COMMUNITY VOICES

Redwoods: A safe place to be ourselves

Sharing the awe of nature with queer teens

Max Sovine
As a queer person, Max Sovine finds a refuge away from judgment in places such as the redwoods. They share the experience in a program for queer teens. Photo by Jennifer Charney.

In a sense, I was a latecomer to the world of the redwoods and the world of being queer. In both of these worlds, I connected with my true self.

I’ve always been queer, different, not-quite-fitting-in, but I didn’t have the language for it until I hit my 30s. And I didn’t come to know the redwoods until adulthood.

Growing up in southern Wisconsin, sure, we had trees: broad, expansive maples and narrow birches, but nothing like the redwoods. I remember so many tender moments of staring at the western horizon, from the flatlands of the Midwest, with a longing that burned deeply and quietly. I knew there were mountains out there. I knew there were forests of ancient, impossibly tall trees out there. And I knew there were communities of people who would love me and accept me for who I was. I had to wait to grow up to find my way out of the confining cultural ecosystems of my childhood.

But until I was ready to head out on my own as an adult, I found what solace I could in nature all around me. Nature was safe. Out there in the young deciduous forests or along the shores of Lake Michigan, I could be me. I wasn’t judged, I wasn’t teased for being a “tomboy,” I wasn’t excluded or asked uncomfortable questions (“Are you a girl or a boy?”). I honestly don’t know if I would have made it through my childhood if it weren’t for my connection to nature.

As I grew older, I quickly understood how crucial and how life-saving time in nature could be. For everyone. But especially for young misfits and weirdos. For me, the outdoor world wasn’t just a place where I could escape to and find my authentic self; it was a whole world of magic and awe.

Fast forward a few decades, and now I get to share my awe and wonder with queer teenagers through Outlandish, a free outdoor education program for LGBTQ+ teens through the San Francisco-based mental health nonprofit Queer LifeSpace. Thanks to Outlandish’s new partnership with Save the Redwoods League, now we can bring queer teens out into the fantastic realms of the coast redwoods. It’s something that I wished had existed when I was a young, awkward, lonely teen growing up in Wisconsin.

At Outlandish! we cultivate a safe space for teens to be themselves with no threat of bullying or being ostracized. Each trip is accompanied by adults—queer themselves or allies—who are passionate about protecting and supporting the participants as they navigate the complexities of being young and queer in today’s hostile world. We emphasize that this program is free because access to the San Francisco Bay Area’s outdoor places is crucial. We want these young people to experience the silent power of standing in a redwood grove, or witness the roaring beauty of the ocean crashing against the cliffs of the headlands. Life beyond our gadgets and the internet is wonderfully profound. It’s more important now than ever to not lose sight of that, especially in the era of worsening climate change. We are so fortunate to have such an excellent selection of natural areas to explore in the Bay Area. There is nothing better than seeing young people fall in love with the world around them.

—Max Sovine (they/them)

Learn more about Outlandish.

Listen to the episode of I’ll Go If You Go, a Save the Redwoods League podcast, in which Max Sovine discusses their work with queer youths.


 

Read more highlights from the fall-winter 2023 edition online.

About the author

Max Sovine works at Queer LifeSpace, a San Francisco-based nonprofit providing mental health services for the queer community. Sovine also coordinates retreats at the Buddhist Spirit Rock Meditation Center.

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