• Elizabeth Ruiz holding a large fish
  • Elizabeth Ruiz standing against a landscape with mountains and water

Elizabeth's Story (she/they)

The first time I ever put on a pair of waders for work, I felt relief. As a summer intern, I was not the first nor the last person to borrow that particular pair of waders. They were leaky, too big, and the most unflattering shade of gray-brown known to humanity, but they were also comfortable in a way I didn’t really understand in that moment. The first time I slipped my feet into the unisex-sized boot and rolled the coarse material over my hips, it felt like putting on armor.

That was nine years ago, back when I was studying biology in college without really knowing what I wanted to do with my life. Those waders had one true purpose, and that was to let me go where I’d never been able to go before. Waders became not only my key to the outdoors, but my key to becoming a fisheries biologist. When I wore my waders, I could go anywhere and do anything.

I explored wetlands, wildfire burns, lakes, estuaries, and precious freshwater streams all over the country. The waders would change, but that feeling of protection never left. While I was visiting study sites, collecting data, and connecting with nature, everything else fell away: the expectations of my perceived gender, my queerness, my ethnicity, all of it. I was allowed to simply be.

It was like walking around with a giant sign above my head that said, “Look, I belong here,” to anyone who would think otherwise. That feeling of belonging and rightness wasn’t one I was familiar with. And there was the added pleasure of connecting to nature in a meaningful way for the first time in my life. I didn’t grow up doing outdoorsy things, like fishing or camping. But now, when I’m in the water and I can feel the gentle pressure of it flowing against my waders, I know I’m an important part of this wonderful, scary, beautiful world.

Like water, queerness gives life. Being Latinx, being queer, being genderfluid, it’s like the sunlight dancing on the surface of a stream—it’s endless. Waders just gave me a place to begin.