What One Of Your Outdoorsy, Brown, Gay Friends Wants You To Know

By: Erin McGrady + Save to a List

[TW, CW: Racial slurs, Asian hate, violence against LGBTQ+ People]

My name is Erin McGrady. I’m a runner, a writer, and a photographer. I’m a dog lover and a surfer. I’m a Korean American. I’m a woman. I’m also Caroline’s wife. Queer, lesbian, and gay are comfortable identities. My pronouns are she/her/hers. I’m proud to be part of the LGBTQ community and I believe that love is love.

My privileges are many and they impact my story and my experiences. For starters, I didn’t have to worry about where my next meal was going to come from or whether or not I’d have housing when I was a kid. I do not have those worries as an adult. I went to schools with lots of resources and had opportunities to be in clubs and on teams that led to friendships that have, in some cases, has led to opportunities as an adult. I’m also able-bodied. And I have proximity to white privilege in that my wife and my family members are white. Even as I write this, I’m aware that I’m probably missing a few.

Ordinarily, I don’t start by defining myself like this, but I want you to have some context on how I think about myself (and how others perceive me) because it impacts what I’m about to share.

This piece is a pretty big departure from the things I typically write about (gear reviews, travel, running, etc.) but I believe that hard conversations are worth it if it means things can change for the better, even just a little. Because we've still got a long way to go.

Black Lives Matter.

Period.

If you’re wondering, what in the heck does Black Lives Matter have to do with the outdoors… It has everything to do with the outdoors. The outdoors don’t exist in a vacuum and we’ve got a long way to go before they’re safe, not to mention welcoming.

To be a better ally, we’ve got to take a look at our own racism and take the necessary steps to move into being co-conspirators in dismantling white supremacy rather than simply allies. This goes for me as well as white people and other non-Black people of color. Listening to Black people, educating ourselves on how to be an anti-racist, using our privilege to lift up others, diversifying our social media feeds, voting, holding the people in our life accountable for anti-Black comments, prejudices, and behaviors, donating when we can, and supporting Black-owned businesses… these are all things we can do. 

If we are to make the world a safer place for our Black brothers and sisters, we must all do the work.

Stop Asian Hate

I’d been working on this piece for a few weeks when eight people were shot and killed in Atlanta, six of them Asian. Hate crimes against Asian Americans have been on the rise in the last year, and this incident, which happened just a few hours down the road from me, actually wasn’t all that surprising.

It's only been about a year since someone followed me in their vehicle while I was out for a run. It was mid-morning and I was alone. Often my wife and I will go together but we decided to do different routes that morning. Long story short, I felt a vehicle slow down to keep pace with me so I moved over into the grassy shoulder area thinking, well maybe this person just wants to give me a wide berth and go around me. But when the car didn’t pass and instead kept tailing me, I turned around to look, and then the window rolls down.

“Do you live here?”

I said “no” but I lived Iess than a half-mile from where I was. The person in the car kept rolling alongside me as I started to pick up my pace. I was scared at that point. Then the voice says, “Well you can’t be in here. This is for residents only. LEARN TO READ.” She then continued to ride next to me in her navy SUV for another hundred yards or so until she pulled her vehicle into her garage. Her parting words to me were, “Go to hell!”

I was minding my own business. I was dressed like a runner (which I shouldn’t even need to say, but the point is it was obvious what I was doing... which was moving through a neighborhood, on a line, at a steady clip, and with no deviations). I didn’t hop any fences nor jump over any wall. I don't know why I said "no" when asked if I lived there other than that I was scared. And confused. It was the last thing I expected to be asked.

This isn’t the first incident I’ve had while running. I’ve had people yell “CHINK” and “GO BACK TO CHINA!” at me as they drive by. I’ve also had a station wagon pretend like it was going to hit me and then swerve at the last second.

Ugh.

Each of these incidents was terrifying, but they haven't stopped me from running. Sometimes it’s more emotionally exhausting to go for a run than it is pure fun. I look over my shoulder a lot, I almost always carry my phone, and I make a point to keep my head down and my hat low. But I keep getting out the door because I see the run as a small resistance and my own personal way of taking up space and refusing to let my world close in.

Though we ‘should’ all be able to enjoy trails and campgrounds and waves without worrying about our safety, we’re just not there yet.

Love is Love

My wife and I hold hands a lot. On trails, going into restaurants, at the beach. We’re not over the top with public displays of affection, but we’re comfortable with who we are and we enjoy connecting as we move through the world. We don’t make any effort to hide that we’re together. But trust me when I say that we know there are people out there that have a problem with it. It being our handholding. It being us. It being our gayness. It being our interracial relationship. It potentially being the intersection of all of those things. Who knows what it is? We’ve been yelled at while walking down the street together, called names, stared at, and even pinned against a wall in an alley as someone sped by in a loud car with just inches to spare. It was one of the most frightening things I’ve ever lived through. And it was made all the more bizarre (scary?) to hear the person laugh as they drove by. We were pinned against a wall with frozen looks of horror on our faces as we flattened our bodies to become small and avoid being hit. There was no ‘life flashed before my eyes' moment. It happened too quickly. I thought we were going to die that night. All we were doing was holding hands.

These stories are difficult to recall and type. Thankfully, I'm still alive to share about them. And yet they keep happening. 

If you see something happening and you know it's wrong, please say something or do something. We need to all work together to create safe spaces, including in the outdoors. A person should be able to go for a run without being followed in a vehicle. Or without their right to be in a space questioned. Or worse. Look no further than what happened to Ahmaud Arbery while he was running.

Do Your Best to Show Up

If you’re still with me, thank you. I know it’s a lot to unpack and hold and work through. But the weight of our work seems like a small burden to bear when Black and Brown bodies continue to be hurt and killed.

I know we’ve all got a lot on our plates, so when you’re able, please show up. There are numerous ways to do so. With your vote. With your voice. With your resources which can mean the obvious, money, but can also mean your time, your networks, your platforms, etc. Sign petitions, call your elected officials, put symbols in your windows and in front of your home. If it’s possible, consider putting a pronoun indicator on your screen when you use Zoom and at the bottom of your e-mail. Listen when someone shares. Educate yourself without expecting others to do the work for you. Speak up when you see something that is wrong. Challenge microaggressions. Teach your kids that love is love and work to amplify the voices of those in underrepresented communities.

Remember that the work is not over with a re-share or a repost. Though some say social media posts are performative, I think they’re better than nothing. To me, saying something on Instagram is leaps and bounds better than saying nothing, especially if you own a business that makes money off of Black and/or Brown culture (restaurants, fashion, interior design, etc.).

Growing up I really didn’t see a whole lot of people that looked like me either in my day to day but also on TV or in magazines. My hope is that we will see businesses and brands start and/or (depending on where they are) continue to showcase Black and Brown skinned people, members of the LGBTQ community, and other marginalized communities on their websites, social media, etc. so that kids growing up can see someone that looks like them. And not just in one-off, token-ish, kinds of ways.

My friend, Mario Villanueva, a queer Latinx from Austin, Texas says: “Representation does matter! Diversifying not only the models used for ad campaigns, but also considering and appointing BIPOC within a company's team, board of leaders, and stakeholders. We need them everywhere and by doing so it creates a real movement that will ultimately enrich the company financially and its mission. It's only a matter of time for generations to grow up and notice who the real game-changers are.”

Clothing and Gear

At some point, most of us reach a point where we want or need to upgrade our outdoor gear. It could be a rain shell to help you get out in inclement weather. Or a used pack that you plan to take on your first backcountry trip. Whatever the case may be, the barrier to actually getting outside is, in a lot of cases, no small task.

Specialty shops can be intimidating. There’s something, for me at least, really tough about working up the nerve to go into a specialty running store. Or a bike shop and especially a surf shop. And I have been doing each of those activities for years. I really appreciate it when the staff is approachable and you feel heard and seen. Most of the time the money you’ll be spending isn’t a small sum and whether we like it or not, having properly fitting gear, gear that you like and want to use, gear that feels personal to you, can have an impact on your experience in the outdoors.

I like a lot of ‘women’s’ gear, but that’s a privilege in that I feel comfortable in the body that I’m in, with the gender that I’ve been assigned. That being said, my outward presentation varies. Some days I wear a trucker hat, flannel, and boots. Other days I’m more comfortable in a dress. Still, all the choices I make clothes-wise and gear-wise feel like me. When I’m getting dressed for the day, comfort, fit, and function drive most of my clothing decisions, but I also believe that clothing is a form of self-expression and that I shouldn’t have to feel like I fit in any one particular box. The reason I’m saying this is because sometimes I shop in what others refer to as the ‘men’s' section of stores. I often like the colorways more and the cut of the clothing fits me better. If you see me on the more masculine-presenting side of your store, please don’t try to steer me to the ‘women’s’ section. I am where I want to be.

I really appreciate that there are some companies out there that offer clothing that doesn’t put gender front and center. SnowPeak’s entire collection of clothing is made for everyone and I think that’s rad. I hope more companies continue in this direction.

My friend, Vivian Lee, of Atlanta, who identifies as a queer Korean-American, shares, “I find fashion to be difficult for me in so many ways including clothing designed for the outdoors. I present masculine and prefer to wear men's clothes but being short and curvy means I can never find clothing that fits me right and not being able to wear clothes that fits me makes me feel that much more uncomfortable when I'm hiking, ie. majorly cuffed pant legs, really long shirt sleeves, etc.”

These kinds of uncomfortable clothing and gear-purchasing experiences can be discouraging and can prevent people from accessing the outdoors. But they don’t have to be. (If you need an example, look no further than Slim Pickins Outfitters, the outdoor shop that Jahmicah Dawes and Heather Dawes are running in Stephenville, Texas.)  

Last Thoughts For Now

#EveryoneOutside is a hastag, but to me it’s also more than that. It’s putting thoughts, intentions, and words into motion to make the outdoors a more inclusive, safe, and welcoming space for, well everyone.

The outdoors have so much to offer. They have been and continue to be a place of solace and renewal for me. My experiences outdoors have made my life all the richer. I don’t really know what would take the place of running, riding bikes, hiking, surfing, and going to look for pretty sunset photos.

I don’t claim to have all the answers and I don’t have it all figured out; I’m learning all the time. The above are my own thoughts and experiences and they’re in no way meant to encompass the experiences of the entire LGBTQ or BIPOC community.

I hope that what I’ve shared will open people’s eyes to the reality of what it’s like for someone like me, who’s outdoorsy, but who moves through that space as a queer, brown-skinned woman. It’s an uncomfortable place for me as a human to share from, but I think the discomfort is worth it if makes way for empathy, change, discussion, or even just a shared sense of lived experience. Thanks for the read and hope to see you on the trails someday.

Note: This is the final piece of my writers residency for The Outbound Collective. I am so grateful for the opportunity and encourage other writers to keep an eye out for information about the next residency! 

Instagram: @e.mcgrady
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