Queer Climbing Social

by | May 1, 2024 | 0 comments

What is this meetup all about? 

Hemmerich: Climbing Social is a celebratory space of queer joy and community every first Sunday of the month at one of the Boulders locations from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. We climb and socialize with each other, though you may choose to lean into either climbing or socializing depending on how you are feeling! We generally switch between the two Boulders locations: the downtown location has only bouldering, which is climbing shorter walls with no ropes, while the eastside location also has higher walls where climbers can either clip into the automatic belay devices or ask a belay-certified person to belay them while they climb.

Ridge: To me, Madison Queer Climbing Social is all about providing a safe space where queer folks in the Madison area can feel empowered to use their bodies in a way that feels good to them. It’s no secret that gym culture can be a little intimidating. Ideally Madison QCS is able to lower those barriers to entry and make climbing for everyone.

How did this group get started? 

Hemmerich: Once I learned about QCS nearly 10 years ago, I began coming early every month and was often one of the last to leave. I felt at home with my community, excited for the climbing, and grateful for the shared meals. Because of the COVID pandemic, there is no longer food at these events; but maybe at some point we can bring that back!

Ridge: QCS was started by Jacqueline Goldstein as a collaboration with Boulders as an affinity group for the under-represented population of LGBTQ climbers. Alongside QCS starting, Boulders plays host to two other affinity groups, Madison Climbers of Color and Madison Women Climbers. Together, these make up a portion of Boulders’ Climb 4 Community program meant to make climbing accessible to everyone.

How many people usually come to events? 

Hemmerich: Recently, I would say we have about 25–40 attendees at each event. I am always surprised how many new people we have, both to the event itself but also to climbing! In the past year or so, I have found the most joy in welcoming some of our youngest queer, trans, and nonbinary folks who attend the event with their supportive caregivers. It is powerful to witness the youngest members of our community surrounded by the support of their parents or caregivers as well as the larger queer community. Not only are the young climbers seeing themselves represented as adults living full and complete lives; but also the caregivers are able to imagine a fulfilled, joyful future for their children, one that’s not always highlighted in the doom, gloom, fear, and horror of the media and current anti-trans legislative efforts that have been specifically targeting them.

Ridge: Like SJ said, we’ve been seeing upwards of 50 people at our monthly event lately, and there’s always room for more. I’ve been excited to see that we’ve been getting more youth and children interested in attending (usually with parents tagging along, too) and also getting some folks closer to the Gen X age group. We really want to create a family-friendly space and never want age to be a barrier either.

What skill level do you need to attend? 

Hemmerich: You can come to QCS as you are, with no prior climbing experience and no gear. As long as you wear something comfortable to climb in, Boulders has climbing shoes and harnesses for you to use. What is “comfortable for you” is for you to decide—people wear everything from athletic gear to dresses to jeans! We want you to show up—so, you do you! Many people who attend QCS are belay-certified and can belay you if we are at the eastside location. There are also automatic belay systems that you can clip into, if you prefer. We also have “intro climbing” or “learn to belay” classes that are free at some of the events!

Ridge: None at all! Just a willingness to learn and meet new folks. I particularly really enjoy teaching folks how to climb for the first time. There’s nothing quite like seeing someone finish their first climb. Nobody can take away that feeling of you having accomplished something using your own body and brain. On days where I or others aren’t feeling like doing a lot of climbing or even socializing, I’ll often say, “It’s called Queer Climbing Social. Out of those three words, it’s fine if you only have energy for the ‘queer’ part today.”

Anything else? 

Ridge: A bit of my own personal story here: As a trans woman, I’ve struggled to feel like I “belong” in athletic spaces and also in using my own body for a sport. There was always a lot of shame there. However, Boulders and Madison Queer Climbing Social have played a huge part in inspiring me to love everything that my body is capable of and to use it in ways that feel good to me. Because of the people I met at QCS, I have had the privilege of competing in a handful of competitions put on by Boulders. Did I do very well in any of them? Not necessarily. But for me, what matters is that I was able to get out there and do it. Those are the kinds of stories I hope to help others have, too.

How can people learn more? 

Hemmerich: Information about QCS is on the Boulder’s website with links to join our Facebook group called “Queer Climbing Social” and our google group, [email protected]. Either will allow you to receive announcements or be aware of any changes to our schedule. A change usually means the location needs to be changed, or the event is on the second Sunday instead of the first Sunday because of a conflict or holiday.

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