Nature Never Misgendered Me
January 11, 2020
From the pages of Issue 5: Black + White
The first openly transgender woman to compete in the Freeride World Tour shares her story of finding acceptance in the mountains.
By Jennifer Gurecki | @yogurecki
There is an absurdity in the juxtaposition of the snowsports industry and people’s everyday existence that challenges Hannah Aram. As a queer feminist, activist, and artist, who also happens to be a world-class skier, exploring what lies in between those two realms is what has brought her back to being on her own terms after years of grief and loss. Her trajectory in skiing, and in life, has been a circuitous exploration of self-acceptance and community building.
Her story of survival and perseverance is not an easy one to tell. To start, I’m not the one who should be writing this story. I don’t identify as a transgender woman. I’m not a survivor of violent aggression. I’ve never competed as an athlete in an atmosphere that is growing increasingly hostile toward non-cisgendered women. I have no way of fully understanding the lived experiences of someone who, because of the way they show up in the world, has been shunned by their family, friends, and community.
Perhaps it’s because of all of these reasons that it would be difficult for Aram to trust anyone. When I asked her if she wanted a transgender woman to write this story about her, she said no. Aram wanted me to tell a sliver of her story, simply because she knows me; I’m safer than the unknowns. In the world that Aram exists in, it’s the unknowns that have been traumatic and life-altering. The only consistent element in Aram’s life has been the mountains, a place she has found freedom and acceptance.
She Contains Multitudes
Carefully tucked between her mother’s legs, protected by the firm grip on her shoulders, Aram learned how to ski in the mountains of Scotland. It was a life of privilege that few people can afford, one that she is deeply grateful for. This connection to nature has always been a driving force in her life. Every time she leaves a perfectly carved line on a mountain, she thinks about the exhaled breaths of the thousands of people who also have convened in that space to heal. The mountains hold space that Aram has not been able to find as a non-binary transgender woman.
The abundance of identities that Aram embraced has proven to be overwhelming, confusing, and frightening to her family and friends. Aram’s parents shunned her. She later enlisted in the military to “kill the woman inside.” She understands now how male military ranks, toxic masculinity, and their ideas about strength and survival are all straw puppets that we must rip apart.
She later pursued a career in snowsports, working in marketing for a European brand. When Aram realized that she could no longer pretend to be someone she wasn’t, she lost nearly everyone and everything dear to her in the industry.
Aram in part blames this on herself. “In many ways I’m responsible for losing my crew. I should have been representing for women, feminists, and trans people much, much earlier,” she said. “I was so scared. My survival strategy was all about me.”
What followed was a series of traumatic events that Aram is still working to recover from. She survived a violent transphobic attack in Germany, later becoming the victim of a justice system that tried to punish her rather than the men who attacked her. Aram was threatened with time in a men's jail and lost her ability to work. In January of 2016, she fled Germany and became homeless in London.
Returning To The Mountains
It was when Aram reconnected to skiing that her life took a turn for the better. After returning to Germany through the love and support of her partner, in 2019 she became the first openly transgender woman to compete in the Freeride Wold Tour (FWT), a series of professional competitive freeskiing and freeride events in which the best athletes compete for individual event wins, as well as the overall title of World Champion in their respective competitions.
“From a really young age I realized that the mountains were really the only place where I could be myself. The mountains were my only friend,” she said. “As I spent more time, they were more than a fun thing to do. They were part of my identity… Nature never misgendered me or hated on me. It always took me for what I was.”
It’s the soul of skiing, not the industry or any perceived cachet that goes along with being an athlete, that Aram returns to time and time again. It’s what unites her with her friends from Lebanon, Uganda, and Kashmir. She’s quick to call out, however, how the color of her skin and her family’s participation in one of the more expensive sports in this world means that she has access to a platform that they likely never will. Aram carefully chooses her words as she speaks about inclusivity, acknowledging she can’t speak for all women—transgender and cisgender. “I’m here to listen and learn, and I hope that I’ve learned enough so far to amplify their voices and not translate them into my own experiences,” she said.
Aram has her sights set on competing again in the FWT 2020, and is working to build the emotional muscle to manage what so many trans athletes are facing in sport—the debate about whether or not they should be competing against cisgender women. Aram looks up to Caster Semenya, the elite runner who has come under attack and been banned from certain events because of the high levels of testosterone in her body. While Semenya isn’t transgender—she was born with the typical male XY chromosome pattern but was legally recognized as female at birth and has identified as a woman her entire life—what she has had to endure reveals what happens to women, particularly Women of Color, when they don’t conform to societal stereotypes.
“You can’t keep a woman down for long. We are survivors. And then we thrive and we fuck shit up,” Aram said.
Want to follow Hannah’s progress in the FWT this season? Check out her website thetransskier.com and follow her activism and art on Facebook under the pseudonym Lara Holy.
Want more? Listen to her on Juicy Bits wherever you love to listen to podcasts.