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Nature Doesn’t Care About Gender: Finding Safety and Comfort in the Wilderness

We’re Max and Jaye, an engaged couple living in Monterey, California. We are both transgender (non-binary to be specific) and our pronouns are they/them/theirs. Our journey together has been remarkable, taking us on countless backpacking trips through many state and national parks, but before you can understand us as a couple, we should probably introduce ourselves individually.

Jaye, clearly ecstatic from the amazing views on the Tahoe Rim Trail, during our section hike in 2018

I, Max, am a 25-year-old who moved to California in 2016. Originally from Louisiana, I grew up in northeast Texas and graduated from Southern University A&M College with a degree in Mass Communication, with a focus on Public Relations and a minor in Leadership. While enrolled in college, I was active in the Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps as a Marine Option and planned on serving in the Marine Corps following graduation. During my senior year, I developed bilateral stress fractures in both tibias and ended up getting a medical release from the Marine Corps. With no plans, and fresh out of college, I moved to California in an attempt to start anew. I picked up a job at a local grocery store and met Jaye, a stunning roller derby semi-professional stud who spent their free time trail running, powerlifting, and going on adventures with their dog, Bosley. I’m an avid crossfitter, reader, and runner during my spare time, and my backpacking resume prior to meeting Jaye included sectioning the Pacific Crest Trail in southern California, backpacking local trails in Texas and Arkansas, and camping in too many places to count.

Jaye, 37-years-old, was born and raised on California’s central coast. They started hiking and camping at a young age, as they grew up in an area where that was easily accessible. Jaye moved to Santa Cruz in 2009 and immediately started trail running because of the close proximity of trails to the city. On their 30th birthday, right after coming out as gay, Jaye moved back to Monterey. In 2014, they joined the Monterey Bay Roller Derby League in an attempt to find community and make friends in a new city. While skating for the league, Jaye discovered they were non-binary and started to embrace that identity. A couple years later, Jaye joined the Santa Cruz Derby Girls, a Division 1 league where they received a concussion that caused them to retire from derby. Currently, Jaye is powerlifting and trail running, with plans on running a half-marathon this year, and a 50K by 2021. They appreciate trail running because “it’s high-speed hiking for people with A.D.D.!”

Our 10-year-old dog Bosley can hike for about six miles before he has to be carried. On our Tahoe Rim Trail trip, I carried him up to 10 miles a day!

Our adventures together started with a 10-day car camping trip through Utah and Arizona after knowing each other for less than a month (insert sweaty, anxious anxiety emoji here). We explored Bryce Canyon, Zion, and the Grand Canyon in the middle of winter, without showering, while living out of my car. We got to know each other fast, which ultimately made our relationship stronger and more unique. Our adventures from that first year gave us an appreciation of backpacking and traveling as a couple, and took us to places like Yosemite, the Santa Cruz Mountains, Big Sur, and other state and local parks. In August of 2018, I proposed to Jaye while hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail in northern California. Our wedding is scheduled for July 14, 2020, and we’ll be married by two of our best friends in the Sierras on the Pacific Crest Trail. We document our travels, backpacking adventures, and experiences in the outdoors on our Instagram page and YouTube.

We are proud to be the ambassadors for the Gender Identity & Expression category for Hello Ranger. As two non-binary humans, we stand out in public because we don’t fit into your average “boy” or “girl” categories, and people often challenge us when we are out exploring the world. We’ve had multiple experiences both inside and outside parks where people treated us differently than others, sometimes even less than human. We choose our campsites and backpacking routes, the bathrooms we use, and the sites we visit with TONS of care, for the sake of our safety as a not-so-traditional couple.

As the Gender Identity & Expression Ambassadors, we plan to be as open as possible with our journey and experiences during our trips to national parks and the surrounding areas. We hope to create a safe space for other gender non-conforming people where we can all talk and relate amongst each other. We plan on discussing obstacles and issues we have come across due to gender and identities and will do our best to present ideas to help fix these issues. Nature and the outdoors have been such a healing place for us—we make it through our “regular lives” knowing we have plans for backpacking and hiking on our weekends. Nature doesn’t care about our gender, how we dress or what bathroom we use; nature provides us a safe space where we can be free to live without being evaluated, and we can be ourselves without judgment. The outdoors lifts our anxieties of existing in a binary gendered world, and shows us how beautiful the world truly is. It is SUCH a healing place, that has worked so much magic for us, and gives us a feeling of pure euphoria that we want to share with others like us!

Header photo: Jaye (left) and Max (right) pose for engagement photos in Big Sur with their dog Bosley

Max and Jaye are an engaged non-binary couple living on the West Coast. They’re avid backpackers, hikers, and animal lovers who are currently section hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and Tahoe Rim Trail. They take one trip a month exploring the country, and are saving up for an RV to travel in full-time starting in 2021.

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