Meet the PAFletes: Elyse Rylander

Come out for Elyse's workshops during PAF. Get all seminar info at portlandalpinefest.org/seminars/

So I heard you have a knack for perfectly-timed message GIFs. Do you have a favorite? 

I pride myself on not using the same ones every time—I’ve gone so far as to download a couple of different apps in addition to the gif keyboard to shake it up. I like to keep people on their toes.

On a more serious note, what does it mean to you to be a queer woman in the outdoor industry? 

It’s super complex and multi-faceted. Some of the less fun things are often being the only one in the organization or team with that identity, having to speak up for yourself all the time, and dealing with a lot of microaggressions. But on the flip side, I think women, queer women, and other marginalized folks can be the best guides for kiddos or those experiencing the outdoors for the first time. I think these identities can make you really good at understanding what it’s like to be the “only” (or maybe one of a few), and what it’s like to not fit in all the time. It’s also given me the opportunity to meet some really amazing allies and to cultivate friendships I didn’t necessarily think I would be able to. It’s been such a privilege. But it also means having to be tough and to deal with having to be the smartest, the fastest, the best all the time. And having to figure out how to give yourself a break and practice some good self care. Those last two I’m still very much learning how to do.

Tell us about your organization OUT There Adventures. What do you hope to accomplish? 

On an organizational level, I think we’ve already achieved some of our goals. In the last 5-7 years that I’ve been doing this work with OTA so much has changed in the world. I think the work I’m doing right now will be culturally irrelevant in the industry in the next 3-5 years, which is pretty darn astounding. I think any social service non-profit is ultimately striving to work themselves out of a job. Rarely do we see that actually come to fruition, but I think we might actually play a pretty key role in helping to shift the overall paradigm in the industry. On an individual level for our participants, my goal has always been to provide them with an opportunity to be around other people like themselves and to be outside. That rings most profoundly true for me in our youth programs. We do an affirmation circle at the end of all our youth trips, and it always takes hours because they just gush about themselves. It’s so amazing to see and hear them, and to see the change they’ve experienced.

Why do you think the outdoors in particular are a great place to bring people from minority groups together? 

Queer youth in particular are overrepresented in statistics of homelessness, mental health problems, social stresses, depression, and anxiety. We’re continuing to add to the body of research that spending time in nature helps to lessen all of those things (maybe besides homelessness). I think nature provides an amazing opportunity to try and assuage some of those negative experiences. Also, there’s the idea that queer folks are really disruptive to culture and society because they don’t follow prescriptive linear paths—you’re born and “it’s a girl!” which means you wear certain clothes and you act a certain way. In the natural world, I think it’s amazing to be able to see how much queerness and disruption is reflected all around us because things are not linear. It’s basically impossible to travel in a straight line—you have to step over something, or the trail is going to twist, or you’re getting pushed and pulled by the tides. So even in the way you move your physical body you’re able to see that disruption and be celebrated. I think it’s even better than socially constructed urban spaces for showing queer folks that they’re totally natural, more natural than these rigid boxes we put ourselves in. We’ve been told for so long that we’re the unnatural ones, nature is a really empowering place for queer folks to be.

What are a few things those of us who have privilege could do to make the community and the places we love more inclusive? 

I think the first step is just recognizing that you have privilege. We struggle as a culture to have a conversation around bias and privilege because those who have a lot of it don’t want to admit it. It’s really hard for folks to own the fact that the system is rigged and that some of us have been given advantages we got simply because of the color of our skin or the gender we were born with. It’s just sheer luck. If you can’t recognize that, the best you can hope for is achieving a place of tolerance, and that is not an ideal at all. From there, it’s making sure you are doing what you can to educate yourself and aren’t putting the emotional labor and expectation of education on marginalized communities.

You don’t want to ask your gay friend all the questions about being gay—that person has to deal with it all the time, and unless they’re down for it you shouldn’t just expect people in these marginalized positions to do the educating for you. We can educate ourselves. Just like with anything, when you’re practicing a new skill you have to put yourself out there and mess it up a bunch. You’ve gotta go back to the drawing board if it didn’t go well, just like when you’re learning how to climb or mountain bike or snowboard. There’s tons of failing involved, and that’s part of the process. Reflect and do it better next time. I think those are probably my three top things: check your privileges, educate yourself as much as you can, and put yourself out there, fail, and learn.

Is there anything I missed that you’re dying to share? 

Well, OUT There Adventures is a non-profit so we always appreciate support in the form of donations. And the LGBTQ Outdoor Summit will already have passed by the time this gets published, but we’ll be doing it again next year and would love for queer folks and allies of all genders to join!

Elyse's Workshops:
Climbing Towards Inclusivity: A First Step Into Exploring Allyship
Roundtable Discussion: How to Climb 3 Grades Harder with Diversity & Inclusion

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