Held in July at the New River Gorge, West Virginia, HomoClimbtastic (HC) bills itself as the world’s largest queer climbing convention, spreading the word that sports are for everyone. The inclusive event explains: “By queer, that includes bisexuals, lesbians, ambisexuals, gays, trans’es, questioners, not quite straight people, amphibians with crushes on cephalopods, or however you define yourself. You don’t even have to be queer. You can be straight as a motha f***in’ arrow.” We spoke to event organizer Alex Rowland.
How did HomoClimbtastic get started?
There were so many reasons to do it. We started 10 years ago, when queer people were still very alien in the public imagination. Certainly, I felt isolated as a gay male. I felt as though I couldn’t climb with queer people outside. I couldn’t even find any queer people to climb with. I also felt like I couldn’t climb with straight people, because they thought I was weird and didn’t treat me like a fellow male athlete. That’s where feelings of isolation come in—even if those inflicting it don’t intend to do so. HC was developed to torpedo all of that. We also wanted to elucidate our comedic personalities through our ridiculous goat-humping logo. People loved the logo—and recognized us. We began to snowball as an organization each year, tweaking our responsibilities, reaching out through social media, and improving the overall goals of HC: awareness, education, and good ol’ fashion fun.
What do you do to achieve those goals?
We’ve always been very invested in the idea of how we contribute to the climbing community and the queer community; I know these are questions we ask ourselves every single year. We do the obvious stuff: hold fundraisers to pay for hardware, raise awareness about impact, and donate money to the American Alpine Club. We also educate our members about how to transition effectively from the gym to the outdoors. Sometimes the best belay education at your gym is from your local queer climbing club! What I should point out, though, is that these problems are not unique to queer people, which is why what we do benefits more than just us. As a community, I think we have to work together to understand the new social dynamics of climbing and how to make them better.
I think people wrongly assume that queer clubs (or things like first female ascents) only divide people, but the division was always there, and this is just us bridging it. And I use the word “bridge” very deliberately, because I don’t want to give up my queer island—there’s a lot of culture and history and scholarship on this island that’s very important to me. But I do want people to feel free to visit me on my island, and to feel free to invite me to theirs. And that’s what a good bridge does: It’s not a one-way door; it’s a bridge.
Where do you host the annual event?
Every year since we started we’ve had an annual convention in West Virginia at the New River Gorge. I think we’re coming up on our ninth year in Fayetteville. If you’re wondering, “Why Fayetteville?” then I think it’s helpful to know that the town has always been incredibly supportive of us. HC is very much in sync with the climbing vibe of Fayetteville itself.
What’s the convention like?
Most people say our conventions are like summer camp for adults. Fellow organizer Hilary Malatino explains it like this: “The festival is inclusive, extremely friendly, and very, very queer. You will see lesbian moms with adorable babies, trans and gender-queer folks, boys in Speedos, dykes with dogs, and a lot of affection through encouragement and support. The festivities following a day full of climbing include drag shows, swimming in minimal/no clothing, hot-tubbing, lube Twister, yoga, dance parties, whitewater rafting, and pizza.” Humor is a large part of HC. The people are hilarious and make climbing fun.
Tell us about the slogan, “SPORTS ARE FOR EVERYONE, PERIOD.”
Generally speaking, there is a certain stigma of queer people doing sports. Especially at a young age, we learn from societal norms that sports and queers don’t mix. I have plenty of straight male friends who feel very much alienated for lack of enjoying various forms of “sportsball.” There are also plenty of women who want to be athletes but are told in subtle ways not to pursue it because sports are not for women. Perhaps these statements have a lot of baggage; I think they’re terrible statements to agree with. For anybody, sports are fundamental parts of happiness. A lot has changed in recent years for the queer community, including the shift of societal norms toward gays and sports. HC is part of that shift, so I think HC’s message of “SPORTS ARE FOR EVERYONE, PERIOD.” certainly benefits the queer community, but benefits a lot more people for the same reasons. As a male growing up, I had zero affection for football and sports in general. I really think I missed out on a lot because I understood and followed that stigma. But here I am now, a rock climber and the founder of a climbing club for queer people.
HomoClimbtastic 2016 will take place from July 20 to 24 in Fayetteville. For more information visit homoclimbtastic.com.