“It is a queer thing, but imaginary troubles are harder to bear than actual ones.” – Dorothy Dix
I recently started noticing that I stopped feeling uncomfortable in the “white” spaces I find myself in. I started thinking to myself why I had ever felt out of place to begin with. Then I realized that I had been playing along to the black millennial rhetoric that every white person is out to get you and that you have to always remember your truth in blackness. The gag here is that while this narrative is supposedly self-affirmation and a reminder to remain true to yourself and your blackness, all it really does is hold you hostage in your inadequacy as “non-white”. Essentially, this says “you are black because you’re not white”, and the reason I’ve stopped feeling out of place in white spaces is because my sentence ends at “You are black.”, the fact of my blackness is not relative to whiteness or anything else. It’s just that: fact. Substitute “blackness” with any other discourse and you will likely come to the same conclusion.
We often take on struggles that don’t really affect us because it’s in the script and it’s what is expected of us. I’m always quick to balance people who say hiking is a white thing by speaking about my personal experiences, especially my parents’ upbringing. My mother went to a boarding school in a different schooling district to where she lived, but most of her friends were day students in other schools around who walked to school everyday from different villages. They would gather at the top of a 600m ‘hill’ (cc: Lion’s Head) that served as the friendship’s headquarters where high school tea was thoroughly spilled! To them, this wasn’t hiking, it was simply walking up a hill to hang out.
My father also hiked regularly while in Lesotho because he used to hunt a lot. With his dogs and a mate or two, they would go on long ‘hikes’ chasing rabbits and all kinds of buck, or looking for fish in the rivers in the highlands. I grew up hearing these cool stories and grew a love for the mountains there because my parents had shared such beautiful memories, and to this day I associate most of their youth with their time in the mountains. Hence, I refuse to entertain people who place my blackness at the center of their admiration for my hiking. If you are impressed I hike, let it be because you may think it’s difficult or physically taxing and you think it’s bad ass that I do it. Not because I’m black.
I titled this post Hiking Is Black And Queer alluding to the definition of queer which is synonymous with unusual. I find it strange that so many people derive pleasure in chasing summits. There’s nothing “normal”, safe, or even sane about climbing all these mountains knowing you could die at any point. You would think the unconventional nature of the sport would make hiking a safe space for queer-identifying fxlk.
I personally think mountaineering is only gendered because of the class discourse, and no other reason. Therefore, there should be no reason why anything about the sport should operate within the gender binary, but it does. I cannot speak on the queer experience because I don’t live it, but I’m certainly aware of how dismissive the mountaineering community is of the intersections of gender. The chat is always about getting more women to join the sport, especially women of colour. But this is exclusionary because it only recognizes cisgender heterosexual women as the prototype for womxnhood.
However, I think it shouldn’t be a deterrent because space is never “allowed”, we claim it for ourselves until everybody is on the same page.
We are so good at drawing these gigantic obstacles that keep us from doing what we enjoy because it’s “not black” or “people like me aren’t welcome”. I have had to fake bravery and adopt a bulldozing approach when it comes to my hiking journey. The space hasn’t always allowed, and people like me haven’t always been welcome. I didn’t know a single “person like me” who hiked as a sport, but that wasn’t because they weren’t there. It was because I was pre-conditioned to only see the “Others” who dominated the space. The scales are slowly falling off and it’s so damn good to hold a spot in spaces that have always rejected “us”, whoever that means.
Don’t get me wrong, whiteness is still suffocating and just #messy, but I’m comfortable ignoring it and tapping out for self-preservation when I need to.