Ask Jenny Bruso
July 05, 2019
By Jenny Bruso | @jennybruso
From the creator of Unlikely Hikers, an online community for the underrepresented outdoorsperson.
Dear Jenny Bruso,
I’m a 64-year-old trans woman who is starting the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) soon. Truthfully, I’m scared to death. Yes, I have the usual concerns about being physically and mentally strong enough, but mostly I’m afraid that I will be an outsider. The political divide in this country is too great and violence against trans women is escalating in the name of religion and patriotism. I think I just want to hike solo, camp solo and enjoy life solo. After all, you can’t hurt me if you can’t get to me. It is my intention to hike the PCT in the same fashion I do most public events. I’ll keep my head down and my mouth shut. Being alone has pretty much been my lifestyle since transitioning. I might as well do it while thru-hiking and accomplish something. I don’t know if I’m asking for advice or validation or…?
-Going it Alone
Deciding to hike the PCT takes mental fortitude beyond my imagination! After a few days of sleeping on the ground, I can’t wait to go home. I admire you, especially your willingness to do this despite some really valid safety concerns. As a #fatandoutdoorsy person, there have been many times I’ve chosen not to do something for fear of harassment or simply being “the only one.”
But this isn’t about insecurities. In the US, trans women are more than 4.5 times more likely to be murdered than cis women (women who identify with the sex they were assigned at birth, “female”) and 2018 showed the highest known rates yet. It is important to note that more than 88% of those murdered are of trans women of color. It’s fucking horrifying, to say the absolute least.
Women, all women, are far too often told we shouldn’t do outdoorsy things alone, but the truth is we’re more likely to be attacked by another person––let’s be real, a man––in our daily lives. Even going to the bathroom outside can put trans people at risk. How sad that this threat even has to be discussed when considering an endeavor like this. The trail isn’t actually an escape from society for folks who are threatened in daily life.
With love and respect, you will be an outsider. I think that’s already understood from the rest of your letter, but I want to encourage you to embrace it. Your trek will be different than most people’s. Hike your own hike, they say. Maybe you’ll find more freedom on the trail than you do in your daily life because of the lack of people. Maybe not. Regardless, there are things you can do to feel safer and empowered:
- Keep at least one person in your life up to date on your whereabouts.
- I know you intend to keep your head down and your mouth shut. Please don’t. There’s a broad spectrum of things that can happen in the backcountry and all of them are more likely than being attacked: becoming injured, sick, lost, or encountering dangerous weather. Sign all of the trail books so you’re traceable. Say “hi” to folks even if to just send a message of ownership of your place on trail.
- A SPOT device or Garmin inReach tracks your movements and can be used to get help in an emergency even without cell signal. These can be expensive, but I know some outdoor stores rent them. Or maybe you can buy one and then return it to a certain major outdoor company that takes all returns. Not naming any names.
- Carry a good pocket knife and mace even if only for peace of mind. I keep mine hidden but easy to reach in one simple movement. Knowing they’re there makes me feel more confident. Bear spray works too.
- Trust your gut. If someone is hiking too close to you for too long or making you feel tense, though they—read: men—are very likely in their own head and not paying attention, step off trail for a bit to create distance. You can even pretend you’re taking a picture or fussing with your pack.
- I don’t love advising trans people to call the police, but report any incidents or anything suspicious to local authorities, including park rangers, and call the PCTA (916-285-1846) to create a paper trail.
Now that I’ve covered all of the scary things, another major reality is that you will not be the only outsider. Not by a long shot. Wanting to do this hike on your own is one thing, but I’m tripped up over the part where you said being alone has become your lifestyle since transitioning. This suggests you had folks close to you who are no longer there, whether they withdrew from you or you from them. I don’t know your story, but everyone needs people. No exceptions. Everyone needs community, regardless of how much you choose to engage or prize your solitude. You deserve to have support, allyship, validation, and solidarity. There are brighter possibilities in life you may not be in a place to consider yet. I want more for you. I want to encourage you to link up with these resources even if only to have some representation in your life:
- Queer Nature—IG: @queernature / website: queernature.org—designs and facilitates nature-based workshops and multi-day immersions intended to be financially, emotionally, and physically accessible to LGBTQ2+ people (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Two-Spirit) and QTBIPOCs (queer and trans black and indigenous people of color).
- Unlikely Hikers—IG: @unlikelyhikers—a platform and hiking group for underrepresented outdoorspeople. This includes fat people, people of color, queer, trans, gender nonconforming folks, people with disabilities, neurodivergent folks, and beyond.
- LGBTQ Thru-hikers—Find on Facebook—a place to build community, share information about queer-friendly trail resources, and celebrate achievements.
Alone, as you embark on your journey, I want you to know I care deeply about you, your safety, and your experience. I’m likely not the only one. Allow people to support you when they offer it, even if it’s hard to accept. I hope the trail is full of surprises. Good ones. I hope you’ll tell us about them.