We were so intrigued with trans rights activist Erin Parisi after we read about her historic Seven Summits bid, that we knew we had to interview her for Coffee Talk. Luckily, she kindly agreed and we are excited to share this honest interview with you about the additional challenges Erin faces when she travels to these remote locations to reach her goal, as well as some fun facts about her personal life.
Erin, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with us. My associate, Dan, first sent your story to me and we were both so blown away by your determination to go for the Seven Summits and be the first trans person to accomplish this major feat! Let’s kick off this interview with how you first got into the outdoors and what drove your passion for it.
I grew up in a large family, who often hosted kids from NYC through the Fresh Air Fund over school breaks. Our only family vacations were to local state parks, as it was the best (and the cheapest) place to let kids run free.
Can you share with our readers a little bit about Transending 7 and your goal to be the first transgender athlete to climb to the highest point on all seven continents aka the Seven Summits!
I grew up completely afraid of myself because I’d internalized the world’s narrative of trans people. All of the trans stories I’d ever heard as a child ended with death, bigotry, violence. When I finally came out, it was a matter of my own life and death. I believe all of this violence against trans people is rooted in the false narrative that the world has perpetuated about us. The best way to attack that narrative and end the violence is by creating a counterweight…creating and amplifying stories that celebrate trans bodies and lives. My goal to ascend the Seven Summits is my way of telling the world that I won’t hide or have my voice relegated to shadows. I’ll proudly stand in the highest places, where there are no shadows or places to hide, as a trans person.
You’ve already summited four of the seven (three of them in 2018!) — that’s no easy feat for anyone, but especially someone who is dealing with bigotry in these remote regions of the world. Could you share a little with us about how you overcome this and forge ahead with your desires to reach this goal on behalf of the trans and LGBQ+ communities?
I have faced bigotry and violence in my own neighborhood, and in different and faraway places. Some of it is rooted in being a female climber and some of the bigotry is related to laws and customs that make my presence in an area risky. In Russia, displaying a Rainbow flag in public is a crime punishable by prison time. In Tanzania, the LGBTQ population faces violence and legal persecution if partners are known to be actively in a loving relationship. In many ways, my best weapon against bigotry is to try to not be seen and be aware in order to reduce the chances of a random crime turning deadly. It’s also impossible to ignore or avoid the pressure of a constant stream of public figures using their platforms to disparage trans people. I find climbing high above them is the most effective cure to that.
That is so much to think about while also trying to accomplish some really difficult feats of endurance. Of the 4 that you’ve summitted, which one was the hardest and which was the easiest (relatively speaking), and why?
I completed Mt Kosciusko (Australia), Elbrus (Russia – Europe), Kilimanajaro (Africa – Both before and after I transitioned), and Aconcagua (Argentina, South America).
Hardest: It was probably Russia, for social reasons. I landed the day the World Cup kicked off, and tensions were high that an attack on foreigners would take place. Russia has several anti-LGBT laws, and in the Caucasus Mountains, there is a known movement of violence against the local LGBTQ population. The day I arrived the US Dept of State issued an advisory against climbing Elbrus, stating that no diplomatic assistance was possible for climbers who encountered trouble.
Easiest – Mt Kosciusko in Australia. For anyone who enjoys a long day hike, this is the mountain. My trip came at a time when I emerged from a difficult period in my life, and I had a new passport that now matched me. I flew in, rented a camper van, and set out from Sydney for two weeks with a goal to enjoy beaches, drink Australian Shiraz, and enjoy life while traveling for the first time since I came out and lost some people I considered family.
You shared with us that you’re training for Denali later this spring and then Everest after that, correct? Can you share with us a little bit about what that training looks like?
Currently, our plans are in limbo, while we assess COVID’s impact on travel and expedition travel. It looks like I’ll attempt two of the remaining three mountains in 2021. Training is definitely a second job – I’m actively training six days a week. I practice “low and slow.” Moderate heart rate, with a loaded pack, over long distances, four days a week. Then a few days a week I’m in the gym…..well…my home gym!
As someone who struggled for many years to come out as transgender, could you share some encouragement and/or words of wisdom with young people who may be facing these same struggles?
Overcoming your own internalized transphobia can be the hardest part. It gets easier. Also, it’s understandable to have a lot of doubt and fear before you come out; be open to letting the world positively surprise you.
On a different note, let’s say it’s a sunny, 75-degree day in Colorado, where would we find you?
I love being on my bike, a mountain, or a river.
What song/artist is on replay for you right now?
Pretty much anything heard in a John Hughes movie. I‘m a total 80s nerd.
If we were coming to visit you, what restaurant would you take us to in your hometown to have a real taste of CO?
Casa Bonita – everyone needs to go there once…and only once.
Are you into podcasts? If so, what podcast should we check out that you’ve been into recently?
I have been tuning in to more podcasts. I’m probably biased because I recently interviewed with them: Out There covers lots of unique outdoors stories and unexpected narratives.
Rest days don’t get the credit they should; what does a good rest day look like for you?
Family! I cook for my family; we often have a movie night or a bike ride in the summer, and if it’s the night, I have a standing slumber party appointment with our daughter.
We saw you recently married your partner, congratulations! We always love a good love story around here. Can you share with us how you two met?
Yes. We met through mutual friends. The first time I met Allison I was on strict voice rest for 30 days and unable to talk. She thought I was a brat because all I did was wave, so she asked a friend if I was like that with everyone. The next time we met was at a party the following week and this time she knew that I couldn’t speak. So, I took out my iPad at the party and we actually had a conversation where all I did was write. We ended up dating within a few weeks.
What’s something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I hate running, am incredibly ticklish, and didn’t have a passport until I was 24.
Anything else you’d like to share that we didn’t ask today?
No, just a simple reminder to everyone to remember kindness.
If you’d like to learn more about Erin and help her reach her financial goal for her Everest Attempt, visit her site HERE.
Visit our Instagram to find out who Erin would want to meet from the past and why.