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Climbing, bouldering and belonging; the life saving power of inclusion

by Gillian Smyth

I’ve been invited by the lovely folk at the Women’s Climbing Symposium to pen a few lines to mark the 50th anniversary of the first UK pride rally, not because I’m any sort of indefatigable activist, or because I’m known for epic climbing feats, but simply because I’m a transgender woman who happens to enjoy climbing, bouldering and belonging to this wonderful community.

I think there’s little point in talking about how the UK’s mainstream media have set about amplifying transphobic hate, striving to create a respectable bigotry, or the manufactured culture war surrounding trans lives (trans lives, not issues, we’re people, not an abstract concept), designed to distract and divide communities who should be united, and in that unity be strong and powerful, better able to challenge patriarchal and discriminatory systems. That work is being done by folk far more capable than myself, and I’m profoundly grateful to them.

I’d like instead to talk about the power of inclusion, the affirming, enhancing, beautiful, life saving power of inclusion. I first attended a WCS event at HarroWall in 2018, a relative climbing newbie, riddled with anxiety and trepidatious beyond belief, because…. well because I reasoned that with 500 or so psyched and adventurous women gathering in one space there was a very real chance, statistically, that I would encounter folk with transphobic attitudes or beliefs. Meeting folk like this, having the very core of my identity challenged, derided, and vilified, having my identity conflated with that of abusers and predators is dehumanising, humiliating and deeply troubling, and occasionally dangerous. I really shouldn’t have worried.

The community I found at WCS was truly inclusive, warm, and supportive. Everybody just said hi, smiled, shared their psych throughout the workshops, and I absorbed the collective stoke as though by osmosis. I relaxed, breathed, and I enjoyed every moment. The team at WCS had obviously, throughout their previous years, built a truly inclusive space, welcoming diversity and proactively pursuing a socially conscious and equality driven program. This is where the power lies, for myself and my community, and for anyone who feels unrepresented, marginalised, or unable to exercise their agency. The world so often leaves us storm tossed, out of our depth and breathless, and these safe harbours, where we find community that holds us, that accept us for who we are, have the most profound impact on our lives. It’s a beautiful space to create, and I’m incredibly grateful for the sense of belonging and joy this community has engendered within me, turns out pride can be any time of the year!


Gillian is a member of United We Climb, a JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) organisation within climbing and the outdoors.

Gillian joined the United We Climb team because she felt that visibility is one of the best ways to take the heat and light out of a so called ‘debate’ around transgender people and hopes to help form a kinder, more inclusive narrative and understanding of trans identities.

Click here for more information about the work United We Climb do within climbing and the outdoors.



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