Last year, Wyn Wiley, a 28-year-old gay Nebraskan outdoors enthusiast and creative director (for Adidas, Red Bull, and Disney) was on a weeklong backtracking trip in Colorado, when he strapped on some high heels and strutted for the camera in his first time as Pattie Gonia. That first video (below) garnered more than 100 million views across platforms.
“I love the outdoors and I love drag so I figured why not intersect my passions and do both,” says the (but not the only) backpacking drag queen. “There are so many other outdoor drag queens and I love that we're all here doing what we can to bring queerness to spaces we love like the outdoors, ecology, and backpacking.”
Pattie Gonia found her space in that environment, hiking (in heels) into uplifting and ethical social media content, hosting community events, and fundraising for nonprofit organizations (she raised $150,000 for LGBTQ and outdoor nonprofits).
Gonia, who was recently named to the 2020 Out100, admits that the outdoor industry is currently “a very white, cis, hetero space,” and says, “I'll be excited to see brands show up for queer people in the outdoors authentically and with support externally but also internally to their diversity within. Till then…I'm dedicated to making opportunities for queer people to get outside with the help of many incredible BIPOC and queer people whom I get to make community with.”
Gonia doesn’t view nature as a space to conquer and plant a rainbow flag; her love of the outdoors has led her to embrace sustainable drag.
“Reduce, reuse recycle, bitchhhhhh!” she says. “Sustainable drag means applying the ethics behind sustainability and applying it to my art form of drag. What it looks like is normalizing outfit repeating, buying less, reusing more, upcycling pieces from old looks and making it work with what I've got instead of thinking the solution is buying something new. I love the chance to make outfits out of trash, wigs out of wrappers, and other creative ways to turn my waste in my life as Wyn…into repurposed looks as Pattie.”
“I became an environmentalist very slowly,” Wiley muses. “Through failing every single day and through every moment where I've realized being an environmentalist doesn't mean perfection and the goal isn't to change anyone else’s mind…but instead it's about holding myself accountable to change what I can in my life and remain curious and a lifelong learner about our planet and how to ally it.”
He considers himself an “intersectional environmentalist” centering “ways in which injustices happening to marginalized communities and the earth are interconnected. It brings injustices done to the most vulnerable communities, and the earth, to the forefront and does not minimize or silence social inequality.”
Although the work of combatting environmental injustice and climate change can seem daunting, Goina says it’s OK to start small. “Just wake up tomorrow and realize a beautiful place to start is caring 1 percent more. Let the little itty-bitty changes in your life snowball into something far bigger and then, inspire others to do the same.”
“One of the most important things we've seen across time as queer people is the impact we can have when we use our voices,” Wiley adds. “We as queer people can use our voices and lead the way in the fight to protect the planet. Know what you believe in and then, use your voice and fight for it.”
He did just that recently when he appeared on the season ending episode of the 52 Hertz podcast, talking about how Pattie defies heteronormative concepts of nature, sustainable drag, and more.