In dog mushing — a sport where both humans and dogs compete regardless of gender — Mountain, 40, has found a welcoming community. It’s a privilege few trans athletes get to experience, he acknowledged, and one the musher has rarely encountered himself. Gender always posed problems for the athlete, who was assigned female at birth but described himself as a gender-nonconforming kid throughout his youth. He remembered trying out for the softball team at his Wisconsin high school. Despite being faster and more aggressive than many of the girls, he said he didn’t make the cut.
“I don’t know what it was, but I had a lot of trouble taking part in girls’ sports,” Mountain said. “I was often told that I was too aggressive, that I didn’t fit in with the team, wasn’t good for the cohesion of the team, that kind of thing.”
As an adult, Mountain found support in the small community of dog mushing. His fans, the “Ugly Dogs,” a group of mushing enthusiasts who follow him and his wife, fellow musher Blair Braverman, on social media, raised $57,000 for him to compete in the Iditarod and qualifying races. Whenever he’s feeling down or discouraged, he said he can turn to the Ugly Dogs for support.
“I know that I can just log in and take solace in my online community — as long as it’s somewhere with service,” Mountain said.
Last year, Mountain came out as trans in the most public way imaginable — on the Discovery Channel’s “Naked and Afraid” survival reality TV show where contestants compete in the nude.
“It felt like saying the unsayable,” he said of coming out on national television.
“I’m in a sport where I’m wearing a big parka, you know, most people didn’t even know I was trans,” he said of his life before “Naked and Afraid.”
Even now, however, he isn’t sure how many people in the wider mushing community know about his gender identity. Overall, he thinks they would be supportive. But transphobia, like the Alaskan wilderness, can be unpredictable and unforgiving. It’s another reason for the musher to stay tough and keep an open mind.
“I can understand transphobia, because it took me so long to accept myself,” Mountain, who transitioned in his late 20s, said. “And I have every incentive to accept myself. When I just meet somebody and they find out I’m trans, they have very little incentive to accept me. I mean, maybe a little, but nothing in comparison to the incentive that I had to accept myself, and it still took a couple decades to figure out. So, I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt.”