PHOTOESSAY: Taking My Chosen Body Outdoors

Before I knew I was trans, I used climbing to help me connect with my body. Climbing requires presence of both mind and body, which can make it the best and worst thing for dysphoria, depending on the day. It forces you into yourself, into your skin. I learned my body’s physical size and how it relates to space. I refined micro muscle movements from my fingertips to toes. Climbing helped me recognize my body’s strength and grace when I was otherwise focused on what I needed to change.

While climbing was a big part of what helped me through my worst periods of depression and dysphoria, so was my friendship with Syd. I met Syd while climbing in Brooklyn. We had similar climbing styles and would occasionally run into each other at the gym and work on a problem together. They were my first non-binary friend who had taken steps to medically transition. They were a few years post top surgery and seemed so at home in their body. At my lowest points I saw in them a potential future for myself, the possibility of top surgery and feeling comfortable in my body.

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I got top surgery on September 20, 2018. I started to feel dysphoria lift, but could barely move my arms for weeks. I felt restless and anxious. I craved movement and climbing but it would be months before I could hang by my hands again. During recovery, Syd and I made a pact that we would celebrate my new chest by going climbing outside shirtless after I’d healed. Even though they moved to California and I lived in New York, it felt important that I cross this milestone with them. I wanted my first trip outside to be with someone who would understand how freeing it feels to expose your new nips to the desert sun, how it feels to take your shirt off and no longer worry about bras, binders or boobs. The joy of being topless and post-op.

I decided to meet Syd in Oakland to celebrate my newly healed chest. They gathered a group of beautiful queers (Olivia, campfire dessert chef & kink master; Katie, camp dad & hot spring guide; Camille, tomboy dancing queen) and we drove out to Bishop, CA. We hiked out into the Happy Boulders, selected our first climb and immediately took off our shirts. It was glorious, but also terrifying and vulnerable. I felt so much more exposed than I ever had before. It was my first time climbing shirtless and having my scars brush against rock, but it was also my first time exposing my gender and chosen body outdoors. Obvious scars traverse my torso making my transness impossible to hide. These scars have freed me from dysphoria but have made me more vulnerable to transphobia. A small voice in the back of my mind reminded me to be careful every time another group walked past. I was aware that we could not let our guard down completely, just in case.

There is plenty of space outdoors, but it doesn’t always feel that way. We were not the largest or the loudest group, nor were we trying to be. When other groups came close we would try to finish our climbs and move, wanting to maintain this special space of queer bliss that we were creating. We touched lots of rocks and each other. We got naked, took photos and peed under the stars. We cooked over fires, we camped and climbed. We skinny dipped in hot springs and broke each other’s falls. We held space for each person to push their own limits and find their own magic in the Happy Boulders.

I’ve worked hard to normalize my non-normative body within the confines of my own life. I am privileged to live in New York City where queer culture abounds and a quick trip to Riis beach greets you with an array of trans and gender non-conforming bodies celebrating themselves. But in my experience climbing outdoors, I rarely run into visibly queer folks and we are scarcely represented in any aspect of the outdoor industry. This makes going outdoors feel intimidating. There are rarely spaces to celebrate trans and non-binary genders outdoors, so we have to celebrate ourselves in whatever small ways we can. For me, this trip was a magical celebration of transness and queerness in the outdoors.

🌲


edited by laneia.


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Lou Bank is a New York based photographer and zine-maker. Their work explores intimacy through romance, friendship and chance encounter. They received their BS in Photography from Drexel University. Their images have been shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Philadelphia Photo Arts Center and Leonard Pearlstein Gallery. They have been published in American Photography, BUST Magazine, Juxtapoz Magazine, and Aint-Bad. Find more of Lou's work at loufbank.com and follow them on Instagram.

Lou has written 1 articles for us.

24 Comments

  1. Lou!!!! I’m quietly crying at my desk over here. I knew your pictures and ability to capture the beauty of this trip would be magical, but your words truly brought this all together! I feel so grateful to have had the chance to join you at Bishop. Thank you for allowing me to be witness to this milestone, and especially to your and Syd’s friendship. This won’t be the last trip 💖💖💖

  2. Holy shit. These photos are absolutely gorgeous! The clear joy and love and mutual support expressed here is just stunning.

    This is extra emotional for me as a lapsed climber. Partially due to chronic injury, but mostly I just got too exhausted by the bro culture. If my climbing trips looked like this, I doubt I ever would have stopped climbing.

    What a beautiful queer family celebration. 🏜☀️🧡

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