I’m currently packing for my annual Pride trip to the wilderness. This year, I’m heading to Glacier National Park. A fellow hiker in Yosemite told me that if I love Yosemite — and I really, really do — then I’ll love Glacier even more. I can’t wait.
For the last few years, I’ve made sure to get out of town for Pride and spend time alone or with a partner or friend in nature. Surely there’s some aspect of being #OutsideWithPride to this annual endeavor, in that being visible as a trans woman in the outdoors subtly builds access and inclusion to those outdoors for LGBTQ+ community — but that isn’t the point for me. The point is actually the opposite: I don’t want to be visible, I want to be invisible.
This Pride, what I really want is to be left alone.
A trans writer I know recently posted in a Slack thread that “visibility saves lives.” I have no doubt that this idea has merit. But I can’t help but think about a corollary that, admittedly, I’m not certain has merit, but feels true: Visibility also ends lives. Every time I’ve been harassed, made to feel unsafe, or discriminated against, it’s because I was seen. If I’m out in the woods, for example, if nobody else is around — If I’m invisible — none of that can happen.
This is obviously a hyperbolically reductive simplification; it’s true that one can only be hated when one is witnessed. But that’s also the only way one can be loved. I often yearn for a middle ground, though: to be met with simple indifference.
A too rarely understood or acknowledged privilege, especially when so much LGBTQ+ discourse is about the power and importance of visibility, is the pleasure of invisibility. Most cis people — at least, white ones — move through the world as just another face in the crowd, as just another human being. They aren’t tokens of inclusivity included for diversity points. They aren’t talking points or pawns in a culture war. They aren’t gawked at everywhere they go, constantly observed and evaluated. They aren’t “brave” for existing. They get to just exist.
I am conflicted about this desire. To be clear, I’m not saying that I want to be stealth, or that I want to be cis. I also don’t want to just disappear completely. I am a writer after all, being published for a moderately sized audience; I must desire to be seen and understood to some degree. I do believe I have important ideas and that, once in a while, they’re useful additions to the “discourse.” But I hate discourse. I don’t want to have internal community arguments about things that don’t feel very important. I don’t want to argue with people on Twitter about my ideas, or listen to cis, straight critiques of them, or to experience the vicarious trauma of being hyperinformed about my community’s oppression, or really to be on social media at all. And yet, I recognize the privilege and responsibility of having a platform, however modest and fleeting.
I also acknowledge that I’m only able to take this position, to have the privileges I currently enjoy — a post-graduate education, a salaried career in a creative field with health benefits, living in a liberal West Coast city, and making regular trips to National parks, for example — because of the tireless efforts of generations of transcestors who fought and died for visibility and access and human rights. So I can be an openly trans person complaining online about how I feel too visible and allies are making me uncomfortable with their attempts at inclusion and support. Like an asshole.
From one perspective, I owe it to future generations to be visible, to be part of a movement, to be an eventual transcestor for today’s youth, to fight to make their lives better than I can ever dream of for myself. From another, however, living a quiet, unbothered life in which I fade into obscurity is exactly what my transcestors fought for me to have access to, and living the kind of life they could have only dreamed of is one of the best ways I can honor their work.
I’ve been thinking lately about the meaning of Pride. As an alternative to shame, it’s powerful and transformative and necessary. But I don’t want to have to be proud of who I am because I’m responding to a narrative insisting that I be ashamed. I want to feel proud of my accomplishments, sure. But about who I am? I wish I was allowed to simply feel neutral.
I think this is the origin of my intense, yearning desire to be invisible, to be unremarkable, to blend into the background of human experience. But I realize that isn’t strictly true. I want to be seen, but for what I am: a lovely, loving, loveable human being. I want to be remarked on because I am brilliant and kind and loving and perceptive and critical and creative and because I do important or interesting work. I want to stand out because I have done something exceptional.
I suppose all of this is what I’m chasing when I go off into the wilderness. When I hike along a backcountry trail, I experience a rare pleasure: irrelevance. I hear the wind ramble over the hills, and eventually ruffle the edges of my jacket. It will pass and I will have had only the minutest effect on its journey. I make a scratch on a log — perhaps my initials? — and the log will not notice and, in 20 years, the relentless process of entropy will have erased my action’s existence. I spin in a slow circle and witness trees, stones, brush, and rushing water all around me that existed long before I did and will persist long after I’m gone. After humanity is gone. If I encounter an animal — perhaps a grizzly bear — and it decides to consume me, I will have fed it, and my remains will soak into the soil, and my death will be possibly the most meaningful thing I’ve ever undertaken, from the Earth’s perspective. I sit at a campfire, look up at the stars, and I am an infinitesimal speck in a tiny corner of an unimaginably vast universe that my actions do not impact whatsoever. This is extremely comforting.
Nature doesn’t care who I am or how I identify or what my genitals are like or whether my politics are ideologically pure or whether I’ve shaved or had surgery. Humans are all the same from the perspective of an old-growth redwood — largely insignificant lifeforms that exist for a short blip of time and rarely affect anything. We’re the same as the birds and bugs and animals, except probably even less relevant. That is, unless we do something worth noticing, unless we poison their soil or destroy their habitat or cut them down. Otherwise, the beautiful, massive, hundreds-of-years-old trees I absolutely adore walking beneath and touching and smelling couldn’t care less that I exist.
I know that this is another way of saying something that well-meaning but often clueless allies often say: “we’re all human” or “we all bleed red.” But part of the reason those phrases are so annoying is because they’re true. They aren’t very useful, especially how they’re frequently wielded, but they’re true. Similarly, I don’t think human beings — or, at least, this human being — would benefit from being truly invisible, or treated with complete indifference, or left alone forever. I do believe I desire more from the human beings in my life than from the redwood trees.
But I think we all deserve to experience insignificance from time to time. I’ll never be invisible, and our society won’t likely ever treat people like me with the kind of indifference I crave, at least not during my lifetime. The indifference with which nature treats me feels healing and loving and transformative — and is probably as close as I’ll get — so I have to create my own space to disappear, temporarily. And I believe there’s no better time to do it than Pride.
I love your writing, Abeni. You’re always so thoughtful and nuanced. As a trans hiker who has spent many prides out in the woods, this one really resonates with me. :)
I love this! Thank you so much for sharing :)
Thank you for this. I feel this nature doesn’t care who I am or what I look like. I spent the various pride events on the trail riding bikes with other trans & queer people & it was what I needed.
I loved this so much Abeni, thank you 💜
Thanks for sharing your perspective with us. It is incredibly nuanced. I really love trees and nature too.
This super resonates with me too. I encountered this book “the quest for anonymity” a few years ago, and it explores this theme in George Eliot’s writing. Really appreciate your perspective on this!
As a fellow hiker, some rambling thoughts on visibility and danger from an ftm and “senior” perspective.
When I came out in the 80s/90s, everybody said coming out would be the start of a better era, but that was not the case for me. The lesbians and gays came out into a large visible community, and being out “inside” meant freedom. But only because that community (partys, bookstores, groups) had been built in the decades before when it was much more dangerous.
Also, these lesbians and gays were usually invisible on the streets. They passed as straight as long as they were not visibly genderqueer or men holding hands. Non-butch women holding hands passed as sisters or other relatives.
But single women learned they were less invisible, and less safe than “sisters”, especially in the wilderness where they might become prey. So they usually hiked in groups.
Trans men, before passing, also learned being outdoors is highly dangerous. Few knew the high from loosing themselves completely in the wilderness, because the fear of being alone outside, especially at night, had been deeply ingrained. Some discovered that freedom only when they passed.
I identified with my cis male peer group early, so going outside alone at night felt like my birthright, but at the same time I knew the fear of my female friends and relatives intimately. I went outside alone even as a child, but they never did. It was unimaginable to them.
When I found the first trans groups, mainly trans women, they told me I was not allowed to greet them in the street. It would break their passing. They also didn’t greet each other. From experience they knew that one of them alone could pass, but not a group of trans people. This was the complete opposite of “safety in numbers” that I knew from cis women.
I’m not sure what I want to say, but I can relate to what you write. I’m like you in many respects, I also hate the discussions, the tokenism, and I know being stared at and singled out for not being “normal”. I always knew how to get lost in the woods and stay relatively safe from practice. I also feel like an anomaly in the current queer communities.
Thank you for this comment <3
I learned a lot from this comment, thank you.
As a non-binary person, I have thought about this a lot. I wish I could simply exist without my gender having to be a political statement. Thank you for this article and your exploration of your feelings in a much more beautiful and nuanced way than I could ever put it in my mind!
I appreciate this piece so much, thank you.
I appreciate this on.