Meet the first trans climber to attempt The Seven Summits

Erin Parisi waves trans flag on top of Vinson Massif, Antarctica’s tallest mountain. Source: @transending7 on Instagram

Climber Erin Parisi shows her trans pride by taking her flag to the top of the world’s highest peaks. Parisi is the first openly trans person to attempt climbing the Seven Summits, the tallest peak on each continent.

GayCities spoke to Parisi over Zoom about the impact this endeavor has had on her life and the trans community as a whole. 

Re-defining the world through climbing

When she transitioned, Parisi worried she’d no longer be able to hang in outdoor sports and travel safely in the world. Taking on the Seven Summits speaks to the fact that she can do these things while living authentically. 

“The Seven Summits has been a great way to travel around and re-define my space in the world, and re-take my space,” Parisi said.

She started in 2018 and has continued throughout the pandemic, though it has made things more challenging. 

So far, Parisi has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa, Mt. Kosciusko in Australia, Mt. Elbrus in Europe, Mt. Aconcagua in South America, and most recently Vinson Massif in Antarctica.

Next up is Denali in North America and then the grand finale, Asia’s Mt. Everest. Parisi said that each mountain prepares you for Everest, the world’s tallest peak, in its own way. Vinson Massif, which she reached the top of on Dec. 26, is the coldest. Denali is the most challenging. Parisi plans to summit Denali this spring, and Everest in 2023.

“Travel to me provides empowerment– building that bridge of seeing what else is going on in the world and seeing perspectives outside of what you expect just based on day-to-day life,” Parisi said.

Parisi takes on every mountain with a new expedition team. 

“You end up with strangers,” Parisi said. “Meeting new people and getting to know new people while traveling through a totally different culture or a different place on the planet is super cool.”

Trans visibility in sports

Bringing trans representation to the Seven Summits has been transformative for Parisi, and has brought mixed emotions. Studies show that around one percent of the population is trans. Statistically speaking, of the roughly 500 people who have completed the Seven Summits, five should be trans. Sadly, that is not the case.

“The fact that we haven’t had representation is a little bit heartbreaking for me, and it really was heartbreaking when I was coming out to not have representation and not see the paths and examples I needed to help me understand that this was a possibility,” Parisi said. 

For her, climbing is so much more than a workout, it’s a lifestyle and a source of meditation.

“There are so many aspects of the Seven Summits that allowed me to express myself and provide myself with mental health at the same time,” Parisi said.

Therefore, she believes transgender people need more visibility in sports and the human right to engage in them.

“We dehumanize the trans athlete at this point into everything but what that person is,” Parisi said. “We don’t see the trans athlete as someone who is hardworking and just trying to learn life skills and benefit from all the reasons everyone else benefits from sports.”

Instead, the focus of conversation surrounding trans athletes is on whether they are cheating or receiving an unfair advantage.

RELATED: What’s it like to travel the world as a nomadic trans couple?

“I’m not competing with anybody,” Parisi said. “What I’m trying to do is live a happy healthy adventurous life, which I think a lot of people can relate to.”

But for those who are playing competitive sports, it’s not just about being the best. Parisi said allowing all kids to play sports is important because it teaches them healthy life skills.

“Moving your body is a lifestyle and it’s a way to feel good for your whole life,” Parisi said.

No matter what they do, Parisi wants people to understand that transgender folx are out there living their lives and doing amazing things around you, but it can be intimidating for them to find safe spaces. Being in that safe space can make a huge difference in someone’s life. 

“A lot of my allies and those who support me have really helped me find that I do have to freedom to move around and I wouldn’t have found that without their support,” Parisi said.

A lot of people send messages to Parisi sharing the impact she has had. Parents thank her for being a positive role model for their trans kids. Trans people themselves say she’s inspired them to have the strength to transition.

While holding the trans flag at the top of mountains, Parisi is sending a signal to anyone who’s trans.

“Be proud of who you are, stand in the highest place you can, and never be afraid to be who you are,” she said. “I’m stoked to have an opportunity to make that statement.”

RELATED: Gay mountaineers take rainbow flag to world’s highest peaks

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