CELEBRATING QUEER CULTURE IN MOUNTAIN COMMUNITIES - SPEAKING WITH THE CAST & CREW OF PEOPLE LIKE US
Presented by MEC
Photos by Ryan Collins, Lauren Szanto & Nat Segal
As people who love to spend time in the mountains, we often find ourselves in situations of discomfort and isolation. We endure these temporary moments of challenge in search of experience, growth, and (of course) that untouched powder line. But for many of us this is an indicator of our unique privilege; we put ourselves through these experiences voluntarily. Some self-imposed suffering before we find ourselves sitting comfortably at the bar again for a frosty aprés pint.
But for some in the outdoor community, these feelings of discomfort aren’t always so short-lived. And that’s what Ryan Collins’ new film People Like Us explores—feelings of identity, connection, belonging and the implications of being queer in a mountain town.
In the film, Ryan reaches out to members of the local queer snowsports community, building a better understanding of their shared experience. In doing so, People Like Us celebrates the existence of queer-folks in non-urban settings, and shows that healthy queer communities can flourish in small towns.
We sat down with director Ryan Collins, producer Nat Segal, and cast member Janet Wong to discuss their experiences on the film and in their communities.
POW Canada (POWC):
How has the release of the film been so far? Have there been any experiences that stood out, or anything that caught you by surprise?
The film has been received extremely well and has had a great festival run that is still on-going. I think the best parts have been receiving messages or being approached by people who have seen the film, who either expressed gratitude for the representation or who thanked us for opening their eyes to how they can better their communities.
I really enjoyed having queer people come up to me after the event to tell me their thoughts: how they never thought they’d ever see a film of this kind made, how they resonated with the stories presented, how they related to the experiences described because they gave voice to some of what they thought and felt but weren’t sure how to put words to. I saw a lot of connection and relating happening.
I hope it brings to light some of the issues that are ongoing for queer people, and that snowsports as well as other outdoor recreationalists can bring an open mind and open heart into their spaces. I also hope it opens the eyes of people with majority identities to consider what they might not have noticed if they had always assumed they already lived in an “accepting and welcoming” mountain community.
We’ve been screening the film since October 2023 when we premiered the film in Vancouver at the MEC Flagship store. This event was a great example of the reception of the film so far, in which the screening of the film created an amazing community space for folks to get together, celebrate and share their perspectives. We’ve been honoured to have the film screened at film festivals and events across North America and through these events organizers have raised over $12,000 for their local 2SLGBTQ+ organizations and programs. We have a few more screenings coming up and the film will be released online for free public viewing in collaboration with Mountain Hardwear on January 22nd 2024.
Ultimately, what is the goal of People Like Us, and what would you like to see films like this achieve?
I think the overall goal of People Like Us is to start conversations, to get snowsports enthusiasts thinking and talking about what an inclusive space looks and feels like, how to support a diverse snowsports community, and for people to continue to question their own assumptions and biases on the way to building a more inclusive outdoor culture.
The goal of us making the film was to provide other queer people either in rural settings or the snowsports world with stories they could see themselves in and relate to. A secondary goal of ours was to expose the rest of these small communities and industry participants to how people that exist in the margins experience these towns and sports differently than those in the majority.
Janet, what inspired you to want to be a part of People Like Us?
It was a no-brainer to agree to the film project. I saw being a part of People Like Us as a great opportunity to create more visibility in outdoor mountain spaces for more gender diversity and to acknowledge the journeys that we have had as we move through the world as queer people.
I began my outdoor journey with many doubts stemming from observations of who often was or wasn’t around in those spaces. I even doubted if my doubts were valid and real. After being a participant of the Open Mountains Project LGBTQ Intro to Backcountry Skiing in 2022, I experienced the euphoric queer joy that comes from connecting with others in an environment that fosters learning, trust, and body-mind consciousness. This also allowed me to be myself with my queerness and my non-binary gender that I never realized I had built walls around in all other previous outdoor contexts.
Are there barriers facing individuals within the LGBTQ2+ community that go unrecognized by others in the outdoor community?
I think there are definitely barriers of entry that queer people experience in the outdoors sports world. These barriers can be different for each person as trans individuals or queer people of colour will often face additional barriers that make their participation in these sports even more challenging. I think as a general rule though, any marginalized person is going to feel uncomfortable joining a space or a sport in which they have never seen themselves represented.
In general, I think some of the barriers that contribute to the lack of representation of queer folks in outdoor recreation include: a lack of support for visibility on the field and in media, a lack of financial support from sponsors, and the lack of social support in the form of harassment, discrimination and disrespect that could be encountered on a daily basis.
It’s an uphill battle and it’s generally difficult for queer folks to even exist on a day to day basis, let alone in the backcountry in the mountains. One of the things I struggle with is whether somebody like me can really feel safe enough to consistently bring my full self into a backcountry mountain activity. I have doubts about whether I will be respected and supported by my partners or coworkers if I speak up about unacceptable behaviour or if I mention my non-binary gender. I sometimes think about when people talk condescendingly to me or make assumptions about me, whether they’d say the same things if I was a straight white cis-male. These comparisons shouldn’t be what I spend my energy on, ever, but that is my reality, a daily dose of psychological warfare. I feel like there is a burden on me, as an individual, to keep having to explain myself, prove that I’m worthy, and educate others, when all I want to do is to get outdoors and have fun. I think my personal experience is relatable for many in the LGBTQ2+ community and are barriers that contribute to a lack of participation, and therefore representation, of queer folks in outdoor recreation. I understand, however, that it is the context of our times, and there are not enough people who are aware of our existence. Hence why we need more people to spend some of their time and energy to learn more about sexuality and gender issues, to listen to queer people’s stories, and to support and celebrate the queer people in their life.
Ryan, what was it like making a film where you were behind the camera as well as one of the characters?
It was a really challenging process for me to put myself on the other side of the camera. If I am being honest I tried really hard to get myself out of it a number of times. The interview process was one thing, it was hard but made me look back on how I have changed and grown over the years which was ultimately a great thing. That being said, as the editor it was really hard for me to have to watch my interviews and cut them into the film. I was very critical of myself throughout the process but at the end of the day I came to stop doubting it and just roll with what we had.
What can an individual reading this do to start towards becoming, or continue their journey as an ally in the outdoor community?
Note that being an ally isn’t always easy, it can be uncomfortable to question your own assumptions or deal with the guilt of messing up. The rewards of being an ally aren't about getting something in return, though you may get the satisfaction of knowing you’re being helpful. It is in the act of helping and benefiting others, by leveraging your own privilege, in order to create a better world for everybody.
I would say that allies will need to continue questioning their own assumptions and biases as they seek to create inclusive spaces and to continue to see the humanity in people who may be very different from themselves. Implicit in the words “a welcoming space” is “invitation.”
I implore everybody who enjoyed watching “People Like Us” to seek to understand and do what is within their scope and power to make change and create inviting spaces for queer folks.