Interview With Queer Nature: Backcountry Trailbreakers
Building Outdoor Relationships, Experiences & Skills For The LGBTQ2S+ Community
Founders Pinar (they/them) and So (they/them) Sinopoulous-Lloyd created Queer Nature to support the Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer, and Two-Spirit (LGBTQ2S+) community with a safer space to build relationships and have transformational experiences—while also picking up an outdoor skill. Queer Nature is part of our Breaking Trail program: advocates Backcountry is sponsoring to further their efforts. Read on to see how they’re making the outdoors more inclusive.
Tell us about some experiences that inspired you to create Queer Nature.
So: Queer Nature is about creating and experimenting with learning spaces that work for us and people with whom we share social identities or experiences. However, it doesn’t pretend to be for everyone, and I think it is important to be honest about that because relating to everyone is just not a human-scale endeavor. Social and ecological systems aren’t really separate once you really study how energy flows through living systems.
Pinar: Our experiences navigating racial, ability, and gender aggressions in mainstream survival-skills organizations inspired us to make a place others don’t have to experience those things while they are trying to learn. We also want to shift the mainstream image of who gets to survive apocalypses while knowing Natives from the Americas survived and are surviving the apocalypse of 1492. It’s also amplifying the survival stories of LGBTQ2SIA+ community members and honoring the daily survival, thrival, and resistance of trans and gender-nonconforming folks—especially trans femmes of color.
“In many ways, Queer Nature is a love story not only between the two of us but with our communities.” —Pinar
What projects are you focusing on right now or in the near future?
So: We are running a series of courses where we are bringing in allies to the queer community who are not necessarily queer-identified themselves but who are unique experts or scholars in their field—ecology, botany, etc.—to teach in otherwise queer-affinity spaces and facilitate creating relationships across differences between interested and consenting parties. We are also hoping to run a longer, more immersive course on nature connection that has more of a rite-of-passage feel in 2023.
“A good mentor is someone who trusts you, whether they understand you completely or not.” —So
Pinar: As a budding Indigenous scientist, I am dreaming of projects that include honoring wildlife tracking as a relational research method, which is inextricable to the fact that it is also an Indigenous lifeway. Currently, we’re building an outdoor classroom and our very first physical office as Queer Nature!
Tell us about other members of the outdoor community who inspire you.
So: I’m really inspired by Dr. Sue Pierre of Critical Ecology Labs. In one conversation we had with her, Sue wondered what the sciences would be like if more scientists asked questions like “how did slavery impact soil health?”’ My mind was blown!
Pinar: I am deeply inspired by beavers. They are not only members of the outdoor community, but also a keystone species! They’re riparian divas since they raise the water table and thereby create a refuge for their family and a plethora of other species. They build homes and share their lodges with other species during the winter including muskrats, frogs, and mice.
What are the most common barriers to outdoor experiences for your community?
Pinar: Being and/or feeling physically unsafe to hike or even take classes to learn certain outdoor activities due to the real dangers of violence on trans bodies at systemic levels and through individual hate crimes directed at our communities. This can be amplified if one is trans and a Black, Indigenous, and/or Person of Color (BIPOC). The dominant culture seeks to erase our existence as trans and gender-expansive peoples, and this has a daily impact on our bodies and nervous systems. Another barrier can be access to affordable gender-neutral or gender-expansive outdoor clothing.
“So much of the negative perception of trans people currently resides in the idea that being trans is an ideology, as opposed to a part of the human experience.“ —So
What does your community need to feel physically, emotionally, and socially safe in outdoor spaces?
Pinar: Action for systemic protection of trans and gender-expansive community members. With the onslaught of horrific transphobic bills being introduced and/or signed, we need allies to fight for our safety and our lives. Systemic violence has real impacts on our community’s sense of physical, emotional, and social safety. Create spaces of leadership in the outdoors for us. Welcome us and our power.
So: A lot of survival and outdoor skills schools rightly emphasize the value of positive stress, but fail to embody the fact that there has to be a level of social safety for the average person to take emotional risks.
What is most impactful about Queer Nature’s programs?
Pinar: Building relationships with our human and ecological communities have some of the biggest impacts.. This includes recently receiving a heartfelt letter from a trans, young adult participant who thanked us for showing them that being happy and trans adults is possible.
What do your participants gain from Queer Nature?
Pinar: As one participant recently shared, more than nature-connection, we teach nature-intimacy. Through multi-species kinship practices like wildlife tracking, we reignite our enchantment with the land and can expand the capacity of our nervous systems and widen our sense of ourselves.
So: The tools for observation and awareness lead to greater abilities to way-find and discover truths for oneself, about oneself, and about one’s place in the world.
Tell us a bit about how ecology and conservation intersect with inclusivity.
So: Marginalized communities, particularly Indigenous and Black folks, face disproportionate impacts from environmental pollution such as superfund sites and the harmful effects of extractive industries. Another factor is the impact of public lands conservation—many celebrated feats of conservation have happened at the expense of Indigenous people. The book “Dispossessing the Wilderness” is a good resource on this topic, and “Black Faces, White Spaces” by Carolyn Finney is another classic read on the related patterns of exclusion of Black folks from particular types of ‘outdoor spaces (such as those associated with recreation) in American history.
Ecology is the study of relationships. People with marginalized identities often come to learn that relationships are the ultimate survival skill—whether those relationships are with a craft or hobby that helps you regulate your mental health, your cat, or an entire realm of inquiry like botany or mammalogy. Often for one person to ‘succeed,’ it takes a whole society of relationships. I think this understanding of these complex systems will continue to serve ecology and conservation while creating new paradigms in these fields that stay current with the contexts of our times.
Pinar, how does your work at Queer Nature intersect with your work at Native Women’s Wilderness?
Pinar: Jaylyn Gough, the founder of NWW, is a sister to me and an advocate for Indigequeers, Two-Spirit, and Trans Natives. When she asked me to be an ambassador for NWW back in 2017, I was thrilled. I reminded her that I was not a woman, but non-binary and trans, and she welcomed me with open arms. At Queer Nature, we center on kinship and honor our relationships, including our more-than-human relatives. I see our work amplifying and supporting one another—advocating for justice for Native women, Indigequeers, Two-Spirit, non-binary, and Trans relatives.
“A lot of it depends on everyone feeling initially welcomed into these spaces because we first have to feel familiar with something before we start to identify with it.” —So
If you could change one thing about the outdoor industry, what would it be and why?
Pinar: I would dream of it being a community resource. It would be relational—to listen to the needs of our communities and be able to respond and create something that meets those needs and desires. It could create room for the gender-creatives who need something beyond the colonial imagination of the gender binary that doesn’t liberate anyone. I would wish for it to be kincentric so that it would take into account the well-being of our more-than-human community.
How would you like to see the outdoor industry & community show up for LGBTQ2S+ folks?
So: I would definitely love to see more transgender folks represented in ways that are humanizing and emotionally connective, like in interviews or in images showing us interacting with other people, or showing us facing some of the same struggles and triumphs as people who aren’t transgender. Individual portraits or selfies are great, and they seem to be a currency in contemporary social media, but it’s easy to project our own assumptions onto these sorts of images of people, whereas when we actually see people interacting with other people, it has a different emotional and social impact.
I always encourage folks to reach out to others and invite someone for a hike on your favorite trail, offer to teach your queer friend to fly fish, or donate gear you don’t use as much to a local queer resource center or organization. Empathy, understanding, and change all happen one relationship at a time (this applies across species as well as across human experience and identity!) I like thinking about how we can highlight the human systems and communities that make us what we are, that show that we are loved, valued, and trusted members of our communities.