Have you heard of the world’s first backpacking queen, Pattie Gonia? She’s an inspiration in six-inch heels—created by photographer Wyn Wiley as a fun side project at first and then a full-on alternate persona, allowing him to explore all sides of his gender expression. Pattie's mission is to promote inclusion and celebrate diversity in the outdoors. So far she’s created a community of thousands of people online. We chatted with Wyn before the release of Pattie's first-ever full-length music video—a duet between a man and a woman, in which she and Wyn play both parts. It’s Pattie's biggest effort yet.
“I wanted to create this video to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community in the outdoors and encourage everyone who watches it to climb every mountain they want to climb in life, no matter what it is,” said Wyn when we spoke with her earlier this week. “The world needs you to live unapologetically and celebrate every piece of who you are, masculine and feminine.”
Here, Wyn shares how he hopes to promote inclusion in the outdoors, and what he’s got planned next.
How did you get the idea to create the persona of Pattie Gonia?
Literally, it was just a couple friends and myself. We were sitting around a coffee table at a coffee shop we were just talking about random things. They were like, “Dude, Pattie Gonia, why is that not a name yet?” And I was like “Let’s do this.”
What is Pattie’s mission?
I want Pattie to have a purpose. Pattie’s first mission is fun, and equally important to that is trying to educate myself as I go and be as inclusive as possible to hopefully encourage everyone to just live their best life, live unapologetically, to do the thing they wouldn’t normally do. It’s not normally like me to put on heels and strut around, at least it wasn’t.
If someone has never been into the outdoors before, I want Pattie to be there with them! Come on girl, let’s go do this thing. The goal of Pattie is to see everyone get outside and to try something they’ve never done.
Why is the outdoors such a big part of your mission?
Why the heck not? We spend so much of our life inside. I’ve spent so much of my life inside. The outdoors has always been my chance to just breathe. As a photographer, I lean toward the outdoors and toward nature to give people a space to be themselves. I see completely different sides of people come out when you get them into the outdoors and when you create a space that’s all ours. It’s really special to me. I think that Pattie is a natural extension of that.
How did you go from choosing the name Pattie Gonia to taking action?
I knew that on one of my first big hikes this summer, I wanted to take the [high-heel] boots out. And hell no, they did not fit in my pack. But I decided up on the Continental Divide to just throw them on. We did a few video clips and thought, “This could be something.”
When I was back in town in Lincoln, [Nebraska,] I was hanging out with my mom one night [about two months ago] and thought, “Hey, why not make this little video.” She actually sat next to me and told me what clips should go where. Thus, the first video was born.
I was very surprised by the response. I’ve stumbled upon so many brilliant people who reached out who are members of the outdoor community fighting for equality on so many levels. It’s been a world that I’m so thankful was already there, and I hope that Pattie can join the party. Pattie bows down to the people who have come before. Every queen that has come before has really made dragging a more aware thing. I’m super grateful for the ground that has been laid. Now it’s time to dance on it.
Why do you think Pattie has resonated with so many people?
On a very critical thinking level, Pattie can relate to a lot of people. Drag culture is more prevalent than it ever has been. If I would have stepped onto the scene and been in full drag it wouldn’t have related to as many people. I think what’s kind of unique about Pattie is she really has a message for everyone, whether you’re straight or gay or anywhere on the beautiful spectrum. There’s a little bit of Pattie inside everyone.
You’ll see Pattie over the next year be in heels some days and be in my more daily attire the next and be in full drag the next. I’m going to figure it out just as much as everyone else is. It’s a really beautiful space to learn more about me.
We get this question a lot: Why does gender and sexuality matter in the outdoors?
When you are in the outdoors you will quickly realize that every side of you comes out. There are masculine sides and feminine sides of everybody. It’s a beautiful place to put all sides of you to the test. Some of the most important thinking of my life happens outdoors. Some of the most incredible people I’ve met have been in the outdoors because they’re searching for something as well.
If people of all different backgrounds can find each other on the trail, on the side of a mountain, we’re all better because of it. Why I do Pattie is because still inside of me is a 14-year-old me who’s afraid of the world. For the rest of my life I’ll try to figure out who I am. Because for so long I tried to squash a piece of me.
When I came out, I tried to cover up my gayness by lowering my voice so much so that now it really is my voice. Even at the trailhead, people can size people up, and I think I can slip more into my straight-passing self. When I’m out on the trails and with my best friends, I feel totally free.
What are you learning about yourself?
I am learning that Pattie has been long overdue in my life. I grew up in Nebraska and I grew up in a place that I think was pretty okay with being gay as long as I wasn’t one of those gays. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be very straight-passing in my life. I am realizing I have so many parts of me that are going to be more masculine some days and more feminine the next. I want to give myself that freedom so that I can find out more about myself. Over the past two months—both online and in person—I've met incredibly beautiful people across every spectrum and community, both the LGBTQ community and the outdoor community. If a bridge can exist between those communities, Pattie wants to be on it as well. I have so much respect for both of these worlds. I’ve been searching for a new, beautiful flavor in my life. This is my new playground to figure out about myself.
For someone reading this piece, what do you hope that they do?
I hope they give themselves the chance to not take themselves so seriously. I hope that it looks like a beautiful new self-discovery.