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Mountaineer Erin Parisi: Standing where no shadows exist

Copyrights: Athlete Ally

Mountaineer Erin Parisi: Standing where no shadows exist

Erin Parisi is on the way to becoming the first transgender person to summit the seven peaks, and she shares her journey to becoming who she is today.

Running. Hiding. Fearing myself. This defined three decades of my life. Hiding in my safety and privilege, I witnessed transgender people forced to live in secrecy for their own safety. I hopelessly resigned myself to believing I lacked the strength to find inner peace in my life.

I grew up in the suburbs of upstate New York. As a teenager, I worked to save up money to buy feminine clothes and make-up. To avoid being outed as trans before I was ready, I used to bike to neighboring towns to go shopping. I lived in a constant cycle of shame and suppression.

After I graduated college, I moved to Colorado where I found a great job, took up outdoor sports, and found solace in the wilderness. This gave me cherished friendships and growth, but I still felt the emptiness of hiding my true self from the world. Eventually, the hiding became too much. After committing my entire life to the flawed notion that I could somehow change who I am, I realised there was nothing wrong with me. I was deeply afraid that committing to survival and my authentic identity could cost me everything I loved, but I also knew I had no other choice.

After exhaustive deliberation, I started hormone therapy. I was isolated, living in secret, and roiled by divorce. One day, I reached out to a lifelong friend and asked if we could talk. I was terrified she would judge and abandon me. Anxiously and awkwardly, I painstakingly bared my soul to her. She offered something completely different than what I expected; in a moment of complete vulnerability, my friend returned acceptance, love, comfort and reassurance.

Occasional loss marred my transition; my marriage fell apart, some family and friends silently vanished, and I felt an uncertainty like learning to walk again. Largely, my fears proved worse than my reality. My confidence slowly grew, and I felt relief I’d never known. I also found an amazing surprise; life unexpectedly became easier, not harder.

No longer consumed by running, hiding from and fearing myself, I pondered what to do with this newly felt freedom and empowerment. The answer was obvious: live again. I now had a renewed strength from accomplishing something I never thought possible. My passion for sports and the wilderness reignited, I reapplied for a passport in my changed name and set sights on proudly climbing the highest mountain in every continent as my true self – a goal known as the “Seven Summits.” Just over 400 climbers have seen the peaks of the Seven Summits, hailing from dozens of countries and spanning over 60 years of age difference. In all of those climbers who have stood on these seven highest peaks, none are known to have been transgender.


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Erin Parisi


Friday, June 21, 2019 - 14:00