Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Forever Wild, Forever Prejudiced?

Michaela DunnAdirondack towns don’t love me back. 

I’ve gone through a lot of moments of frustration, confusion, and loss for how to deal with the topics floating around in my head. They’re not easy to talk about. Often I’m left on the other end of a conversation feeling as alone as when it started. I’ve stopped trying to correct comments that subtly put down Queer people, or address responses that don’t understand where I’m coming from. I’ve ignored the people imposing their own experience on mine, the comments that assure me they completely understand. 

Their intentions are good, and I get that. People are full of good intentions, but those intentions do not always translate to actions or behavior or language that seeks to understand. 

It is exhausting to always explain it. 

It’s okay to get things wrong and there is no “right thing” to say. What matters is that you are genuine and willing to listen, and make an effort to understand. The problem is that a lot of folks don’t accept that their viewpoint comes from privilege, their accomplishments come from privilege, and that they are inevitably going to get things wrong. 

What matters is what you do when you mess up. Do you stop, have the humility to acknowledge the mistake, and listen? 

I come from a place of privilege, and I get things wrong all the time. Despite being a member of an underrepresented group I come from an accepting family, and was given access to the outdoor world from a young age. I’m white, and because of that I did not have to face the countless barriers and systematic racism BIPOC individuals have to deal with on a daily basis. 

But getting it wrong doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it. It means we need to talk about it more. 

Conversations and stories are what give me hope that we can bridge the spaces between us. That we can reach a deeper understanding of each other not to erase the differences, but to uplift and value them. 

So here is a story. 

Rural communities are a place I fear. They are full of queerphobia and I don’t feel safe simply existing in these spaces. Yes, even Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. It is isolating and in many cases dangerous for someone who is from an underrepresented group to live in a white, heteronormative rural town where they feel cut off from people like them, and immersed in a place with a profound history of discrimination. 

Michaela Dunn

The author in 2010. All photos courtesy of Michaela Dunn.

The thing is, I grew up in one of these places, in the Southern Adirondacks. My Queer ass grew up watching NASCAR and ice fishing while eating powdered donuts from Stewarts and pulling in the big lakers. I drank orange juice mixed out of one of those frozen cans and played basketball with my brother on a hoop nailed to a tree in the driveway. I built a potato cannon with 4-H and took it to the New York State fair. It was painted it black with orange flames. I rode in the back of a pick up truck, walked around car shows, and graduated high school with a class size of 62.

I was also obsessed with the color purple, played with dolls, believed in fairies, dressed up in rainbow sparkly shirts with pink tutus, attempted a study on the local squirrel population and tried to communicate with trees. I hit my brother over the head with a metal shovel before I could talk and was known to stand up on a chair at the dinner table and inform him that he wasn’t nearly as important as he thought he was. 

I was one of the lucky ones. I was allowed to be whoever I wanted to be. Then I went to high school. 

The first time I remember hearing the word gay was in 8th grade health class. We watched a movie on HIV that was probably supposed to scare the sex drive out of us, and then our Health teacher seized the moment to talk about “the gays.”

I remember the awkwardness that filled the room, we all shifted in those uncomfortable metal desks and looked at each other. 

“It’s normal and they can’t help it, and you could never tell just by looking at them” He paused, and stared around the room dramatically. 

“In fact, I guarantee you there are gay people in this room right now and they don’t even know it yet.”

We stared around at each other, mortified. Who could it be? In the room at that very moment? The health teacher went on to site statistics that proved without a doubt that at least one of us had to be gay. 

I was pretty sure it was Devin. Guess the joke was on me. 

I’m glad to say things got better from there. I fit in best with the people who were a little bit different. I was surrounded by people who were open minded, who supported Queer people, and who were fierce social justice advocates in the making. 

I also had beliefs and internalized notions about how the world works that were privileged, white-centric, straight-centric, and despite considering myself “open-minded” was full of beliefs that were incorrect and formed from a small-town experience. I’m sure some of them are still there. 

Michaela DunnMy junior year of high school two big things happened. My mom was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer and my brother came out as gay. He is four years older than me, and was already off to college. I was home and all my thoughts went to my mom and wondering if she was going to live. Nights alone as my dad spent the night with her in the hospital, the blur of drugs and medication. The morning her hair started falling out, and all the complications. I grew up fast, I was convinced I was as much of an adult as I was going to get. I was 16. 

Any thoughts that I might be gay totally left my mind. Besides, my brother already was. How could there possibly be two of us. (I have since met at least four pairs of queer siblings) 

After about a year my mom was declared cancer free and my brother brought home a boyfriend who is now my brother in-law.

I started to find the space to figure out who I was. Around me I saw the local priest getting kicked out of his position because the community found out he was gay. I remember little kids on the bus, elementary kids, insulting each other with the word gay. That’s so gay, you’re so gay, what are, you gay? 

Am I gay? 

My hometown is not a great place to be Queer. 

Then one day our GSA club loaded up in a Subaru and drove to the University of Connecticut for a True Colors Conference. There were speakers on gender, sexuality, sexual health, gender expectations, slam poets talking about identities I’d never heard of. Transgender people sharing their experience, gay men, lesbians, non-binary people, bisexual folks. My closeted queer self from ice-fishing New York did not know what to think. Did not understand why I felt so at home. So comfortable. Why I related so much. 

Overinvested “straight ally.” 

The next year I went off to college, and started dating someone from near my hometown. In fact we had built that potato cannon together. Everyone told him he was gay and he told me I was a lesbian. I cut my hair short and he wore flannel shirts with stud earrings. We were occasionally mistaken for a lesbian couple. 

He was the first person I came out to. We were together for almost three years, and we broke up just a few days before I started my job as a Summit Steward with ADK. 

Two years later, when the leaves changed and nights got cooler I didn’t leave. I got a job within the state wildlife department, and next thing I knew was sitting in an empty apartment wondering if this was the town I would spend my life calling home. 

It was a thought I didn’t mind. 

Winter came. In the sameness around me, I became uncomfortably aware of my own differences. 

At first I comforted myself in saying it was the minority of people who boasted Trump Flags and homophobic signs. That most people in these places were liberal and accepting. That I didn’t need to be afraid.

But feeling accepted means more than not being afraid of getting beat up when you walk down the street. 

I tried to find a Queer Community. I met a couple folks but the only thing we had in common was being Queer. 

Fast forward to Spring 2020. 

Black Lives Matter. A community focused on social justice. Biphobic comments from a coworker. A pandemic. A blog post accidentally gone viral. Publicly saying I’m Queer. Writing about being Queer. Being scared writing about being Queer. Feeling like a part of me is hidden because it makes others uncomfortable. 

Then I found myself alone with another Queer person. I don’t know how it came up or why it kept going, but suddenly there were thoughts coming out of my mouth I didn’t know were there. 

Until that moment I didn’t realize that I had been keeping them in. Tucked away in a folder labeled “too embarrassing, too deep, too personal, too uncomfortable”. The lock kept on by memories of losing friends, or the messages I never got a response to. 

But with this person it was safe, this person understood not just what its like to be Queer but what it’s like to be Queer here, in the Adirondacks, as a single person in their mid-twenties. 

There was a huge space that we didn’t need to cross. A space I’m so aware of with many of my friends. They were a near stranger. Yet somehow this stranger understood something about me that people who have known me for years never could. 

Relief. He made a joke about straight couples and I nearly hugged him, the type of humor that doesn’t come up among my heteronormative friends. I felt that I’d been hiding a part of myself, and suddenly I didn’t have to anymore. 

winter

Fast forward. 

My hand is numb, gripped tight to the shovel, and my straight friend stands in the snow. It’s 7:30 in the morning, I haven’t been able to sleep. 

Not since my coworker got a flat tire on the way home and went into an auto shop in Lake Placid. He told me what the waiting room was like. 

I couldn’t get it out of my head. 

There was a sign up in the waiting room. It said No Trans People, except instead of Trans was a highly derogatory slur. Hate speech. 

“No Tr**ny’s.”

While the sign could be referring to transmission work, it’s also a slur that can easily be misconstrued.  In 2021 we should be more conscious of the language we use, regardless of its intent. As for the intent, the sign sits among a wall of Trump signs and pictures of scantily clad women.

I needed to talk about it and I didn’t know how. I didn’t know who. I felt the spaces between myself and the people around me more heavily than I ever had before. 

This would be my third time trying. Now in a snowstorm at 7:30 in the morning. I’m surrounded by people who care, but few who understand. 

It’s a person I am good friends with, have known for two years and we had hiked together, worked together, and even shared an apartment for a few months. Now he lives upstairs. 

We both clung to the shovels, like they were going to make the whole thing more comfortable. My face was hot, I felt the snow turn to water on my flushed cheeks. The tears could just be melted snow. 

I told him about the sign. I heard the words coming out of my mouth and understood for the first time why it upset me so deeply. 

I took a deep breath and avoided his face. “I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this but I’ve questioned my gender a lot. I identify as gender queer.” 

I hear myself stop talking and there is that horrible moment, the space in-between where you don’t know how they are going to react. 

But then I saw it in his face, maybe it was the pain in mine. Something happened, something he understood. The spaces felt a little bit smaller. 

If we can close the spaces at 7:30 in the morning between parked cars in a snowstorm, maybe there are more ways to not feel alone than I thought.

To many, rural towns like those in the Adirondacks are not a place for Queer people. I’ve heard countless transphobic comments and jokes that perpetuate the feeling we don’t belong here. I want to scream that we do, and prove them all wrong. But I also want a community, and to find someone to build a life with. I want a more diverse friend group, I want to hear different ways of looking at the world, and I don’t want to feel like the only queer person around. None of that is going to happen here. 

And it sucks. It really does. It hurts when I hear people say how much they love this place. Because I do too, I love the mountains and the lakes. The loon calls and the spruce trees. I grew up here, and it’s hard to put into words how much the Adirondacks mean to me. These mountains are my home, but the community is not. I belong here, but it’s hard to be happy here. 

I’m tired. I know I need to leave, but I am also hopeful that I will come back. Hopeful that one day these towns will be a place where differences aren’t hidden, ignored, or “not seen”, but valued and uplifted. A place full of other Queer people, Black and Brown people, more languages, and less hate. 

One day.

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Michaela Dunn

Michaela grew up in the Adirondacks, and graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2018 with a degree in Wildlife & Conservation Biology. She has led caving trips in West Virginia, volunteered as an English Tutor in Spain, and worked as a Summit Steward for three summers with the Adirondack Mountain Club. She completed 200 miles of The Arizona Trail last Spring, and thru hiked the Northville Placid Trail in the fall. In her free time she can be found planning for her next adventure or writing for her personal blog, hikingforwildness.com.


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103 Responses

  1. Ruth Gais says:

    Thank you, Michaela,
    This was a courageous and important piece to write. I am grateful you wrote it and hope many others are as well.

  2. Amy Godine says:

    This was really moving, from the gut, and a pleasure to read, too. Thanks for getting it out there, and thanks to the Almanack for giving it a home.

  3. Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

    This is an outstanding, powerfully authentic, deeply moving essay. Not only do you have something important, difficult and utterly necessary to say, but you do it as a gifted writer and a difference-maker. I am grateful to have read it and I am grateful for your integrity. Brava!

  4. Vanessa Banti Vanessa says:

    This is so damn well written that I can’t even ❤️ So many congratulations for putting your experience to paper so eloquently. It takes rare courage :):) As Pete says – brava!

  5. Teresa Cheetham-Palen says:

    Great article Michaela! Thank you so much for sharing this and shining a light on this super important issue.

  6. Boreasfisher says:

    Thank you for sharing…your mouth to God’s ear. (not a religious person).

  7. Andy says:

    Let’s stop pretending that this is an Adirondack problem. If anything, it’s a rural issue and is certainly not unique to the Adirondack park.

    • Longplayer says:

      Quite true, Andy. But the ADKs is such a tight community that if the essay was written from the perspective of being a “rural issue”, I think a lot of people inside the Blue Line would not have recognized that it was about them, too. In many ways the ADKs are special; in other ways, not so much. We can do better.

  8. Monique Weston says:

    Michaela: Your personal essay is a wonderful contribution to discussions about diversity, including ways to make our towns welcoming of peoples of diverse backgrounds/identities. Thank you.

  9. Nora says:

    Michaela, we all have differences in many ways , but I am not you and I have not walked in your shoes , but if I was you , I would hold my ground . I am not gay but I am different, in my ways, in my thinking etc, you love it here as I do ., I grew up in Europe on a small farm, then moved to the Bronx when I was 14, Fort Apache to be exact, and you want to talk about a culture shock and a reaction from the “Locals” I loved my Bronx days and growing up in an extremely rough area I learned to be me ., I moved to the Adirondacks almost 21 years ago , I love it here , I have gotten to love the people as they have me ., for those that don’t want to accept this outsider , they live their lives , I ask allow me to do the same , for those that don’t understand who I am deep down and who you are as a person deep down , well then that is there loss not mine or yours .

    • Marcia Bailey says:

      Thank you for having the courage to be your authentic self and for exposing this heart wrenching journey lived in a place we all deeply love. We all need to see the truth of our oppression of others and move to higher, more inclusive moral ground. There are others who are ” missing” from our Adirondack communities. What can we do to welcome all?

  10. Tim Hubbard says:

    Michaela, this is one of the most brave, profound, and deeply heartfelt self-stories I have ever read. You are not alone and I think you can see that now, but please don’t let the generational gaps keep you away or from fighting these biases – the mountains need more beautiful people like you and those who don’t feel that way, maybe it is time for them to move on. I am near 70 years old BTW, I was born in the north country, and moved away when in 8th grade but the mountains have always stayed with me wherever I lived. I fell in love with the arts and became a professional actor and dancer, and trust me, my world was wonderfully full of LBBTQ individuals that I loved like family. You have a lot to offer this crazy world and I know you will find the path that works for you – this article is just one big step forward for you. As Gandhi said: “Be the change you want in the world!”

  11. Bob Meyer says:

    So true. So honest. You are an asset to the human race.
    I just want to hug you (post Covid I guess) for being you!
    I hope I’m fortunate enough to meet you sometime.

  12. Steven Stuckey says:

    This is great – you belong here!! Do not shrink yourself to make others feel comfortable. When you start standing up and speaking out, you find your voice and your confidence, and it snowballs. Keep pushing and hold your head high.

    Love is real, not fade away.

  13. Bill Kimball says:

    Thank you Michaela for this brave and beautiful statement. It saddens me that you would feel unwelcome in the region where you grew up. Your description of the overall attitude toward of the LGBTQ community in the Adirondacks sounds a lot like the climate where I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s. Although I left my home town several decades ago I still have family there and reason to return. I am happy to report that my community is now much more diverse and welcoming. I know you are aware of the progress that the LGBTQ community has made on the national level. (and clearly there is more work to be done) I would imagine that makes it even more difficult to understand why the Adirondacks is one of the regions that has lagged behind. It will happen here too but like high speed internet (not nearly as important) it will just take a little more time. Although you are exactly the type of person that can and will open minds I wouldn’t ask you to stay. You deserve the best that life has to offer you even if that takes you away from home. I so hope that some day you find the Adirondacks more welcoming. Maybe you will have reason to write a followup piece entitled “Forever Changed”. Please count my family and I among those who said they would hope to meet you some time.

    • Longplayer says:

      Don’t uderestimate high-speed internet, Bill. It will definitely attract a more diverse and inclussive culture to the ADKs.

  14. Shane M Sloan says:

    You speak of privilege and yet your whole existence is about making people treat you in a certain way. Your protection and lack of self awareness are your enemies. Not the people around you. People don’t want to care about other people’s sexuality. Period. Straight people don’t, for the most part, hate you. They want to be left out of your sexuality. The same way Cuomo’s alleged victims didn’t appreciate him forcing his sexuality on them. Experience shows that you likely other yourself far more often and long before other people do. But the “acceptance” and claims of bravery give that rush. I expect the myopic to rush to your rescue for this, but know I mean no ill will. You’re a human. It’s not my place to “accept” you. I should have nor do I want that kind of control over your life.

    • Tim-Brunswick says:

      Good response Shane….thumbs up!

      • Dave G. says:

        Shane and Tim, thank you for posting. It does seem possible that a majority of Adirondackers might share views more or less along these lines — they would say they bear no ill will, but they definitely don’t want to be forced to deal with this particular issue. If everyone with views like this just stays quiet all the time, there’s not much chance for discussions to get started, and not much chance for anything to change.

        That said… the comment about Cuomo’s alleged victims is an attempt to draw an analogy between victims of sexual harassment and comfortable-majority straight people who just don’t want to be bothered. This seems like an impressively bad analogy to me.

        Here’s an alternate analogy. I’m part of almost every possible privileged group myself — white, male, straight, you name it, I’m in the majority all the way.

        I’m left-handed, though! Bear with me a moment, here’s the analogy: imagine there’s a sign in the local auto shop that says in big block letters “NO LEFTIES”. It’s been there for years. Clearly nobody’s complained about it or asked for it to be taken down. Not a big deal, right?

        The thing is, that sign doesn’t imply only that the comfortable-majority right-handers just “don’t want to care”. It also implies that *somebody* out there cares so much about left-handedness being some kind of Bad Thing, that they feel the need to put up that sign — and there’s no evidence that anybody disagrees really strongly.

        So if I sign my credit-card receipt with my left hand… well, if I’m lucky, maybe someone will just yell insults at me — but who knows, those few opinionated anti-left-handers might threaten me, throw a few punches, follow me home. All kinds of weird stupid unpleasantness is possible, though maybe not terribly likely. It’s pretty clear from the presence of that sign in the auto shop that the right-hander majority just “doesn’t want to care” — I can’t rely on public opinion to come out strongly to oppose the anti-left-hander people.

        … Yeah, it’s a somewhat dumb analogy. I know. But try substituting whatever random characteristic you share with only 10% of the population instead of 90% of the population — most people can come up with something. If that sign in the auto shop was an annoying slur pointing directly at *you*, would you still be okay with the 90% just not wanting to care about it?

        • Vanessa Banti Vanessa says:

          This thread has totally missed (intentionally, it seems, but try to prove me wrong if you like) of the part of the essay that talks about hate speech. The author can’t assume acceptance at all when people are hanging signs with transphobic epithets in their store windows. That’s as blatantly prejudiced as you get. Where I live, such an auto shop would be a social pariah. Same situation with the confederate flag.

          The point, which some of us belabor to death here, is that certain parties insist on being allowed to be hateful and demand that everyone else just like them anyway. They go out of their way to deny basic humanity to people, and THEN have the gall to turn around and whine about “being cancelled” as soon as anyone expresses concern. They literally think free speech means “I get to say whatever I want and then you can’t reply.”

          The author is approaching being discriminated against with a LOT of empathy, and while that’s beautiful, it shouldn’t be necessary for any forum. The thesis is in the first sentence – too many of the communities don’t love her back. It’s a damn shame, and worst of all that some folks are still too triggered to just have some empathy back.

          • Steve says:

            I think you are over stating her empathy. It’s back handed empathy at best. At no time in her article did it say anything about a business complaining that people are complaining about their sign. Businesses shouldn’t have to conform no more than she should. We all have responses to our actions and for a business it’s whether or not people spend their money there. With that said, at no time should anyone have slurs spoken at them or any physical harm done to them.

            • Vanessa Banti Vanessa says:

              I definitely do NOT think I’m overstating her empathy, but it’s obvious we disagree.

              • Steve says:

                Her statement of “I grew up in privilege” leads me to believe that she doesn’t understand the complexities of society. She did not grow up in privilege, she grew up in a typical middle class family not in a mansion with servants. This is why the divide has been created, people who have been truly discriminated against can speak up but this continuous talk, by the progressives, of privilege have made every person who has had to deal with diversity in their life feel they have been discriminated against. Hardship and the struggles of life are what make us better people. Creating a society where everyone walks around on pins and needles will eventually lead us to a dictatorship.

            • Casey says:

              Honestly, who cares how empathetic she is. The fact that she’s empathetic at all is a testament to her empathy.

              And to your point about people not complaining about the sign, that’s the point. People see a smear against non-binary people as A-Ok. How is that an example of people not wanting to care about someone’s sexuality? That’s someone not caring about offending people with their feelings about their sexuality.

              Not wanting to care about someone’s sexuality is hanging a poster with a guy asking why his car hums, and the mechanic saying “probably because it doesn’t know all the words.” This is the sort of “special treatment” she’s asking for. Doesn’t seem so special to me.

  15. Zephyr says:

    You can’t make the world fit your preferred view of the world, but you can live your own life and figure out where you can live the life you wish. I had a good friend who was Black who moved away from a town just outside the park. With her girls getting older she no longer felt it was a safe place for them. It is a place that many people would consider quite “progressive,” but for this family it wasn’t what they needed. She now lives and thrives in another country where she fits in and feels comfortable. I lived in the south for years but eventually realized despite living in a majority Black county racism ruled everything behind the scenes. Though I still love the area and will continue to visit old friends there from time to time I would never move back, despite being white and therefore on the privileged side of things. I am reminded of stories of old square riggers trying to round Cape Horn against howling gales. Sometimes they would fight the wind for week after week, going nowhere until one day deciding to sail around the world the other way. Once they turned so the gales were at their backs the trip became so much easier though vastly longer, and they then would sail on to the Pacific the other way around.

  16. Nick Rose says:

    Thank you for your courage and honesty. Yes, you do belong here. In fact, you belong anywhere that you want to be, without fear, without concern, and everyday more of us understand that. Be brave, be intelligent, be proud

  17. Nancy Scanlon says:

    Great article…this is an upstate NY thing. A rural thing. There are pockets off acceptance. But vast populations of Trumpers.
    Sharon Springs seems to be welcoming and accepting. It is possible. But voices like yours need to be heard and listened to.

  18. Tim-Brunswick says:

    “In her free time she can be found planning for her next adventure or writing for her personal blog, hiking for wildness.com”………..Sorry (not really), but I don’t share the majority’s acclaim over her article….I tried wading through her lengthy dissertation and my opinion is …she might better stick to hiking and leave the prose and poetry to others

  19. Michael Quigley says:

    Thank you for writing your article. I am a white, straight, heterosexual male that has been spending summers at my family camp since birth. As much as I love the Adirondack wilderness, the attitudes of too many people in this area mystify me. I wonder if their fear of anything different is based on low self-esteem or shame. Being different for too many people in this region is not limited to sexuality, but also includes “city folk”. The sooner this region realizes the world is not stuck in the 1950’s, the chances are improved that the beautiful wilderness will continue to be enjoyed.

    • Steve says:

      Or they can choose to have their opinions, like the writer wants, and continue to live in the 1950’s. As the progressive movement has gained momentum people with other beliefs have also begun to speak out, whether it be prejudice or not. Agree or not isn’t that what everyone is looking for? America has been built on the right of people to have their own opinions and be able to speak them without persecution. You should notice that I said persecution not consequences.

  20. John Kucij says:

    Thank you. Excellent article, wonderfully articulate, courageous and enlightening.
    This comment from an old straight guy who tries to learn something new each day.
    I certainly did this morning. Peace & health !

  21. Linda says:

    Thank you! Recently moved back with my teen LGBTQ daughter and want this to be a safe, accepting and encouraging place for her. Your courage paves the way for her. What are your suggestions for developing an accepting community?

  22. Randy Fredlund says:

    A sad and thought-provoking article. As many point out, this is not just an Adirondack issue.

    Shane says, “Straight people don’t, for the most part, hate you.” This is true. However, it only takes a few to make others very uncomfortable. And unfortunately, this appears to be their motivation.

    Is what Michaela feels not akin to what others feel when they see the numerous Battle Flags of the Army of Northern Virginia displayed at homes throughout the park?

    Is it possible to substitute tolerance for contempt?

  23. Kim Pope says:

    her last 3 words of her essay leave me contemplating…..
    AND LESS HATE……

    Hate : to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest:

    I have visited the Adirondacks for years, I do not wear my sexuality openly, but I have never felt hate from anyone in this area. My heart is sad for this young adult who is clearly crying out publicly.

    Hate wants us to divide, by race, by sexuality, age, religion, finances…….. everyway possible!

    Hate takes energy, hate has a voracious appetite.

    Please dont fall for this temptation to hate…. or believe that hate is all around you.
    It is NOT !! Stop looking for hate.

    But there will always be haters, do not let them define an geographical area, or your perception of the Adirondacks, or anything rural.
    Dont feed haters. and most importantly dont become a hater.

    Really, haters are very small in numbers. Stop recalling all the haters to the front of your mind, remind yourself of the hundreds of good experiences. Do the math, the percentage is very low of hateful experiences you have had. Dont get me wrong, we have all had hateful experiences, they hurt, they confuse us, but they should not stunt us. Learn from it, digest it, then move on. There is too much to do, be productive, choose to be happy.

    Dont let HATE win.
    and dont make excuses to hate back, or excuses to run away.

    You should feel sadness for haters, they dont have as much peace as they could.

    I truly wish you joy.

  24. Jackson Haas says:

    Thank you for your courage. Thank you for continuing to try to break through to us who have grown up and raised our families in a binary world.

  25. Claire Warren says:

    I was so happy and hurt for you. I never ,ever comment on stories. This one so honest. To read this beautifully, written, honest story first thing this morning.
    You are loved, and I don’t even know you but have walked by you or met you up on the summit. The only thing I care about is that you love and care for yourself of our mountains
    My experience of the ADK area, there can be hate and smallness in these small towns and great courage too. You are proof. Thank you.

  26. Kathy says:

    A previous commenter wrote that the myopic might rush to your rescue, after sharing their review of your post. I would guess you do not want or want rescuing. I value your story and that you gave us the gift of sharing your experience. As you wrote, “conversations and stories are what give me hope that we can bridge the spaces between us.” I second that.

  27. Rebecca Witkowski says:

    Dear Michaela,
    How gut-wrenchingly sad. And how wearying for you to have to try so hard to be the person you are and live in the place you love. I, too, cherish living in this most beautiful of places, with the privilege of being a straight, white, married mother and grandmother. I apologize for taking it for granted while so many others cannot. You have my love and admiration for the person you are, and your bravery in opening up about the struggle to make this a better, more inclusive place for all of us.

  28. Toni says:

    I’m trans and bi. I really couldn’t care less about a sign or what people say. I’m not sure why other people in the media think I need to be sheltered or protected. I have been ridiculed and just don’t give one crap less because they are the ones who have low self esteem to have toake fun of me to make themselves feel better. Again, not sure why this needs to be an issue. The more you make it an issue, the more it becomes an issue. I just want to be left alone with having to read things of this nature.

  29. Susan Harris says:

    Does anyone want to read a wall of text about my life story? Frankly I’m getting tired of the gay people shoving themselves in our faces constantly. I read this publication to read about the mountains in Mountain living. I really don’t care to read it anymore if we’re going to get into people’s bedrooms. Thanks anyway. And to the young woman who wrote this article we all suffer different kinds of hurt and pain and discrimination on many different levels for many different things because we are human. I do not want don’t listen to anyone whining anymore. Life is too short.

    • Joan Grabe says:

      Well, that’s empathetic !
      I never expected to read that in the comments to the original letter. I honestly thought that most people were accepting of others especially in this year of social distancing and masks and “we are all in this together “. I am very sorry that the writer feels alienated because of her love for this region and the lack of acceptance she senses from others. Most modern literature depicts alienated youth fleeing their rural and repressive homes for the bright lights and more accepting life styles of big cities. If this is where you want to stay then you should not only hope for but actively work towards increasing diversity and inclusion in the area. You are not alone any longer in that mission. Every non profit I know is actively promoting this and financially supporting these efforts and they would welcome volunteers. I know that you can make a positive difference. Good luck !

    • scott says:

      Susan, no one made you read the article. No one shoved the article in your face. The fact that you are getting upset about its existence is childish. You’re tired? Imagine if this was a coming of age article written by a straight person instead of a gay person. Would you feel like the article was getting shoved into your face? No – you’d read it, identify with parts of it, and go on your merry way.

      I’d like you to think on this: straight people mention and allude to their straightness all day and it is not questioned. They celebrate marriages, hold hands, kiss, complain about their partners, write articles about their lives…. all without issue or pushback. Why are you calling out a gay person for expressing these same things? You are right that everyone has different kinds of hurt and pain – but you are wrong for trying to be the gatekeeper about which pain can be discussed.

      Gay, queer, and trans people are evenly distributed throughout the population independent of other factors like wealth, race, gender, location, upbringing. So you should know that this “Mountain Living” you speak of includes gay, queer, and trans people. I guarantee you have interacted with people in all of these groups without even noticing it. I guarantee you have friends who are gay but haven’t told you because they are not comfortable expressing it in today’s environment. When you act in the way that you do, you are discriminating against people at random, and without them having done anything to harm you or your way of life.

    • Ethan says:

      so don’t read it? I mean, it’s just that easy. Other people might want to read this blog for things other than “mountains in Mountain living.”

      How did this author shove their story in your face? Did they shout it at you? they posted in a public forum and you CHOSE to read it. Grow up: If you’re not interested in the story, don’t spend your time on it.

      • Balian the Cat says:

        It never ceases to amaze me that the same people who foam at the mouth about the bible and jesus and the folksy nature of the confederate flag, can’t wait to cry victim when somebody takes the time and has the courage to pen something like this piece. individuals that have no problem calling you out if you kneel during the anthem or stand silently during the pledge of allegiance are all of a sudden woefully put upon when somebody describes a life that doesn’t mirror theirs. They claim a “you live your life and I’ll live mine” mantra unless one of their tired causes is at question.

        • Steve says:

          Agree, hence the reason that I no longer watch professional sports. I didn’t agree with people kneeling for the flag that I respect so made my choice. The writer should do the same; don’t do business at places you feel don’t respect you or move to an area that you don’t feel welcome. My point is that you don’t want to be changed so don’t expect people to change to match your beliefs.

          • Bob Meyer says:

            Your choice re: sports and the flag; agreed. But, you just don’t get the real message of Michela’s story. Either that, or you’re just another prejudiced, intolerant person like some of the others commenting here.

  30. Boreas says:

    Michaela,

    Your story is about more than prejudice. Although your story is somewhat unique, I think it tells as much about insecurity as it does prejudice. I am very insecure and self-conscious, so I typically avoid people that I don’t know well. I am in the Adirondacks partly BECAUSE I don’t fit in. These woods are full of people with peculiarities, to say the least. You fit right in!!

    Try not to be so sensitive about signs, flags, and language and focus on your positives. If you are strong enough to post a personal story here, you are strong enough to make the Adirondacks your home. If you keep searching for a happy place that is all-accepting, you will likely not find it and you will likely never be happy.

    Happiness comes from within, not the acceptance of others. Be proud of yourself and don’t fear signs and flags. They are often simply the symbols of the ignorant who are trying to fit in in other ways. Be YOURSELF and people will respect you for it!

  31. Virginia Slater says:

    Dear Michaela,

    I am deeply touched by your article. When I came to Saranac Lake in 1998, I never heard the phrase white privilege. At 73, I’m still learning. I didn’t know there was a racism problem in the non-prison population. I started learning about that around the time my grandkids started school. Their cherished friends leaving the Adirondacks because of systemic racism. And their pre-school encouraged freedom, and critical thinking, wear whatever is warm and comfortable – that means you can wear your Ella merino wool underlayers to school instead of traditional clothing. So I do see us being capable of moving forward into a more inclusive humanity embracing all.

    These past months, I’ve been looking back in time at the development of this Land since the first Europeans arrived. Throughout, there are glimpses of light, and enlightened people who courageously pursue justice and equality for all humans. And, seemingly more powerful, primitive thinkers putting a shadow of hopelessness upon the Land. I’m finding that the more books I read (or listen to), the more threads I follow to great writers such as James Baldwin and August Wilson, the more shows I see on PBS – I see this Land becoming more enlightened, not less.

    Though I don’t know you, still I am sad that you are going. I hope you will keep coming back, though I may never see you, and give this place a chance to live up to your expectations. You have courage and youth on your side.

  32. Dan says:

    If the sign is hanging in an auto shop, it likely means “No transmissions” as in “we do not offer service on automobile transmissions”. Whether they’re automatic or manual, transmissions are difficult (and expensive) to repair. A small auto shop might not have the right tools or a mechanic that knows how to repair them.

    With that says, the word used in the sign is a slur. And should be taken down. But I think the word was written on the sign because of ignorance, not malice.

    To the author: you write beautifully. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  33. Sharon Linnea says:

    Hi Michaela,
    There is a difference between living amongst people who “don’t hate you” and living amongst your own tribe of folks who inherently get you. There is such a sigh of relief when you can shed that armor, however light it might be, that you must wear because most people don’t hate you for who you are, but a bunch of folks do and you can’t always tell the difference. My guess is you need to go for a while, live expansively where there is less judgement, and see if life leads you back to the natural beauty you love.

  34. Alycia Bacon says:

    Thank you for sharing. Solidarity! You are not alone.

  35. Editor’s note: This was just updated to address the point that’s been brought up about the sign, whether it’s referring to “transmission work.”

    • Jim Mosher says:

      The story was changed at least twice after publication, once to remove the name of the specific garage and once to insert the disclaimer about transmission work that apparently neither the author or the editor had heard of before. But if the friend saw the sign years ago, how did the author, who wasn’t there, know there were Trump signs and pin-ups? Didn’t the flat tire visit pre-date Trump’s election? Facts in this story don’t seem to agree.

  36. Adirondackgirl says:

    I used to live where you did and now live in a rural area in the south. We miss Saratoga, NY so much, including the reasons you mentioned. I miss the gay community there and how fearless and open they were. Maybe this is more a rural conservative issue, instead of a rural Adirondack issue? I love the Adirondacks too, which is why I want to protect its reputation. Your view is appreciated, I dont discount that. Choosing to live in Liberal towns vs conservative towns can really impact your views. Check out Saratoga or Mechanicville, NY and you won’t be disappointed. Everyone needs their place, and maybe certain Adirondack towns just weren’t the place for you or I. But even people whom have other views need a resting place. Much peace to you!

  37. Adkscott says:

    Dear Michaela,

    Thanks for the post. You write well, and that is a gift. I just want to tell you it gets better. It really does. Give it time.

  38. Steve says:

    Although well written and I sympathize with what she went through, I personally don’t feel this is the correct forum for this article. It is unfortunate that people are prejudice against people for; body type, gender, sexual preference, hair color, nose shape, profession, etc, however the recent hypersensitivity to all things human has begun to take peoples identity away. I too have had issues with certain things at businesses that are against my beliefs or family member’s traits. My solution is to no longer do business at that establishment. This, as opposed to hypersensitivity, will have a bigger effect on people than turning everyone into clones and affect their business forcing them to change or suffer less revenue.

    • Ethan says:

      Why is this the incorrect forum for this article? It’s a blog about life in the Adirondacks; this is an article about life in the Adirondacks.

      I concur with you that taking your business away from bigoted establishments is a good idea; I disagree that “hypersensitivity” as you call it is not. If I choose not to shop at a store that treated me poorly and don’t speak up about it, it doesn’t make much of a difference. The store may not be aware that they’re losing business due to that issue, so why would they change? And others of the same group (whatever that group is: gender, race, religion, etc.) won’t know about it and might continue to offer that establishment their business. More, others NOT of said group might be totally unaware that this is an issue. I am not a woman; but I would prefer not to offer my business to establishments that treat women (cis or trans) poorly. But I wouldn’t know which those are without people speaking up since when I go into those businesses I’m not treated as a woman.

      • Steve says:

        Some businesses offer reviews of their service in addition to forums such at Yelp or Google that publish reviews.

  39. Ed says:

    Trans or tr**ny is used as an abbreviation for transmission in repair shops , it has nothing to do with sexuality in that setting .

  40. Ethan says:

    Thank you Michaela for a brave and moving piece. I’m disappointed, but sadly not surprised by many of the closed-minded comments.

    To those who don’t want to read this article — no one forced you to click on it.

    To those who think this “isn’t the proper forum” I quote the banner at the bottom of this page:

    “The Adirondack Almanack is a public forum dedicated to promoting and discussing current events, history, arts, nature and outdoor recreation and other topics of interest to the Adirondacks and its communities… We publish commentary and opinion pieces from voluntary contributors, as well as news updates and event notices from area organizations. ”

    Clearly this is a “topic of interest” to many in the Park and so this is a perfectly proper forum for it. Just because you may not want to read it here doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong. Just in fact, as just because many may not want to acknowledge the existence of trans men and women in the Park doesn’t mean the Park belongs any less to those trans individuals than to others.

  41. Andy says:

    Moving story. Thanks for standing up and speaking out.

  42. Irishman says:

    In the 1960s my boys and I backpacked into an Adirondack wilderness region which was south of a small town. The town was once thriving during the lumbering era but then was in disrepair and barely functioning. A male gay couple bought one of the deteriorating properties. Now, 50 years later it is a thriving little town with both of year-round and seasonal residents, both gay and straight. Individuals can make a difference if they get out of their own heads. Gay people are here and there all over the Adirondacks.

  43. Mark says:

    Seems more likely that “no trannys” meant that the auto shot doesnt work on transmissions.

  44. Mike says:

    Maybe one day we will stop looking for reasons to be offended and consider that maybe tranny, in the context of an auto body shop, refers to the fact that that shop does not do work on transmission. Maybe instead of bottling up our manufactured outrage and posting about it online, we will simply ask “hey, what does that sign mean?”

    • Eric says:

      Yeah no kidding , if there’s anyone who should realize words can have more than one meaning it should be a writer , and if there is any question look into it before writing an article. Hopefully the mechanic wasn’t asking where his side cutters were while she was there , she really would’ve gone off on that one .

      • Longplayer says:

        Given the Trump banner and the preponderance of pin-up girls it’s quite possible what we have here is a genuine double entendre. What we need are “twenty-seven 8 x 10 colored glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one” to clarify this situation. Quick, somebody call up Arlo Guthrie. We’ve got the makin’s of another epic song. Does the judge have a seeing-eye dog?

  45. Sid Harring says:

    Thanks for writing this. You grew up here, and it has to be a place that supports you. We just don’t have any choice but to be inclusive, and this makes it so clear. Also, beautifully written.

  46. Sara says:

    Good essay until it took a turn. No Trannys in an auto shop clearly means no transmission work, it doesn’t mean “no transsexual people” or “no transvestites.”

  47. Pat Smith says:

    Well written piece, hoping Michaela can find peace and happiness in the Adirondacks. I find it interesting that so far 61 people have weighed in on this article. On March 3rd there was an article detailing the dangerous rescue /recovery efforts carried out by rangers and first responders on Lake George. Where is the outpouring of kudos and support for them? Just food for thought.

  48. Steven Guglielmi says:

    Michaela, Great article. Very informative and educational. Thank you for putting this out there. I can only imagine the courage that takes. Best wishes to you.

  49. john verga says:

    Michaela, thanks for the courage to share your story. You are brave and you are a leader. There is much work to be done..thanks for helping to push us in the direction of acceptance.

  50. Bob Meyer says:

    The bottom line with some of these comments equals defending a sign of Fear, hate and intolerance.
    Sugarcoat it all you want but when it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it’s a duck!
    Anyone that denies there’s a problem here has his head you know where.

  51. Ed says:

    Next we’ll have to remove words like nuts , bananas , and fruitcake from the grocery stores .

    • scott says:

      ed you sound like a man who dislikes reasonable change, so he lumps it in with unreasonable change and calls that justification for his position.

  52. Vanessa Banti Vanessa says:

    I’m going to offer a story in the mix here, since we have so much, erm, “debate” about the intentions of this auto shop. A few winters ago a branch fell on my car and dented the trunk. The guys at the auto body shop I took it to fixed the dent, sure, but they scratched up my pro-LGBTQ bumper sticker in the process. Other stickers were left untouched. They were so dedicated to expressing their “free speech” that they vandalized my car. Really classy.

    What a business model, right? Curiously, they didn’t ask for any feedback or they’d know how many times I associated them with this intolerant action to friends and locals in my town.

    The epithet in question in the essay is well known and for the life of me, I’ve never heard it used in a way as to refer to transmissions. Never mind that the author provided some clarification – there is nothing that we can do to prove to some people that intolerant voices exist and express themselves loudly.

    People say what they mean. I’ve been flipped off, screamed at and road raged at by right-wing extremists for my bumper stickers, often while parked! The fact that some of you are so quick to make excuses shows transparently which side you’re on, and shows why it is so challenging for the author (and often myself) to feel safe.

    • Zephr says:

      Hi Vanessa. I agree with you that people are probably just making excuses, but I do have to agree that the term in question is 100% legitly used by old farts as a term for transmission. Even Webster’s agrees: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tranny. I had no idea of its derogatory use until reading this article, but I tend not to associate with people who would use it that way.

      • Eric says:

        “OLD FARTS” , real nice Zephr.

        • Zephyr says:

          I’m one so I can use the term! But, ageism is one “ism” that is completely blatantly used without embarrassment by many people every day including in national media. Just try to continue working into your later years and you will find that people make jokes about your age constantly to your face and in front of others.

          • Vanessa Banti Vanessa says:

            Ageism is bad! I was literally implying so in a separate article posted yesterday. I know, I know, no one asked or was implying, but just for the record.

            • Boreas says:

              Is it bad to be an Old Fart? I considered myself to be a Young Fart until I hit 50. I am proud I lived long enough to become an Old Fart. I paid my dues to be in the club!

          • Eric says:

            Just because you can label yourself as one doesn’t mean you can label others also .

      • Vanessa Banti Vanessa says:

        Hmmm. I guess we’re all learning something new every day here, huh? I’m not one to be out cited, and I actually found a second dictionary that gives both definitions. Point taken, therefore. But the transphobic definition has been around since around the 80s too, according to this: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tranny.

        In our post-Trump world, and especially since this instance was posted with Trump signage, I don’t think there’s a real debate on intent here. It’s just a bummer that the folks insisting that this one could have been “talked out” or whatever realize that the intent is to keep certain types of people from talking at all. I didn’t call the auto shop from my story regarding the scratched sticker. I am not sure what the establishment in question in the essay would do if someone pointed out that their sign is offensive. Given the absolutely “waiting for Godot”-esque discussion that keeps coming up regarding the confederate flag, where even a town council can’t pass a clear statement condemning it, I’m not confident.

      • Dave G. says:

        Yup, I was thinking of adding a comment to confirm the same thing: among mechanics a few decades ago, “tranny” used in a work context wouldn’t have raised any eyebrows at all — probably no one in the shop would have thought even once about any possible meaning other than “transmission”.

        In 2021, in some places, that could still be true. As a wall sign, an intentional sneaky double meaning is maybe more likely than it was back in the twentieth century”. But it’s certainly possible that the sign was written with no intent to offend whatsoever.

        That said, a sign can still be offensive without meaning to be. In which case, the shop owners might want to know that there’s a new common meaning, and it might be better to just spell out “transmission” on signs from now on.

        I guess if they’re true linguistic traditionalists, they could add a second sign saying “All our customers leave here feeling gay” — intending, of course, only the pre-1950s common interpretation of the word “gay”. But if that second sign doesn’t seem like a good idea, that might make it clearer why the first sign is also a poor choice of words these days.

        • Vanessa Banti Vanessa says:

          Again, at risk of really repeating myself too often here – the discussion of what the sign means is delegitimizing the authors ability to know for herself whether someone wishes her help or harm. It’s a distraction from the real issue, and a harmful one. We should believe her by default, and many people are showing that they do not.

          If I get my car scratched by a Trump supporter and then shouted at by a Trump supporter (who kept saying “Elizabeth Warren is the devil” while I was waiting for a no-turn-on-red signal, ffs) and then get my car vandalized a second time with a bunch of Trump stickers at the airport and then get almost run off the road by a Trump supporter and THEN walk into an auto shop with the word in question next to a Trump sign… can you see how meaning is clear to me? And I live 15 mins outside of Boston.

          1000s of extremist right wing zealots with Trump flags literally destroyed the Capitol building and some folks are still trying to lecture vulnerable people to tell them, no actually these violent people will be totally nice to you when you talk to them.

          Does someone want me to call the shop in question? Because I’m totally game. If they’ve read this by now their answer is not guaranteed to be genuine, but I’m willing to put my $$ where my mouth is here. If they’re lovely people and take the sign down, happy to be of service and you all get the last upvote.

          (Melissa, that’s a serious offer.)

          • Teresa Desantis Teresa DeSantis says:

            Dear Vanessa and All: My day job is as a public official in town government, not in the Park, but close by. Probably the best course of action would be for someone to just stop by the auto shop, unofficially, just casually, to see and observe what the heck is going on- in an in-person visit. Cheers- Teresa the Cartographer

            • Vanessa Banti Vanessa says:

              Teresa, I agree that that’s a much better idea than mine. I apologize for my frustration here – I am very sympathetic to the author’s situation, having witnessed a lot of homophobia and transphobia that most people ignore.

              There absolutely is room to talk to people and have a conversation, even a tough one. I don’t want my assumptions about the intent of the sign to preclude that. But it shouldn’t fall on the vulnerable person to put themselves at risk – imo it’s the role of a good ally to offer to help when they can. I agree 100% that the job is best suited to a local ally. 🙂

            • Pat Smith says:

              Teresa, wow just like our governor asking us to report our neighbors for having to many people over for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Spoken like a true bureaucrat. What’s the next step here. Pull the shops license? Run the owner out of town? Bash him on social media? The simple answer is if you aren’t comfortable at that place of business just go elsewhere.

              • Teresa Desantis Teresa DeSantis says:

                I am involved at the Town level- totally different than the State level. All we do is listen and observe.

                • Teresa Desantis Teresa DeSantis says:

                  Pat Smith: Have we met? Were you once a seasonal forest ranger at the Raquette Falls Outpost the summer of 2007? I was sitting in the river on a rock. I received an informal tour of the station, and its environs, by a gentleman that made cedar canoes. It was one of the highlights of my summer. Thank you. Teresa

          • Pat Smith says:

            Vanessa, being a Massachusetts resident did you ever consider that people in your own state just don’t like Elizabeth Warren. She came in third in the presidential primary with the home field advantage. At least she’s a step ahead of our governor who I believe is polling around -11.

        • Casey says:

          People here are either being overtly obtuse or have been living under a rock for a long time. I grew up in a rural area and I’ve known about the dual use of the word tranny since I was a kid. It was joked about back then just as I’m sure it is at this shop.

          I’ve seen many places that advertise that they do or specialize in transmission work. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a place that puts out a sign that they don’t do transmission work – better to have someone come in an ask and maybe get some business on their busted taillight instead of pass up potential work. But even if they did have a sign, the only reasonable rational for phrasing it that way is to use the double meaning for a laugh. Would a sign that simply said “no transmissions” even make much sense? No. So can we please stop playing dumb?

          • Boreas says:

            I agree. It was obviously meant as a sophomoric “inside joke”. Any business stupid enough to intentionally turn off ANY customers – trans or not – is self-explanatory. Often, they have the advantage of being the only game in town.

  53. Teresa Desantis Teresa DeSantis says:

    Dear Michaela: Wow. You have great courage. Don’t fear feeling alone and different. You are not alone. There are people out there you can bond with. And communities too. If you want to reach out- please feel free to contact me at [email protected]. Teresa the Cartographer.

  54. Bill Ott says:

    Scanned the article, read some comments, asked Alexa to sing “Live and Let Live.”
    Turned the volume up – best part of my day.

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