Competitive climbing has come a long way. As the number of participants continues to increase, the sport has had to come to terms with the sort of community it would like to become. It has to decide to become inclusive should it ever wish to meet this goal.
This development offers numerous opportunities for the sport to grow into an increasingly diverse community. In the past, climbing competitions operated with Men’s and Women’s categories. It never considered a nonbinary inclusive category.
Nonbinary and transgender athletics have only begun to see attention in climbing. Although few organizations have done much to respond to this increasingly apparent problem, Canada Escalade Climbing (CEC) has worked toward the promotion of transgender sport. On June 22, the CEC announced that all athletes will compete in the category of their choosing.
While this step shows great strides for Canadian climbing, it still restricts the sport to two gender categories: Men and Women.
To address this issue, Crux Climbing Center decided to open a nonbinary inclusive category in their recent competition. The woman behind this step, Grace Nicholas, has worked with Crux from the beginning. Today she represents Crux as their CMO, COO, and co-owner. She has worked to create change.
Unlike some more established gym, Crux only opened in May 2016. The facility hosted the Setter Showdown and has since become a staple of competitive climbing in the south-western United States. At their most competitive events, Crux saw some of America’s strongest, each battling for a generous cash prize.
Although the gym does care for competition, Crux does not offer a hardliner’s approach to community. The positive atmosphere of the space describes itself through community feedback and interaction. An example of this comes from their member-focused Future Wall. This annually dismantled wall achieves reconstruction through a voting process. The community’s member-base decides what they want, and the gym rebuilds to facilitate that desire.
Crux’s strong community association, along with its competitive history, has made it a perfect location to field an important competition. This year’s Fifth Annual Humidity Sessions competition would become the first in North America to have a nonbinary inclusive category.
The event came about as a result of a bike-story night at a local coffee shop. As patrons shared their stories, Nicholas listened, awaiting one person’s description of a recent race’s nonbinary inclusive category. They became the only athlete to compete in that category, but it meant a great deal to them. Nicholas knew Crux could offer a similar positive experience.
Researching everywhere, Nicholas sought examples of climbing gyms hosting similar events. Finding none, she and Crux’s head route setter devised a format for their competition.
Although the Humidity Sessions offer a more relaxed atmosphere than the World Cup style competitions, the exciting redpoint event brought many cheers among their participants. The event held prizes for three categories among three difficulties. Novice, Intermediate and Advanced climbers would categorize themselves according to male, female, and nonbinary categories. The effect was enormous.
Lane Rosa would become one of the first nonbinary athletes to compete in climbing in their own category. They reflected upon their experience. “I have so many thoughts and feelings about this topic that are perhaps best summed up as follows:
“I’m a transmasculine nonbinary person, and I started taking testosterone a little over a year ago to better align with my gender identity. I knew that this decision meant I wouldn’t be able to engage in gendered athletic competition fairly and in good faith anymore. (It would be unfair to stay in the women’s category, and neither match the way I identify.) Besides, in the news, people are constantly debating whether trans people should play sports, whether it’s fair, and what regulations there should be; it seems safest to just steer clear.
“That said, before I was out as nonbinary and on testosterone, I derived a ton of benefit from the atmosphere of team sports in college. I had been so excited to discover the friendly competitions at Crux when I moved here after graduating. There’s nothing like the thrill of competition, even at a recreational level. Ultimately, starting hormones was the right choice for me, but I knew I would always miss competing. (The Crux Bouldering League, which I love to participate in, is an awesome exception to the rule of gendered competition.)
“My brother-in-law started to get into bouldering lately, for example. It’s been fun to follow his progression, and we’ve enjoyed climbing outdoors together. I almost mentioned recently, “We should do a comp together, you’d love it!” before I realized that wasn’t going to be an option for me anymore. I wondered if I would ever get the chance to participate in a comp again as my newly realized identity.
“Recently, when I saw the announcement for Humidity Sessions, I was floored to see that a nonbinary category would be available. This is something I hoped would be an option by the time my kids were competing, but I didn’t think it would be an option for me, right now, a transgender climber in central Texas. I feel recognized, welcomed, and embraced by my gym and climbing community. Instead of abstaining from these activities I love for the foreseeable future, maybe forever, I get to participate as my full, true self. I’m not even able to do that at Thanksgiving or Christmas with my own immediate family, so that’s amazing.
“When I walk into Crux, I know I belong, and it’s because of giant gestures like this that show me they walk the walk when it comes to inclusion. Nothing but love for Crux staff for their choice to include nonbinary competitors in the Humidity Sessions. Climbing is for everyone.”
As this competition provides precedence for other gyms to follow suit, it also asks about the format of higher, open-level competitions. Qualification rounds and Finals have always featured two gender categories. How might a Finals work with three gender categories, or, instead, might there exist other ways to categorize climbers?
According to Nicholas, she and the head setter have already entered conversations regarding their upcoming Come and Send It competition. Come and Send It features a purse and a finals that, should nonbinary inclusion persist, will have to change its format to remain inclusive. “For Come and Send It, we’re going to have Novice, Intermediate and Advanced, top three awarded, and then Open will go to Finals,” Nicholas said. “We’ve discussed what that will look like. It will probably change the structure of what Open might look like for both male and female competitors.”
This development excites, and many will await this yet-to-be released format in the hope that it might become transferable to more competitions elsewhere in the world.