Shouting from Mountain Summits
August 19, 2020
By Jennifer Gurecki | @yogurecki
Photo by B Davis, Courtesy of Merrell
It’s a story that you don’t hear told too often: a story of triumph, of joy, and of resilience in relation to the experience of our transgender community. But for Erin Parisi, the founder of the nonprofit Transcending7, who is on a mission to summit the seven highest peaks in the world, that’s the only narrative she’s willing to accept.
When Parisi confirmed her gender, she expected to lose everything. Surprisingly, she didn’t. She emerged on the other side of one of the most terrifying and validating decisions she’s ever had to make with a perspective that is so radically positive. It challenges nearly everything that the mainstream media and society at large portray about the trans community. And while the important facts of murder and sex work and unemployment and tragic loss are real and acknowledged fully by Parisi, she wanted to create a new narrative so that people like her had a story of success to look toward.
“I spent decades weighed down by the narratives that were handed to me. I didn’t have that narrative that was in front of me—I couldn’t be it because I couldn’t see it.”
Parisi’s mission is to humanize the trans story, to go from being all of the things that society tells them who they are to being like “other people” with dreams and goals. She’s done with the marginalized narrative about people like her. And she’s chosen to challenge it through the outdoors.
Climbing the seven summits was a way for Parisi to literally and metaphorically climb out of that shadowy narrative that the world tried to put on her and instead climb to a place where shadows can’t be cast be upon her. She’s succeeded in summiting four of the seven peaks: Kosciuszko, Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, and Aconcagua. COVID-19 has put a halt to any further summits in the near future. In the meantime, she’s training and mentally preparing for what will be the most difficult summit, Everest. But for Parisi, bagging these peaks has less to do with her and more to do with her community.
“I want to be screaming from the top of the world, ‘Here I am and you can’t hold my voice down.’ The world has forced trans people to be silent and tried hard to say we don’t exist. In a lot of ways, this is my way of saying ‘You can’t say I don’t exist.’”
Parisi believes, and with good reason, that a lot of what happens to the trans community happens because of the lack of trans voices or trans ally voices. Like when men attack women for being weaker or not being able to keep up. Or that for-some-reason-still-justified locker room talk where men are told not to cry like girls or be pussies. And even from so-called feminists who proclaim to be saving women’s sport by forcefully advocating for the exclusion of trans women.
The irony in the latter, Parisi points out, is that “It’s not that far of a cry when you start attacking trans women, you are attacking all women.”
Parisi is well aware of the microaggressions against trans people that occur when she’s not in the room. “I was at the water cooler before I came out—I know what is said… I’m well aware of how strong those voices are and silence is just as strong as the people who say things… What people need to do is to stick up for us.” In sum? Your silence is heard.
There’s one more thing worth noting—stop viewing women as sexual objects. Because that, in part, is why Parisi believes that it is so difficult for society to accept trans women. Because trans women don’t fit neatly into the box of what it means to be a woman through the lens of cis-gendered straight men.
“Guys really view women as sexual partners. They don’t understand what it means to be male or female. It shouldn’t take a trans person questioning your ideas about gender to make you think about the ways you objectify women.”
Parisi shared that her frustration with the mainstream narrative about trans people goes beyond gender. It lies in the fact that we all have something that makes us different.
“The thing that gets lost in all of this is that in the future, I hope that the world is a kinder and gentler world to anyone, no matter how they are perceived as different. When we stop seeing it as our right to tear down other people and see it as our privilege to have access to so many different people out there, we're stronger when we respect other people for who they are.”
There’s a part of Erin’s story that we didn’t cover in this article that you can watch in the film“TranSending,” made possible by Merrell. It’s a story of resilience that shows Parisi as a person who feared losing everything. “I wanted to make a movie that showed how hard it is to train for one of these big athletic goals and to have a support network. Rather than me fighting, it’s about rallying the troops. It’s not me against the world. It’s as much an ally story and the empowerment of having a community and being resilient as it is about knowing what you love and being stronger than the narrative the world has for you.”