‘My understanding of myself as a climber is inseparable to me from my transgender identity.’
Editor’s Note: As a bouldering-only climbing gym in Philadelphia, Tufas Boulder Lounge
knows a thing or two about loving the ones in your community. Our new Send Global series is
the platform for all those amazing folks who make up our community but have been ignored by
the mainstream for years. Ry Syracuse (she/they) is one of those incredible folks with a pretty
unique perspective on climbing, gender, and the mind-body connection. Below is her essay on
how climbing changed her relationship with her mind, and what that means to her.
As climbers, the relationship that our body shares with our mind is an important and rarely explored dynamic which we will explore in this Send Global essay. We feel fear when reaching new heights with poor footing when our mind demands that our body descend. We have a similar relationship with pain when our arms feel raw and useless towards the end of a long ascent and we search for the willpower necessary for that last bit of much-needed strength. We listen to our body (or should, at least) when it sends us signals of an imminent injury, even though our mind may be eager for more. When viewed as two separate entities, this understanding is, consciously or not, a core
principle of the sport. My understanding of myself as a climber is inseparable to me from my transgender identity. I had started climbing at a point in my transition when I was deeply progressing and
becoming further and further removed from whoever I was before. This was a truly pleasant and welcome change; however, a less considered reality of this progress was the realization that life up until this point was not my own. My body and its associated chemicals, the high testosterone, and the low estrogen, had been forcing my mind into a constant state of conflict with itself. I was always taking my grief with me, and it was a burden on myself and the people around me. It was the cause of a 15-year battle with depression. Years that I can never get back. Years that had to be addressed in mourning. I felt lost, alien, and frightened. My emotions after going on hormones were otherwise suddenly lighter, more positive, and they were in many ways like nothing I had ever felt before. I knew that this weightlessness was what normal, well-balanced people felt, and I also knew that I was aware of so little about who I really was. It was an overwhelming mixture of almost conflicting emotions. Before coming out, I was never athletic, and in the past, any form of exercise post-puberty was a chore and irritating. Suddenly, I felt this constant urge to be in motion and was given little choice outside of listening to this urge. Motion was a part of these beautiful new
emotions and a doorway towards experiencing more of them. Inhabiting my body didn’t just feel like something I could take for granted, there was a call to experience it fully and with urgency. When I consider the mind-body connection, I think about this moment and these thoughts.
Looking For Our Place in the World
Climbing has been all of the pure catharsis I could have only hoped it would be. It has given me a new appreciation for a body I thought I would never come to grow into and love, less for its appearance than its ability to act as a conduit, a clear channel for processing emotion. It has given me the tools to begin discovering who I am past all of the debris of what was largely my life before I found my self-acceptance. My experience is without question unique from so many other LGBTQIA+ individuals within the larger climbing community and the world at large. This is only a shallow dive into a larger topic that should be explored with a deeper level of empathy and open-mindedness. I encourage any readers who may want to know more to respectfully engage with their community for the long list of things that can’t be addressed in a single blog post. Most of us are kind and are really just looking for our place in the world like anyone else. If you’re someone reading this and are feeling some of the same emotions described, or you’re someone who has felt them before, I hope you have or come to find a similar sense of peace. PHLASH is an amazing group of local LGBTQIA+ Philly based climbers who I can recommend reaching out to, climbing with, and supporting.
Z. Kudratov edited this Send Global post. They’re an imported Philadelphian with a soft spot for public transportation, public radio, and the PMA.