For the LGBTQ community, the fight for acceptance and equality continues to be waged. While strides have been made in recent years, the struggle is still an uphill battle. In Devin Fei-Fan Tau’s Who’s on Top? LGBTQs Summit Mt. Hood, he follows a team of four LGBTQ climbers as they ascend the summit of Oregon’s Mt. Hood.
Who’s on Top? captures the parallels between climbing an 11,000-foot mountain and challenges to the stereotype placed on gender and sexuality in the everyday lives of the queer community. The film shows both climbing and living as LGBTQ comes with its own set of physical, mental, and social obstacles.
Our team is led by Taylor Feldman, the member with the most climbing experience. She identifies as queer and has led teams up more than 40 peaks. Though she comes from a progressive family, the relationship between Taylor and her mother almost broke apart when Taylor came out.
For the remaining members of the team, this will be their first climb. Shanita King is an artist and, like Taylor, identifies as queer. Her art is an expression of her deep spirituality. For several months, she lost her passion after a bullying incident creating a particular piece of art that left her traumatized.
Stacey Rice is a transgender woman. She is the oldest of the group and recounts how as a ten-year-old, she discovered the story of Christine Jorgensen—the most well-known recipient of a sex-change operation—and realized that she is not alone.
“…both climbing and living as LGBTQ comes with its own set of physical, mental, and social obstacles.”
Ryan Stee is an Oregon native and suffered extreme hardship and bullying as a child. His daily tauntings left him continually anxious, and it is the woods where he feels normalized and safe.
Who’s on Top? jumps between the actual climb to the summit of Mt. Hood and the team’s training, preparation, and personal stories. First, the climb. Mt. Hood is the second most popular mountain to climb, behind only Mt. Fuji. Its snowy face makes it a dangerous route as the sun makes the path unstable, so the journey begins just after midnight, and the climbers must reach the summit by 8 AM for safety reasons. Lives have been lost at even the most careless mistake.
The balance of Tau’s documentary is split between the team’s preparation for the climb and their individual journeys that got them to this point. Much of the discussion surrounds how even outdoor recreation like hiking and climbing was still considered a cis-male domain. The group also takes a moment to talk about the inequality and in-house fighting within the LGBTQ community itself. Ponder how trans-women are still considered by some as men. Some members are also discriminated against because they don’t look or act “queer” enough.
In the overall library of “being LGBTQ” documentaries, Who’s on Top? LGBTQs Summit Mt. Hood may not necessarily stand out from the pack. Their stories are just as familiar as they are unique to the person telling them. What’s essential about films like Who’s on Top? is how much the world is gradually expanding from the closet to the highest point on earth—so, these stories must be told. If that’s not a convincer to see the film, it’s narrated by George Takei, so there’s your reason.
"…much the world is gradually expanding from the closet to the highest point on earth…"