make of it. As I drove cross country with my girlfriend, my own fear limited me on doing simple tasks like going to the bathroom. There’s no middle ground for finding a balance between what we think we know and what we do know, unless we try it for ourselves. Half of the bathroom stops I skipped could have turned into fabulous discussions with strangers- who knows? First hand, I know that when you read about violence against the transgender community it becomes easier to want to roll up in a big blanket and resume watching your favorite TV shows from the safety of your own bed. The only thing you can take away from reading about violence in your community and population generalizations based on voting history is what you’ve experienced first hand. If adventure is what is sought after, the explorer has to be ready for all aspects of that.
I found being queer to be neither a virtue nor hinderance on any of my adventures so far. If anything, it was just an extension of my personal brand and identity. It was a conversation piece and a teaching mechanism for me to the uneducated, but otherwise just another part of who I was. I especially learned that future travels need not hold the same fears. I experienced what being myself was like in the rural societies of the Midwest, the Urban hellscapes of major cities, and the easy living of the beach life. I conquered mountains and continental divides, vast deserts and tundra temperatures. The authenticity of being myself through all of it was worth more than anything I had ever done before.