One of the world’s greatest climbers talks about how she finally found peace as a woman.
Jamie Logan is a pioneer of modern rock climbing in the U.S., having made the first free ascent of the Diamond on Colorado’s Longs Peak. Now 71 years old, Logan is forging a new kind of path, living as a woman. In recent years, she changed her name from Jim to Jamie and began wearing in public the clothes she has always felt most comfortable in. Logan shared her story on stage for the first time as part of the kickoff to the Rare Air Talks outdoor adventure speaker series at The Studio Boulder a conversation we put down in part here. You can listen to this full interview at DispatchRadio.com.
There are a couple of constants in your life. The first is that ever since you were little, you loved to climb just about anything. And the other is that even way back then as a little boy, you liked to wear women’s clothing. Tell us a bit more about that.
Growing up in west Texas in the 1950s, I had a sense that I didn’t fit in and it was pretty socially uncomfortable. For many years of my life I was always literally sneaking around in the closet and always terribly afraid that I was going to get caught. I always thought that if anybody ever found out, that would kind of be the end of my life. I remember reading a magazine article when I was 10 or 11 of a soldier in England who had transitioned to being a woman, and there was picture of her sitting there in the chair wearing a tweed skirt and a sweater. And I was like, “Wow.” But I didn’t really understand it.
So basically I lived my life. I was married, I had children, I was a general contractor and a carpenter. I was climbing an awful lot in the 1970s. And eventually I went to architecture school and became an architect. About maybe 15 years ago, I told my wife a little bit. I told her I would wear women’s clothes sometimes and it sort of gradually progressed over a long period of time. A pivotal moment was when I was invited to be on the board of the American Alpine Club. I went up to Seattle to go to a board meeting. I hired a trans woman to help me get dressed, and we went to the mall and went shopping. We went to a restaurant at dinner, and it all seemed fine. And I was like, “Wow, I really like this.” And then I put on my coat and tie and went to the board meeting. So it was kind of like being in these two worlds.
I started realizing that I wanted to change my life. I was making incremental decisions. I decided to grow my hair long. I decided to get rid of my beard. I was really afraid of people like Chris [Weidner] in the climbing world. Would anybody ever climb with me, or was I going to be some kind of weird pariah? And I also was a successful architect, and I thought, “Would anybody ever hire me again?” Every time I told more people, somehow it got better.
What are the dynamics like at work?
People on jobs are pretty good about calling me “she,” and then they screw up and they call me “he” and they get nervous. I don’t care. It took me a while to get a thick skin.
You told me one thing I thought was really interesting. You said that you’re not a woman but you’re also not a man anymore. You said that you are somewhere in between.
I think it’s really important for everybody to understand that there’s a pretty wide range of gender stuff. It comes down to asking. When we look at someone, we have an instinctive need to gender people immediately. It’s okay to ask. It’s really easy to say, “What gender do you prefer? What pronoun do you prefer?”
Climbing, historically, has been blatantly misogynistic, whether it’s in online forum topics, route names, or, certainly, in everyday slang that climbers have used. How would you like to see climbing culture—and ultimately all culture—change to become more inclusive?
I’ve been to a couple of national LGBTQ climbing festivals. The people there feel much more comfortable with each other. If they send a route and they come down, they’re all excited and they want to kiss their boyfriend. They want that to be OK. And when there’s 100 of them, it’s fine. So somehow it has to get to where it’s fine everywhere else. I really do feel optimistic that it’s changing.
Climbing is getting better, along with the rest of America. I never dreamed that it would come to me being, in a sense, kind of the token trans person. Because there are very many people like me. But it seems okay, and it seems important. I think that the goal of this is for me to help all those kids that feel they don’t fit in. If they can read an article in a magazine about me and go, “Oh, I can do this,” that’s a good thing.
—Chris Weidner is a journalist and freelance writer based in Boulder, Colorado and a climber of 30 years.