By Amorina Kingdon
I’m a Blasfemmer in absentia this month. I’m seeing Canada in a Corolla, I’m bouncing from B and B to B, I’m schlepping my stuff up and downslope. It’s backpack living, baby.
A bit of background: I quit my job, left my Toronto apartment, and am on the road from now till sometime this fall. I’m writing this from a Charlottetown cafe after a 5k run along a red sand beach.
I don’t feel the way I thought I would, cutting ties, reducing to essentials. I thought I’d feel powerful, free, and unstoppable. Instead I feel unreal, small, barely there. I feel like this is happening in a dream to someone else. But I’ve also received an unexpected validation of my feminist beliefs.
I trekked to a backcountry campsite, three days ago. If you’re in Toronto, look out at that CN Tower. See the distance from the ground to the pod? That’s how high I climbed down, then back up, half my possessions on my back, sweating, gasping, pushing. We descended from taiga plateau in the Cape Breton Highlands, down through stunted, twisted trees in high moose-y meadows, through evergreen bowers and dales, skirting the flank of these old mountains along a river valley until it reached the sea. They’re very old, these hills – the blunted stubs of what was once gargantuan. The rocks beneath my synthetic sneakers are ancient, crunching away and mile after mile.
It’s very beautiful.
Up. Hamstring pulling against thigh, glutes tensing, untensing.
Pause to breathe salt air, gusting from across the Atlantic.
Pitch a tent on a small platform in the rippling grass near the sea, watch the sun fall into the ocean like a drop of cherry syrup. Watch the wind rise, feel spots of rain start to whip against the tent. The rain fly must be secured, flashlight in teeth, rain jacket thrown on hastily, out into the maelstrom. No matter how tightly tied, the tent is a foot larger than the platform, which means that even secure as it can be, it luffs and snaps. I lie awake.
In the middle of the night, unable to sleep for the noise, I realize it’s high tide. I take my little light and pick my way in the mad, mad wind down to the rocky beach. The waves, slow and placid at sunset, have become huge, have become vicious lines of white foam looming out of the blackness to shatter on the beach. I am miles from the car with no home to back it up, and suddenly it becomes very clear to me. Things are only what they are. And nature truly doesn’t care if I am male or female.
That mountain behind me doesn’t discriminate. Can your legs take you up or down it? That is all that it asks. Nothing else. The ocean before me is only what it is, endless waves pulsing, crashing and falling. If you want to swim in it, stand before it, cross it, all it asks is that you can tread water, can brace against the wind, or hold a sail taut. The wind keeps men and women alike awake all night, or not. This place is here for me regardless of gender, was here before we were and will be here long after.
If I ever had any doubts about the extraneousness, the manufactured-ness of gender, they were starkly erased, that night on the beach, and the next day, as my legs propelled me up rock and dirt and meadow, to emerge beside my little silver car, panting and alive and worthy as anyone else who only had to do it.
The world is physics, nature is force and matter, and what is done is only what can be done, or not.
I imagine the mountain climbable only by one gender, or an ocean that only one sex can swim in, and I can only imagine a human construction, a layer shrink-wrapped on top of reality. Something we made, that can as easily be remade.
I think of Toronto, structures as tall and forces in some ways as strong (as any cyclist swooping to avoid a car can attest). Yet it’s a society removed from the simple yes/no physics of nature. We’ve invented these shoulds/should nots. I imagine being catcalled by a tree, I imagine getting groped by a rock. It is so absurd as to evoke no reaction in me. It simply would not happen, any more than rain would fall up out of the ground.
There is nothing fundamental, nothing natural, nothing biological about the sexism and discrimination we have inflicted on ourselves. Trust me. I went deep into nature to check it out for myself, and reports of a natural origin for the shoulds of gender are false. I’m here on the mountainside, and there’s no pink and blue signs. Only earth and wind and water, and whatever we can do with them.
The only thing that gender means, here, is that we need each other. I look up and down the coast at water, wind, tree and rock, and I imagine living here, the first feet to put down on this place, and I can only imagine that we must pull together, all of us, that it takes two to continue the species, and that both can climb the mountains and swim in the sea together. The rest is just noise.