Making Space at the Crag and on the Trail

Photo:Jenn Flemming/Flash Foxy

Meet Flash Foxy, a climbing and running community for women and genderqueer people.

Shelma Jun wasn’t trying to start a movement when she launched an Instagram account called Flash Foxy back in 2014. Like many women, Jun (she/her) had learned to rock climb surrounded by men. After getting involved with a group of female climbers in New York, though, she was inspired to share a different side of the climbing experience. The account was simply a way to celebrate women climbers, raising their visibility and helping them connect with each other. But good ideas have a way of taking on a life of their own.

Followers began to pile up, eager for more. “People kept reaching out and saying, ‘I wish there was a way for me to meet more women to climb with,’” Jun says. At the time, female-oriented climbing events were scarce, so she decided, well, why not create one? “We started the climbing festival in 2016, and it sold out in 24 hours,” she remembers. “By the second year, it sold out in a minute and had 800 people on the waiting list.” Jun had a full-fledged phenomenon on her hands.

It’s only grown since then. Today, Flash Foxy puts on two climbing festivals per year—one in Bishop, Calif., and one focused on trad climbing in North Conway, N.H.—a new trail running festival, and an education program that offers technical climbing courses across the country. The organization also recently expanded its focus to include not only women but also genderqueer people, including non-binary and transgender climbers and runners.

We caught up with Jun, along with Events and Operations Associate Lou Bank (they/them) and Social Media Coordinator Bennett Rahn (she/her) to talk about Flash Foxy’s mission and why it matters. (The following is a combination of three separate interviews; responses have been edited for clarity and space.)

PUBLIC LANDS: What attracted you to Flash Foxy as a place to work?

BENNETT RAHN: Flash Foxy has been on my radar for a really long time. It’s kind of the reason I started becoming a social media influencer. They reposted a photo of mine years ago that went viral. I was like, people actually resonate with my body climbing. In a lot of ways, they introduced me to the idea that having a platform around seeing yourself reflected in climbing is important, not just to me, but to the other people seeing it.

LOU BANK: I’d been following them, but had never felt like the space was for me. I’m a non-binary, transmasculine individual. When Flash Foxy announced the change in mission statement, I had just moved into my car to focus on climbing full-time. I got involved then, and a big part of what I’ve been focused on is trying to figure out how genderqueer and gender-nonconforming folks felt welcomed—which has been super-fun for me. That’s the work I’m excited about, making trans-inclusive spaces.

Why is it so important for women and gender-nonconforming people to have their own spaces for outdoor activities?

BR: The climbing world when Shelma was coming up in it really did not show anything other than thin, white men who were mostly this specific type of dirtbag who could climb really hard, live in their car, and eat cat food. There are a lot of people in the outdoors in general who don’t occupy that identity. It’s really hard to be what you cannot see. It takes a whole ’nother level of believing in yourself to show up when you’re the only one who looks like you. Spaces like Flash Foxy give you a community that does reflect and see you.

SHELMA JUN: Seeing yourself in expert and leadership positions is really important. I learned to climb from mostly male climbing partners. They’re all really great. But sexist tendencies aren’t just in men, they’re in all of us because it’s taught to all of us. I would see myself deferring to male climbing partners, but then I’d be like, wait, I’m the more experienced person here, why do I do that? I’ve been trained. So coming here and being taught by people who look like you and share the same identity as you is really important. And through our sponsorships, we’ve made [our courses] completely ‘pay what you can.’ We’re able to close that barrier of being able to afford educational resources.

LB: The outdoors, and sports, can be really hyper-masculine spaces. It’s a really powerful experience when we can come into a spot like Bishop or Mammoth or North Conway: premier climbing destinations that have been developed by cis, white men, with 350 women and genderqueer folks, and more people of color than this town has ever seen.

SJ: Climbing culture is defined by who was there when climbing started, and that happened to be cis, hetero, white men. I’m not saying we need to get rid of that part of the climbing culture. But we can make it bigger, deeper, and wider.

And a Flash Foxy event might be one of the only places someone feels comfortable climbing. What barriers does your community face in participating in these sports?

LB: One really blatant aspect is safety. The physical safety of being outdoors. I’m a visibly trans person, and there’s a lot of places where climbing takes place that I can’t legally go to the bathroom. That makes it really hard to know where it’s safe to go outside.

BR: There’s so much history of really harmful and violent things being done to queer people who dare take up space in rural areas. That’s also true for people of color.

SJ: There’s also a pressure that you have to be completely mistake-free, have full precision every time. There’s a tendency where you might make one small mistake and your capability in its entirety is put into doubt. You feel this pressure, that you have to prove that you belong there.

LB: We’re not just showing up in Bishop for three days and saying, ‘This is a safe space for three days!’ We’re trying to make sure the towns we’re inviting people to are places they could come afterwards—making sure there are stores that are visibly queer- and trans-friendly, that we know will support a Black or brown person experiencing racism. We’re making sure these spaces have been vetted.

What’s ahead for Flash Foxy this year?

BR: I’m really excited about the education program we’re putting together. I don’t think there’s anything like it happening out there. As a person who occupies a lot of identities that are ‘other’ in the outdoors, it is so much easier to learn in spaces where you don’t feel like you have to protect yourself at all times.

LB: We’re trying to get in conversation with as many different communities as we can, and see how we can create intersectional spaces that better fit everyone’s needs. It’s an exciting time to focus on how we can get more Indigenous folks outdoors, get people of color empowered.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.