I LIVE ALONE in a small cabin surrounded by forest and fields. There are no human neighbors within shouting distance, and I mean a real bellowing holler. When I venture beyond this solitude, I tend to curl into myself, hide from the stares of people who can’t figure me out.
However unconsciously, most every human interaction happens through the lens of gender, and people curtail their behavior depending on how they perceive the gendered body before them. When they can’t easily discern my gender, people will either look away quickly or stare at me with eyes that seem to penetrate my clothes, trying to place me in a box that makes them feel comfortable. The stubble of hair is only beginning to grow along my jawline, but my face is still soft and rounded, cheeks still smooth. My chest is flat. My voice is deep. I emanate a range of gender signals and never know how my interactions with strangers will go. I am always anxious.
It is exhausting.
But then I go home.
In northern Vermont, winter lasts six or seven months of the year, and my Class 4 road isn’t plowed by the town or me. I park in the spot that I dig out after every storm and snowshoe a mile to my cabin. During these long winter months, when it is easy to stay sequestered inside by the woodstove, I spend a lot of time outside walking to and from my car.
For years this has been a cause of much stress. I have Lyme disease and chronic fatigue, so I generally have very little physical energy. Lyme also causes joint and muscle pain, brain fog, anxiety, and depression, so I face mental and emotional challenges as well. Hiking a mile to my car can feel overwhelmingly burdensome, especially when I need to break a new trail through a foot of fresh snow. I stay in my home because it is affordable and utterly quiet, which allows for deep rest. But it also pushes me to the extreme in the long winter. I heat only with wood, so I must bring in daily armloads to feed the fire. My stress levels are heightened by my survival, but also alleviated by the nurturing I feel from the natural world around me.
Out here in the wild, I feel human beyond identity. I experience being in community without judgment, embraced by all the rooted, furred, feathered beings around me.
Several years ago, after a long struggle with my gender identity, I started on a low dose of testosterone. This changed my life in many empowering ways and has helped me dig out from a crippling depression that at times bordered on suicidality. Among many other physical and emotional changes, where I began to feel my body, mind, and spirit align, I happily discovered that the hormone also gave me more energy. This is the first winter where the dark cloud has lifted from around my head, and when I snowshoe through forest and over rolling hills, I feel myself in my body as a part of the landscape. My Lyme symptoms remain a challenge, but my newfound will to be an active participant in the world turns an arduous snowshoe into a contemplative meander through the woods.
I let my energy sink from my feet deep into the ground and mingle with the roots of pines, beeches, birches, and maples, and feel their strength. Sometimes, when it is snowing hard at night, I know I would get lost if not for the line of familiar trees that I follow like friends guiding me home. I pause to listen to a chickadee or a crow, the brave birds who also weather the winter here, and their calls spin music around my body. I open to them, send out a silent greeting. I decipher animal tracks—coyote, deer, fox, rabbit and hare, squirrel, vole, and occasionally moose—and watch their seemingly random patterns crisscrossing and sometimes following my trail before disappearing into the woods or across the field.
Out here in the wild, I feel human beyond identity. I experience being in community without judgment, embraced by all the rooted, furred, feathered beings around me. I am learning how to love myself from every tree, stone, and star. I feel unconditional acceptance in a way that no human quite knows how to offer.
Recently, I was hiking in on a still night, the only sound the crunch of my snowshoes, when directly above me came the resounding hoot of an owl. I stopped suddenly, startled by the call that interrupted my noisy thoughts, and waited. Not long after, I heard another owl reply. The two went back and forth, their hoots reverberating through the night. Eventually they fell silent, but I still felt eyes on me. These eyes confirmed my existence. I was seen, witnessed, and as I walked on in the direction of home, the echoing call still lingered in my body.