This is where you can find the answers to questions like, "Why does he walk?", "What is Gay Man Walking?", and "Who even is Ross Jackson?" More questions will be answered periodically - if you'd like to ask me a question for me to answer here head over to my Contact page!
"Why do you like...walk though?"
...is a question which I am notoriously bad at answering concisely and tend to waffle until the person asking has either backed away slowly out of the room or I manage to change track mid-waffling and we end up discussing pizza. But now I shall clear up why it is sometimes tricky for me to tell you why out of all things in the world that I could be most into, walking tops pizza.
I believe that life is a series of challenges I must face before I die. So, may as well be, at the least, walking through life on a path of my liking - literally a path, for me. A wee bit miserable sounding, yes. But maybe after I explain, you may understand it to be as much of a cute positive affirmation as I do. Also to help: the quote is almost directly from the mouth of Maggie Smith's character from Downton Abbey. Say it in a proper English accent imagining yourself elegantly dressed in a period gown. That helps with the cuteness.
So let's start with the first part of the quote, the series of challenges I must face. The series of challenges, or let's say, the obstacle course I face will be there no matter what I do day to day, week to week, etc. No matter which direction I head, BOOM, obstacle course ahead. It takes many different shapes as I change direction in life, easing, hardening, becoming more slippery, etc. If I lie in bed all day, if I take up sock-making, if I decide to join the Finnish Olympic diving team (can I just join, is that how sports work?); all are different paths with their own obstacle course attached. But I've learned it makes the most sense to finish a challenge, whatever it may be, look back at the obstacle I just faced, and stand up, dust myself off, pick the sticks out of my hair, and realise I'm actually where I truly want to be. Ready for the long slog ahead, and not solving problems only to be stuck on a path that doesn't feel quite right. This seems obvious now, but I remember when it didn't. When I felt stuck on a path I had actively participated in creating, yet didn't feel like I cared to carry on with.
I remember flying alone to meet my best friend on the other side of Canada when I was 18. We were off to start a summer working for a resort in the Rocky Mountains. I actually remember how it all started; my friend calling me casually mentioning we could spend our next summer exploring the mountains and working and living at a resort. As if that was a thing? I remember what street I was on in Toronto when I got the call. Kind of like how people remember where they were when Michael Jackson died, or when Toblerone lessened the amount of chocolate in each bar but kept it at the same cost. Only this time, it was like something in me was shocked awake and stirred alive, and not smote to death by the Toblerone Gods. It was that much of a significant seed being planted in me, and I needed to water it ASAP. After the initial excitement settled, we realised we didn't actually know where to begin. I mean we probably used the internet? But back then the internet was just this cute thing I pretty much used to post "Ross Jackson is at work ughhhh!!!" on Facebook (so nothing has changed). I don't know how I managed this next move, or why I skipped actually just calling hotels out west, but all I can imagine is that what was to blame was a healthy mix of drive and delusion. After Day 1 of Seed Planting I recall walking into a gigantic fancy hotel in downtown Toronto, one that is sister hotels with a few out west. I asked the staff where the HR office is. They told me. And I, a member of the public, proceeded to enter the staff corridors to find the proper office. I think my drive and delusion may have temporarily masked me as a new hire looking to get around. Either that or the staff who helped guide me did a thing a lot of us hospitality folk do during long shifts: stop caring about, you know, the general rules. Five minutes later and I had a semi-stunned and semi-willing HR rep scribbling down an email address down on a Post-It note for me. I remember walking out of the hotel like a little kid that had just asked for a free pump of extra chocolate sauce on his ice-cream cone at Dairy Queen and had not only actually been allowed it, but went behind the counter and pumped it himself. I actually think what really happened is they just spotted my odd enthusiasm as interesting at first, and then realised that someone should care that a member of the public was wandering the offices, and that getting me out as promptly meant they could go back to not caring much faster. The seed had been watered; the first email I received back from the mysterious Post-It "Could Be Bullshit" email address was something along the lines of, "Good that you emailed me, we stopped taking applications weeks ago but feel free to send us your resume." The Sneaky Staff Hall Escapade of 2008 worked! After that we spent the winter months being interviewed over the phone. I didn't get the initial job I applied for and had to re-do the entire process again, being interviewed a total of 6 times over the phone. But I was not deterred. This was, at this point in my life, the most radical thing I had added to my timeline. A large part of me recognised what this radical thing carried: insurmountable uncertainty, possible chaos, a lot of legwork with possibly no payoff (and other things I had been told about risk). But to a not so familiar part of me, it seemed like the perfect leap into a more rewarding set of challenges, a side I must have listened to in order to get on the plane. It was the same feeling that tossed me confidently into the HR office earlier that winter. This feeling was so new to me, and really trying it's hardest to get out and just, well, be. Now, I know what it is. I know what it is that gets me through the obstacle course especially when I'm wanting a life change. I call it listening to Inner-Ross - the part of me in there, screaming to be heard. My ambitious self, my driven self, the one that knows more about my potential than anyone. The one with the list of things I could just try that could possibly be avoided because they are initially too uncomfortable. The one that holds onto all the seeds that have been planted until this Ross choses to water them.
It wasn't until I landed out west that I realised that Inner-Ross got the legwork done to get me this far; so much work, so so much work for something that may not even be what Inner-Ross so hoped. How on earth would I be able to handle this failing? I had asked myself that question every time I had a setback, and then a step forward, while trying to sort out my move out west. The fear and uncertainty of that very question dissolved because of a feeling; I will never forget standing at the baggage carousel and really being amazed at how far I had gotten myself. Feeling a trust in myself, in Inner-Ross, whom I then realised was really me all along (spoiler alert!). All the work to get me here was done! Done?! You mean no more HR adventures or interviews or bloody seed watering? Even if I died right there at the baggage carousel, it was amazing because I had just done something that truly made me trust myself. Well maybe not die, just get a little injured from a rogue bag - would be worth it! This is what I'm talking about when I say that life is a series of challenges I must face, and that I could be getting through them and looking around and really being proud of not only what I've faced but where I am. Challenge accepted and completed, obstacle #452,359,483 of my course over. I dusted myself off and realised I was standing somewhere new; somewhere I felt I really wanted to be. Inner-Ross and I were ready for what was next, and now had an even keener awareness of what actually makes us tick. I suppose in a way I wouldn't have been able to get to this very specific form of traveling I'm into now, if that first seed, and then all the subsequent seeds, weren't initially planted and then so importantly watered, nurtured, and allowed to flourish.
Sometimes Inner-Ross fucks up, but that's okay. At least we are doing the thing. Crossing the things off the list. And a dose of scepticism and uncertainty is always part of a healthy balanced brain, just too much of it only helps aid the obstacle course in its, for lack of a better word (or lack of a real word for that matter), obstacleyness. That flight turned out to be the first step in many towards being able to really trust myself. To be able to talk things out with myself, and not let only the fear of uncertainty, what seems safest, and complacency for bad situations guide me.
SO now to the second half of the quote: obstacle course set, path infront, and then I...die? This sentiment helps me see the trivial aspect of living with too much uncertainty, albeit because if there is one thing for certain, I will die, so why live in a world of fear of achieving goals and facing obstacles if my days are numbered? How endlessly exhausting would that be, to have myself be the biggest obstacle in the way of my happiness - and to then just die? Awful! In the end, no matter what I do, I will reach the same fate - thus doing what I want doesn't matter as equally as living with uncertainty and fear doesn't matter. Both don't matter. To Death, nothing I've done matters. He/she doesn't give a toss. So sitting down, really thinking about a life where nothing matters; I have learned that accepting that and not moving to the next thought, sucks. The thought is as follows: "If nothing matters...then doesn't that mean that everything matters the same, and therefore, everything matters?" That thought opened me up to realise that if everything matters, then I've got all options in the world to chose from. Fear, love, friendship, money, having kids, pizza, walking - what really matters to me? Believing that just because I die means nothing matters isn't really going to help me fill my time before I go; so I've learned that picking out some things and choosing them to matter is what's best. Making a list - well, editing it with Inner-Ross.
So, there we are, Inner-Ross and I having a cup of tea and a chinwag. Laughing about our mortality all the while discussing what we will deem matters most out of everything in the world. Not an easy feat. We share a few laughs about the ridiculousness that is life. We spend a few moments deciding whether or not to make fear of living life to the fullest matter most to us, because fear and the restrictions it places on our life most likely contains our familiar path. The one we may not really like but are used to. The path that doesn't require me to change or do much work (sounds nice, it's a trick!). We ultimately decide to refer to the list of things we'd actually like to be doing, the things that will make us tougher, more ourselves, help us grow, and experience more out of life. Even if it may not go fully as planned. A list that doesn't let us live a subdued life waiting for the end of it all - a list that makes us trust ourselves more with the timeline we have. With the last sip of tea, Inner-Ross leans over to me and before he gets up and leaves, whispers, "Well, we're going to die anyways, so why not?" He's so damn wise! Also, yes, giving you an upfront and colourful insight into my mindset matters to me.
I also think these challenges aren't hard, they're tough; hard is sitting at home wishing I wasn't there, that's bloody hard. Tough is what I become by getting up, facing my challenges; and coming out the other side alive and on the right path. So why not do exactly this? Walk! While I'm here, and while I can. So many steps brought me here, from little 18 year old Ross at the airport, to this couch, writing this while listening to the emotional swelling of the finale piece from the Home Alone score. And no I don't just walk; as you've just read, I listen to film scores and well up.
So if, 'Why do you walk?' is the question, there are many little answers, but by just listening to my mind's greatest desires and organising my life towards those desires, I guess it could be answered with, "life is a series of challenges one must face before one dies, so, why not?" (And also,"Because Inner-Ross told me to." I couldn't leave him out of the answer). If everything matters then I may as well make a list of things that truly feel like they matter most to me. This is where I want my obstacle course to lay - literally on a physical obstacle course created by Mother Nature herself: long-distance trails of the world! Solving a series of problems as I would in any existence. Don't worry, I doubt Inner-Ross all the time. I ask him to strengthen his arguments before I blindly follow him. But he's always there, with a tea at the ready, holding a list of things we're going to try to get done, even if we fail miserably. Maybe it won't be walking next year! Maybe I'll finally take up joining that Finnish diving team. Who knows? Doesn't really matter, because with me by my side, I know I'm heading in the right direction.*
"What is a 'Gay Man Walking' and what's in it for me?"
Gay Man Walking is me (spoiler alert!)! It is also the name of the video series I've created that details my life on long distance trails.
Gay Man Walking is a pseudonym I coined in the woods because
a) That's what I was known by on trails (and I gladly accepted these identifiers!)
b) We box in and label ourselves and each other for so many reasons, and I think it's not the best approach to do so habitually because it quickly creates 'others' of people who may be more similar to us than we think. I thought I'd call myself Gay Man Walking as to elude to that I do box myself and others in too, and my awareness of what that inhibits in my life allows me to work on it and also make light hearted fun of it, because in the end, I know that the core of what I'm doing despite my labels is quite general. I am a human trying his best, aiming to do what he loves, attempting to understand what's best for him, and mucking it up a bunch. I do believe that all humans can connect with that, despite gender, sexual orientation, or what one loves and is most passionate about.
c) It's an allusion to Dead Man Walking, which is how I feel sometimes on trail, if I do not feed myself enough peanuts.
d) I am way more than just the title of "Gay Man Walking". I am a human-robot hybrid whose main function is hiking while eating cheese, amongst many other things. Some of these things I share, and some I do not - but it is very important for me to signify the sexual orientation I openly identify as in the title of my series publicly at this time, and here are some of the reasons why.
There is an excess of shame within and directed towards the LGBTQIA+ community. I feel like no matter how much I write, it will never do shame justice. Somewhat because I may not know fully what I am writing about but mainly because I know shame to be very complex. It isn't helped by the fact that it is not so often talked about openly. For something that is a universal human experience, it would seem that I would have known more about its power. But I didn't. That was until I faced it within myself, and read and learned about other's experiences with it. That journey of discovery will never end. It just needs a bit of light shone on it. Its existence in all humans proves that it also affects more than the LGBTQIA+ community. I'd like to share how it has regularly affected me and my community in this post.
Shame is a major part of the cage built for the impossible task of containing the LGBTQIA+ community. It is built by others who believe the very nature of those who make up my community is "wrong". Unfortunately, the cage is furnished by some of those trapped within it who have come to believe that their cagers are correct. In other words, those who ostracise and demonise my community force us to face regular instances of unnecessary, and projected shame, and in many cases, lead us to believe we deserve it. This cage of shame (well, really, the excess of shame) - from this births a high chance of me misunderstanding my self worth, value, and potential. It can trick me into believing that I don’t have the right stuff to truly do what I want. It can trick me into believing that I do not deserve what others have/are able to achieve. It can trick me into believing that others who are like me, trapped in the cage or even free from the cage, shouldn't be achieving success and happiness. It can make me vicious towards others who are proud of their freedom and selves, when truly, unbeknowst to me, pride is the direct opposite of the very shame that holds me hostage. It can trick me into forcing myself to manipulate my personality until it suits others. Essentially losing a bit of myself to be more "other" - to fit in, to feel 'safe' and accepted by my cager. Even the healthiest, happiest person, may feel that what I've written has or does allude to them. But how can I look inside of myself to see who I really am if I am living within a world of excess fear and shame? How can self-actualisation be reached when I'm not even aware of how to like myself? How do I reach my full potential when I do not believe I deserve to? When this fear, hate, and shame was not my own to begin with?
This cage has contained some for so long that the idea of another world existing cannot be comprehended. A cage that I see perpetuated in media, religious structure, households, government law, etc. I've been put in that world; I've lived in it. In ways, I still do. There is still shame where I live now. Actually, there is shame waiting somewhere around the corner for me, and for you. But mostly the everyday shame that makes you painfully self-aware like when you trip on the sidewalk, or when you wave to a stranger only to realise they're waving to their friend Karen behind you. Shame, all the same, but very different than the kind of shame I am mainly highlighting here. (Remember when I said it was complex?). I also started this by saying that the task of containing the LGBTQIA+ community in a cage, or to fully shun us from society, is impossible - because as I sit here writing this, I am proving that it is futile it it's core goal. I am gay, in society, and I have learned how to navigate shame like Karen knew how to navigate around me as I waved awkwardly to her friend.
This cage has not been created by me or my community. It is not even a cage created because of my community existing. The creation and upholding of the cage has nothing to do with us per say. As I said, it is built out of the shame attributed to the creators. It is a cage made by people guided by fear within themselves. This has led to my smaller, different, and misunderstood community to be informed that we are lesser than. Those who perpetuate that we are "lesser than" will be able to wear the mask of believing they are "better" overtop of their internal shame they so ruthlessly refuse to acknowledge. But it is in them, mask on or not, it should be dealt with in order for everyone to lead happier existences. This act overlooks the beauty, value, and insight my community can and does bring to society. That is why I try to uphold living bravely, living with love for who I am and humanity itself, living with a willingness to learn and be curious and be okay with being wrong, and other things along this vein. Despite the cage. If I don't, I could just as easily become like those who have caged me in, or at least used to cage me in. I cannot give them, or myself, that.
It may not be our creation, but it is the cage we are placed in nonetheless. It is us who are being pushed down, and pushed away, and therefore it is about us. But pain causes ripples, and humanity in its entirety is being negatively affected by this in ways we do know and we do not know yet. Also, despite what I used to think when I was a younger Ross who witnessed a lot of shame within my community being outwardly expressed as viciousness towards the community itself, the cage is not being held intact by the LGBTQIA+ community. No matter how much we furnish it, stop others in our community from feeling too free, and befriend our cagers. We are not solely responsible for destroying it, it can not only be expected of the LGBTQIA+ community. We are the recipients of the ramifications caused by a problem that is not our manifestation. It affects you, even if you had no idea all of this was happening around you. I mean when I think about it all - about the cage, and try to remove my emotions - my anger, sadness, and frustration (is that fully possible?), I actually feel sorry for those who cage people in. They have normalised their fear. Something I, the "cage-ee", ironically, have learned to stop doing for the most part.
To this day I still wake up facing specific challenges set out by others that my straight friends wouldn’t have to deal with. Well, challenges, but more the "you are lesser than" moments shoved by others onto the path in front of me. It doesn't actually take me much time from when the moment happens to when I am able to realise their attack has nothing to do with me. But being able to think like that isn’t something initially habitual, it’s not just because I’m a strong person by nature. No, to get to there - that takes endless work on top of everything else a human has to do to survive. It takes feeling a lot of pain; a lot of it not being shared and therefore internalised (remember that right now there are people out there who haven’t even told anyone they’re not straight, let alone talk to someone about the complex pain they feel about it). It takes the eventual awareness that for all this pain and shame to exist, the opposite: love and pride, must as well. This work and this pain have taught me so many lessons of how to live a better life, so in a funny way I am grateful for it. But all in the same, it is too much, and it is not fair. This hazardous amount of work and pain is still a path destined for many others. But it can be properly dealt with if we all become more aware of the injustices and how the world is so negatively affected by them.
It isn't as easy as me just being a representation of someone who is living well despite the cage existing, and who has learned to navigate a life full of injustices with his head held high. More must be done so that others in my community no longer suffer, or in many cases, risk losing their lives. Just the other day I woke up to the news that an anti-Pride group had posted a comment saying a derogatory slur on my most recent photo of me on a hike. It actually happened as I was staring at my phone, receiving a message from my best friend. Her messages showing up as a little box popping down from the top of the screen with a message that probably said something cute and hilarious, and then BOOM, Instagram with a notification that I have received a derogatory slur, just there, popping in just as comfortably as my best friends message. I stayed put for a moment and then...it was like I immediately knew what to do: take a giant breath in, remember that outside my door were two allies (my flatmates), remember that my best friend was online, remember that I have learned and cemented my proper worth in myself which is non-negotiable, remember that there is so much that I have accomplished in life to be proud of, and know that this could all just be a fake robot-troll account set up to trip up the marginalised. All of this and more lead me to exhale out all what the comment and its creator could have planted inside of me. It didn’t land, it didn’t plant, it didn't cage me in. I deleted it from my screen, understood it as an account not to engage with, reported it, and the account has since been deleted. This ability to combat the cage makes me aware that I am lucky, privileged, worked hard to get here, and have been helped so much along the way. This scenario is by far a small grain of sand compared the gigantic boulders that others within my community face. But it is an aggression and a tool used by the cage creators all the same. I placed down my phone thinking, “Wow. Good to know I don’t wake up wanting to do that to someone.” It makes me realise how many tools I need to keep sharpened to deal with these moments, but also how far I've come with doing so. Then I used my unbroken belief in my power to shoot forth off my bed and into the world at full potential. All the while figuring out how to do my part to help others in my community who may not be able to stare that comment in the face and keep their balance. For every member of our LGBTQIA+ community who has a story similar to mine, one of mostly freedom and liberation, we must remember to look out for those who do not.
I haven’t been the best at this, I have spent a lot of time for my own reasons removing myself from my community. Sometimes consciously, like leaving a bar after having been grabbed multiple times by hands I cannot see. But most times I removed myself because of not understanding how the cage had so negatively affected how we relate to each other. I am not blaming everything bad that happens within our community solely on the idea of living in fear and shame. The grabbing is a different beast to tackle. What I do believe is that the cage creates a certain direct viciousness within our community in the way that we relate to each other. It seemed for a while that as I was working on my liberation and expressing how good I felt about life to fellow members of my community, I was sometimes met with anger, frustration, and vitriol towards my growth. It seemed as the more confident I grew, the more some people within my community wouldn't believe me, or go as far as to attack my character as a way to bring me down. This viciousness is what I thought distanced me from my own community. I see now that it was actually me choosing not to question that behaviour that kept me removed. Sure, that sucked to hear, the viciousness made me feel lesser than, and I get that shame exists in all communities, but, "Why is it that as our community is being caged in so ruthlessly and unfairly, do we fight each other, and tear each other down?" This is one of the questions I ask myself now and actually want to find the answers too. My twenties in gay bars, gay gatherings, and Pride, are filled with so many memories of complex feelings and emotions that it just felt best to ask that question but not answer it, and ignore my feelings of confusion and pain by ignoring my community. Also, it doesn't help and is no surprise now that many moments where I chose to drink too much to the point of blacking out happened in gay bars, at Pride, and other gatherings of my community; most likely causing a scene/discomfort/pain to others around me. That is something I will unpack another time, but I now understand why I would let that happen and will not let it happen any further. After now finally talking to many others I know now that I am not the only one who was in this boat, which initially made me feel okay but then made we want to really inquire as to why this happens so often. Which I suppose lead me to exploring shame within the community, and writing this, and questioning everything. My questions have given me so many answers, and the more I found answers, the easier it was to ask questions that younger Ross wouldn't have been able to confront.
I am living life very comfortably in what I know now is the most privileged part of the LGBTQIA+ community; the white, cis-gendered, middle-upper class, two accepting parents tier - all that's just a start. This along with my ignorance, has kept me unaware of the struggles of others like me. I have spent a lot of time with straight women; being the only openly gay guy at parties and being okay with that; being surprised when I would actually become close to another gay man; not allowing myself to be there to help others within my community because I felt comfortable where I was; and focussing more on ignoring anything that brought back memories of my pain (like learning about LGBTQIA+ history, going to Pride, etc). But maybe all of that was just one giant awkward step that got me here, and it's just my truth, so I can't hide it or sway it - it is what it is. But it is evolving, into something that is better for me.
My search for the answers started a couple years ago when it finally perplexed me that as someone who defined himself as a very proud gay man not only did I not go to Pride, but I did not really know about its true importance and history. I never questioned its importance to others, but I also never questioned why I never bothered to learn about it. Probably because I felt pretty good in my openly gay skin, and that was good enough for me. I didn't give it much thought. I had been to a couple before, but I'll be honest with you, I blacked out during the entirety of Brighton Pride in 2011 and Toronto pride in 2013 and I missed many more because of how I distanced myself from my community. But as Pride was going on a few years ago, something inside of me was finally screaming to just GO. Not because I had to, just because I could. Going and staying were both uncomfortable ideas, but the distancing was actually becoming more uncomfortable than listening to the voice that said to GO. So, I went. At my fingertips was an event that I could place myself inside of, learn from, and let my community in. Around the corner was an event full of answers. I had grown enough to know how to navigate the moments when it 'might remind me of pain'. It is this anticipation of feeling shamed (assuming that the reminders of the pain I felt would send me straight back to that cage) that truly held me back. Sometimes all it takes to pop this illusion of "what-could-be" shame is to actually go out into the world guns a-blazing, ready to face it all. By going, I only gained, there was no pain, and it instilled more belief in my power, my freedom, and my own pride.
I know now that until the cage is no longer propped up, it’s not just us, it’s the whole of humanity that loses out on our full potential. In the meantime, while we are assuming things are good enough now, there are people in that cage believing they belong there. I also hope this doesn’t bring up too much defensiveness inside of those who identify as straight and read this, but if you unknowingly are buying from companies that support anti-LGBTQIA+ movements; if you assume accepting Pride as a day to celebrate rather than to learn about the struggles of the LGBTQIA+ community and how to help; if you don’t correct someone when they say “that’s gay” as a synonym for “that sucks”, then you are responsible for our pain and suffering as well. I am guilty of some of these! There have been so many moments where I haven’t spoken up, defended myself, claimed my ignorance, or bothered to correct a friend; but it can’t all be up to me, you must help too. Be brave, show love, be ready to be wrong, and listen. If you would like resources on how to be an ally for the LGBTQIA+ community there are many avenues to take. I would start with a good old Google search or shoot me a message. Remember, by being an ally, you are also helping yourself.
While the cage still exists, there are ways out/ways to learn from it/ways to take what you can from it/however best describes the liberation you can have from the years of shame and shunning. With everything I've expressed above, I very much believe that through this there is always a part of us on the inside meant to be listened to even if everything else is screaming louder; a part that balances us. Much like the idea that "with shame there must be pride"; there is also the idea that "with the part of us that so furiously believes in our shame, there is a part of us that so furiously believes in our ability to choose pride". A part of us that may be small, but if we start to nurture and grow it, the fear and shame won't be so loud anymore - it will subside, may always be there as a dull roar, but at least the balance is working out in our favour. I think what I want in life can be so terrifying sometimes, that a moment of fear may stop me in my tracks, and bring me right back to that cage. Just like me going to Pride a few years back, but really, what if it even stopped me from going on one of my long-distance trail journeys? I couldn't have that. I am so glad I learned to listen to that voice inside me, so glad it led me to be able to ask for help, so glad it gave me the tools I use now to combat with daily shame. I know now that if I am only ever listening to fear and letting it guide me, I may never actually press on to do and be what I truly want and what's best for me. I may turn into those who caged me if I do not check in with where I am placing my belief. Do I really believe I am lesser than? I now can choose to believe other wise, so simply, I do.
I know this is not everyone's story, but this is mine - my privilege is larger than others. I am a white male solo hiker, the privilege there is extreme, I will be educating myself more about that for sure. The complexities I've described above and the specific issues in my life I've faced by simply being and identifying as gay are sometimes road blocks in what could be a healthier journey. However, other identifiers, such as my white skin and gender (and probably more things I'm unaware of) have definitely made my life in many ways less of a challenge than others. They have actually helped me out in many adventangeous ways, which in many ways takes away from those without privilege. Those privileges have kept me safe from a world that may actually inhibit someone to do what I simply do; walk alone in the woods. Also, my privileges without them being in check, and without me working to help BIPOC and other marginalised groups that struggle more to do what I do so easily; that will actually add to their struggles. So, for every step I take in the woods, I need to also take a step in using my platform and privilege to dismantle the inequality, help bring equity, and believe in the success of this by actually taking action. Justice must also be served. I cannot just say "This is not okay", I have to say "This is not okay, and now I'm going to help do something about it." I am ready and willing to help make other more marginalised people's obstacle courses easier along the way as best I can and am ready to learn how I am part of the problem as to help aid with the solution as well. Humans helping humans!
I don't have all the answers, but I just want to, in my own little way, use Gay Man Walking to show the world that despite the way we’ve been treated, and the way we've been taught to treat ourselves, we are capable of excelling, trusting, listening to, and being ourselves, and simply put - discovering and proceeding to do what our best self wants while helping others as best we can. Really, boiled down, I am doing what I want just for kicks, but that's just it - the fact that I feel I have a right to is not everyone's story, especially within the LGBTQIA+ community. I stand as a marginalised individual who faced a lot of specific adversities to get to where I am happiest. Other people have also helped me so much in terms of leaving the world of shame and fear to reach where I am now, and if there is any way I can help others to get there as well, then it will be a welcomed addition to my journey of holding hands with Mother Nature as she shows me her lovely planet. So that is why I have kept the Gay in my title. For the reasons I have explained above, and many, many more. Being openly gay has helped me hold onto and nurture a life of living bravely, with love, with curiosity, and with an enthusiasm to shoot forth into the world at full force. Fully Ross Jackson, on a woodland path of self-actualisation, ready and willing to tackle shame one big awkward trip over my hiking poles at a time.
"Who is that person in the woods talking very loudly to that bird?"
That's me, Ross Jackson! I was just telling the bird a bit about my life leading up to me being a human hiking robot. I'll summarise our conversation for you in 100 words or more:
I started backpacking around 10 years ago. Picture this, the average of all my backpacking trips: me, a backpack the size of me, I have an awkward tan, my hair is pink. I am lying on a hostel patio in the ambiguous far off country of Thingsarecheapland playing cards with Tracy from Ohio and Rasmus from Sweden. They will most likely sleep together later that evening in the bunk directly above me. The repetitive creek-ing of the frame lulls me into a dreamland full of visions of what I ate that day: white bread with various culturally specific fillings; and what I mainly did that day: eat said street food while taking a few photos of churches, fountains, and a hundred selfies with both. Got it? Also, I'll probably end up being hit on by Rasmus too as he intends to explore his sexuality as he "finds himself abroad." Oh Rasmus, you wanted to find yourself a broad but ended up with a silly dude! Like Rasmus, I kind of just went with whatever I wanted at that moment, until I had enough experiences while traveling to sit back and really pick and chose what I could add more or less of for my future trips.
Within the first 5 years I learned what makes me the happiest while backpacking; whittling down my trip experiences until I found myself standing at the trailhead of a twelve day walk across the width of England; 300km of mountains, forests, and aggressive Bull covered farmlands for me to navigate and survive through. Because...apparently that's what I like to do? Exploring the streets of cities for a couple hours in my early backpacking days evolved to me walking for days across land with mostly everything I need thrown into my backpack and clung to my overwhelmed self?! There's a bit more to it, but, yes, I am aware of its ridiculousness. Me and long distance trails have ridiculousness in common, so, match made in heaven really.
To this day, long distance trails and I are still matched; an old married couple, or at least on our way there, staring at each other from across the room, knowing almost everything there is to know about each other, having explored most nooks and crannies of each others' existence. Wow...deep... but really I am referring to those moments where I fall on trail, and just lay there sprawled for a few extra minutes, chatting to the earth, and thanking it for not absolutely destroying me. So far I have completed 6 multi-day hikes/thru-hikes/long distance trails/nature treadmills; and here you are, at the centre of my sharing circle, being shared at, which you've chosen to partake in. Read and Watch at your pleasure!