Pattie Gonia Discusses Cancel Culture, Privilege, and LGBTQ+ Inclusivity in the Outdoors
A conversation with Wyn Wiley, aka Pattie Gonia
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In 2018, on a four-day backpacking trip along the Continental Divide, Wyn Wiley put on a pair of black, knee-high boots with six-inch heels he’d packed on a whim. In the process of kicking up dirt and parading over societal assumptions, his alter ego, Pattie Gonia, was born. Post-trip, Wiley created a new Instagram account and uploaded clips from the trail. In less than a week, @pattiegonia had 12,000 followers. Today, she has more than 340,000.
Pattie’s fearlessness, love of “Mother Natch,” and unequivocal joy soon attracted outdoor brands, forcing her to grapple with just what type of influencer she wanted to be. What’s emerged is an advocate with an innate business savvy, a no-bullshit brand of environmentalism, and a deep commitment to elevating marginalized voices in the outdoor space.
Wiley, 28, agreed to answer some of our spicier questions about privilege, cancel culture, and industry accountability. But it was Pattie who showed up on our Zoom call, dressed to the nines. And as you’ll see from the following conversation, Pattie means business.
You’ve shared on Instagram how you didn’t feel welcome in the climate movement as a gay man. Why not?
Growing up, I experienced the climate movement as an extremely white, cisgendered, and straight space—gate-kept by one-uppery and perfection. I saw no leaders that were BIPOC or queer that showed me that it was a space that would welcome my efforts. Diversity wasn’t embraced at all. Nature shows us that diversity is important to any environment, so why isn’t the environmental movement focused on embracing diversity? Instead, nature has been weaponized against queer people for forever—I was told that my queerness was unnatural. These spaces are gate-kept to anyone who doesn’t fit this perfect little mold, and I’m not perfect. I’m in progress.
At the end of the day, you’re still a cisgender white male. How do you reconcile your privilege, platform, and popularity with the industry you want to see?
I started doing Pattie because I needed a form of self-expression that liberated me as a queer person and created queer community for others. I’m extremely grateful for the following that’s come of it and it’s not something I take lightly. My goal is to bust through that door for myself but to also hold it open and create opportunities for other people, including those with less privilege than myself. This often looks like me passing on an opportunity and suggesting someone else for it.
As Wyn, I do hold a lot of privilege. I look like and talk like and feel familiar to people who hold a lot of power in this industry. I want to utilize the familiarity to ally not only the queer community but also other diverse communities in the outdoors. For years before Pattie was born, I did creative direction for brands like Disney and Adidas, which is another form of privilege. Because I understand and can speak marketing language, I’ve been able to make space for other people.
That initially looks like creating diverse relationships built on trust and authenticity. Then, I build on those relationships by using my platform and privilege to amplify, volunteer for, and fundraise for diverse organizations and nonprofits. In fact, that’s my main priority outside of supporting my immediate team. I know I am a Beyoncé, but more often than not my role is to be a Kelly, you know?
What would you say is another industry gatekeeper?
This is going to be controversial, but wokeness in many forms—especially in woke language and woke culture—gate-keeps people out of movements. If you need to know a hundred little right things to say or wrong things that will get you canceled before you even have a conversation, that’s not practical. I’m not saying we should be disrespectful, but I think there’s a delicate balance. We need to make accommodations for people and we need to always listen to feedback. But I think we also need to not be so worried about saying the right things all the time.
How do you feel about cancel culture?
I feel exhausted when I hear the words “cancel culture.” Like any tool, it can be used for good, but it can also be used to cause harm, and I think it’s causing a lot of harm right now. Cancel culture is a social media guillotine and it doesn’t allow for actual transformation. In the outdoor space, it’s often used as a weapon from one marginalized community against another to laterally oppress. It also creates this fear mindset that can keep potential allies and brands from taking their first steps forward. We all need to divest our energy from cancel culture and allow for systems that work on restorative justice.
Social media can feel like an endless series of campaigns or superficial activism. How do you reconcile that with bringing about real change?
We need to demand accountability from brands, but we also need to realize that brands and capitalism aren’t going to save us. What’s going to save us is the outdoor community at large. Every single time I have a sponsored content opportunity, I earmark 25 to 100 percent of it for a giveback to a nonprofit. My team keeps track of where everything goes so that we stand by our ethics and so that every sponsored undertaking has a community component to it.
That allows me to support people with no questions asked. To me, brand partnerships are just that, partnerships. It’s not just a sponsored post, it’s actual community impact and support. That’s what I’m excited to lead brands toward because that’s what actually has return on investment and value.
Why haven’t you worked with Patagonia yet?
I’ve been approached and I believe in Patagonia’s potential, but what they have presented is not a partnership that would create impact. When Patagonia is ready to step into a partnership to increase diversity in the outdoors far beyond the queer community, I’m ready and I’ll do my best to make it happen. But I’m just not taking the crumbs—and I don’t mean from a dollar standpoint. I’ll be far more interested in working with Patagonia when I see diversity represented at a C-suite level, but they’re not there yet.