Why understanding a group before joining is so important
Not everyone who joins a specific group falls under the descriptive category. In fact, I occasionally invite non-people of color to Black Girl Trekkin hikes. Some tag along excitedly, while others may shy away from the invitation. I love including people in spaces, but I make sure that the people I invite on hikes are respectful and take the time to learn about the group and the people who are in it.
I try to check my new messages and requests across all the social media accounts that I regularly manage for the groups and organizations I lead at least once a day. I watch as reaction emoji’s trickle in like the babbling brooks I love to post on my own Instagram stories. The majority of the time the messages are very positive. I’ll usually see polite questions about upcoming outdoor events and comments on how beautiful the images that I have shared from the hiking community. However, sometimes, I’ll get questions about whether people who identify as men can join the hikes that I lead for the Los Angeles chapter of the women’s group, Hiker Babes and I have to pause for a moment.
When I was offered one of (currently) three ambassador roles for the group I was told that, one, this was a women’s group, and that, two, this meant that we only allowed women into the Facebook group which is the main way all the members communicate with each other. Men were welcome to join if they were invited on the hike, but we were asked to communicate this with the group ahead of time and make it known that the hike would be co-ed.
To be completely clear, Trans women are women and they are allowed in the group along with other cis women. I don’t play with that transphobic TERF bs. That was never a debate. What I did want to make sure was that only men we knew are invited on hikes and that they understood and respected the space that was set up for women.
As someone who hikes with anyone as long as they are cool, I felt weird not adding certain people into the group, but I wanted to respect the rules that were already established by its members. It wasn’t until I started experiencing some very odd and aggressive behavior myself from a small handful of people that I realized why having a space just for women was so important.
Rather than join the countless other public groups that welcome all genders, a few individuals have been a little more persistent in joining. I felt terribly responsible on one occasion when one gentleman joined one of our hikes and made nearly every single woman uncomfortable. I vowed to make sure I kept closer watch of who was being invited into our space designated for women.
There was a time once when my sister met another teen who had moved to our hometown in the middle of her senior year with her mother. They stayed in a motel right off of the freeway and never spoke about where they came from, why they moved, and they generally kept to themselves. Hints and rumors began circling around that the two women may have been running from something sinister, and I couldn’t imagine the possibility of having to run away from an abusive man in order to save your life. It made me think differently about safe spaces and how we can help and further protect women from harmful situations.
All I do ask, before you invite someone else into any group that you belong to, is that you make sure that person will be respectful of the other people in that space. You don’t want to invite someone over to a house party and they end up burning down the house, do you? I hope not. You should keep this in mind as well when you enter other spaces.