“When you never see people who look like you doing something; it takes extra effort to feel like you belong.” (This Land, Faith E Briggs, 2019)
I am queer, short, have thick thighs, prefer pants and short hair to leggings and pony tails. I am not a man nor do I usually attract the attention of men who dominate the climbing and the outdoor industry. I am also white, athletic and privileged which has always helped me fit into the outdoor community. I fit in but sometimes feel like I don’t belong.
I worked at a climbing gym for four years and often felt self-conscious, inadequate, and weak. I am an above average level climber and can hike up a hill just as fast as a person a foot taller than me, but I did not feel like I could go on climbing trips with my coworkers and other climbers at the gym. Then a new person started working at the gym, Andrew, who for some reason believed in me. He invited me to go climbing with seemingly no doubts that I was good enough. Our first climb together was a committing 5 pitch climb and I did great. He continued to invite me on climbs -never doubting my capabilities. Believing in me more than I believed in myself; teaching me and challenging me. When climbing with him, I felt like I belonged!
One time he suggested we do a multiple day alpine climb that had multiple pitches at my limit with a gnarly steep approach. I was nervous, but excited to give it a go. At this point I trusted his judgement!
Another co-worker heard what we were planning and felt it his duty to warn me about the difficulty and severity of the route. At one point he said the approach is so hard that (some woman’s name who looks more fit than me) had to turn around. And after that conversation the seed of doubt grew in my head. I started to think Andrew was delusional. Maybe this climb was outside my capabilities. So, I suggested we do something easier…less committing. Andrew agreed because he would never push me into something I didn’t feel comfortable with.
Later Andrew told me how frustrated he was that my other friend felt the need to talk to me about the climb. He said “he hasn’t seen you climb outside in years why should his opinion matter. I have seen you climb and you are good enough for that route and you are tougher than that other woman he mentioned.”
The reason the other co-workers opinion mattered so much is because it supported the beliefs in my head that I did not belong. Years of self doubt do not just go away from one unconditional supporter. That supporter helps a lot, but it takes a connected community to feel like you belong!
If you are interested in an awesome climbing guide who will appropriately challenge you check out @andrewpowell1217. If you know other guides who are expanding on representation on the outdoors please tag them.