Last year Climbing Magazine published a feature article on Jamie Logan, one of the great pioneers in North American free climbing and all around badass. After blazing a path of first ascents and first free ascents across North America, Jamie Logan transitioned to female in her late 60s, which she described as being “way scarier than the Emperor Face” (Mt Robson, a pretty big deal). She felt nervous coming out, feeling that the climbing community, which was such a huge part of her life, was “pretty homophobic” due to certain magazine articles and route names – and some of this definitely still rings true today. However, for the most part she feels the community, especially the younger generation, have been incredibly supportive, even if there are some older climbing partners she no longer sees.
The queer climbing community exists, but our visibility varies. Researching for this article, I found that the US has numerous queer climbing groups. Some US brands (Arc’teryx mainly) hold pride events, sponsor queer events and book queer activists/mountain guides for talks. Here in the UK, however, I’ve not seen many of these events organised, or heard of any action that goes past slapping a pride flag on social media. The Mountaineering Council of Scotland are ‘committed’ to ensuring inclusivity and diversity, and have one associate member group that is explicitly queer (Outdoor Lads – not for us gals) – but where is all the action? We need to amplify more queer voices and claim space in the outdoors (and the gyms). What happens in your local areas? What do you think about queer representation in the climbing community?
Finding famous climbers who are part of the queer community, by googling that phrase, doesn’t yield much (Instagram is a better place to look, and keep up to date). People in the public eye don’t have to – and may not want to – advertise themselves, especially their queerness, in this way. People don’t have to become these role models, but the climbing community is in desperate need of more of them. Representation and visibility is important, and finding your community is important, but being out can be dangerous, especially in sport.
…being out can be dangerous, especially in sport.
My google search uncovered quite a few people asking the same question as me (phew!). The comments section (a dangerous place to go, I know, don’t look at me like that) had me reading phrases such as “I don’t get why that should matter. Climbing is climbing, that stuff is separate” and “can’t we just be humans”, diminishing the OP’s inquiry. These comments come from a place of privilege, from people who don’t walk into their local climbing wall or to their local crag and feel ostracised. They aren’t affected and don’t realise when systems, language or facilities oppress and hurt minorities. They don’t understand how draining it can be to have to navigate these spaces as a queer person, even if there’s no explicit prejudice, even if people are ‘fine with gay people’.
Climbing walls, at least the ones I have visited, have felt quite neutral and they usually feel like my home. But this isn’t always the case. I’m a cis-gender, reasonably femme woman, and the only odd looks I get are from people who apparently have never seen a woman with body hair. Because of this appearance, I feel safe and the only thing I have to worry about is mansplain-beta on climbs I’m working on. Not all queer experiences are equal, and while it’s fine for me, others can (and do) feel differently. Climbing walls can be a petri dish of toxic masculinity and heteronormativity. And honestly, our climbing community can do better. But how, you ask?
How could the climbing community be better for queer people?
I walk into a climbing wall and don’t have to worry about where to get changed or where to pee – not everyone has this luxury. Does your climbing gym have gender neutral toilets? Do they explicitly adopt a zero tolerance policy towards homophobia, transphobia and racism? Do people on your local climbing page / group chat still use gendered language that, if you think about it, makes you (or others) uncomfortable? This week I heard a guy actually say the phrase ‘man up’ to his pal when he fell off a climb. We all need to show up, even, and especially, if you’re not part of our proud community, or you’re in any position of privilege (white, cis-gender, straight). Ask your local gym to introduce and accommodate gender neutral facilities. Ask for a queer climbers’ social. Promote climbing in the queer community and enable queer people and allies to meet each other and find climbing partners to build a community we can feel comfortable in. Many walls have a ladies’ night, which is fantastic, but we need more. Ask your wall to make the website queer friendly with disclaimers and/or pride flags, but be mindful of just slapping a pride flag on something without demanding change or action. It’s not just a marketing technique. The more welcoming the environment is, the better the climbing community will become. Call out comments at the gym, in group chats, or on Facebook. Each of us can be the change we need to see, and all of the rest of the clichés.
Each of us can be the change we need to see, and all of the rest of the clichés.
For now, if, like me, you’re looking for more queer inspiration and representation in the climbing community, I recommend the following on Instagram:
(also please send me your recommendations, I need more queer climbing heroes in my life)
Off Instagram I’d recommend City to Sandstone, a (very) short film with 4 queer women climbing cool stuff and talking diversity (by Arc’teryx).
In real life: the UK doesn’t actually have many official queer climbing groups – so go start one, or contact Emily at Womenclimb to start a Womenclimb Queer Meetup:
Happy Pride month y’all!