Outdoor apparel company Patagonia and their ambassador and professional climber, Lor Sabourin, have launched a new film They/Them which follows Lor’s exploration of identity and the outdoors.
Lor Sabourin (pronouns “they/them”) fell in love with climbing at a gym in Detroit, Michigan when they were twelve years old, climbing continuing to be an outlet and hobby throughout their formative years, achieving a degree in Outdoor Recreation Leadership and Management, followed by a career in the climbing industry as a guide, gym manager, and coach.
It takes a lot of resilience to face adversity, and as many of our readers will appreciate, resilience is not just a skill picked up at a point in time, rather it is a life-long practice. As we discover from the film, climbing for Lor is also a longterm practice, trying something that doesn’t necessarily feel possible, pushing the edge of their comfort zone and gaining the resources to use both in climbing and elsewhere in life to achieve the next goal. This draws a parallel with each of our personal explorations of identity, which is never just a single ‘coming out’ point in time, and full of its own challenges.
They/Them follows Lor in the sandstone canyons of northern Arizona, on a journey to piece together one of the hardest and most inspiring routes of their life. For those with vertigo, make sure you’re firmly sat down before watching. Our learning from this film is that falling is OK and that falling is a skill to be mastered.
Interspersed with self-narration, sharing passion and small moments of joy, Lor shares their strength in vulnerability. From this strength they have found the space to thrive in their own identity and build a climbing community that others like them can call home, for example through their work at The Warrior’s Way, a climbing teaching clinic with a focus on motivation, risk assessment and addressing fear.
The film They/Them made me reflect back on my sports lessons at school. Perhaps because of the generation I grew up in (as an older millennial writer) and hopeful this is less predominant in 2021, physical education was one of the least safe spaces in my schools. Girls and boys were always separated and boys were encouraged to act in a single view of ‘toxic’ masculinity. No surprise therefore that so many others in the LGBT+ community are turned off by sports more widely.
However Lor sees climbing in completely the opposite light, as an “amazing opportunity to provide safe space for gender non-conforming people to participate in”, mainly because this sport isn’t as gendered as others and takes place in the outdoor realm. They said “these types of sports are really special at a time when so many trans people are being pushed out of sports, as they can create a framework for showing how we can be more inclusive.”
Lor therefore hopes that “this film paints a story of what sports can mean to a person who has experienced systems of oppression, and how it can give them a sense of safety in their body – and how being outside can be really liberating” and that “you leave the film questioning what you can do to make your community feel safer, not just for trans people but for anyone that might be wondering whether they’re going to be safe.”
As well as being recognised internationally for its commitment to the environment, Patagonia look to highlight stories that show the beauty of our planet. Patagonia acknowledge that the outdoor movement at large, has a lot of room to become more inclusive of marginalised groups. Hence their decision to use their platform to share They/Them to expand the idea of what it means to be a climber, foster a climbing community where all people are welcome, safe, and free to be their authentic selves.
They/Them is free to watch on the Patagonia website, where there is also more information on local LGBT+ networks eu.patagonia.com.