Overpriced Hiking Gear

“I never once heard, ‘you made the right choice when you turned around’. The mountain just won’t let go” (Clare 10)


This excerpt from Eli Clare’s Exile and Pride refers to Clare’s central metaphor of the mountain, being a hierarchical incline all are pressured to trek and conquer. At its peak live the highest in society, the successful, as well as success itself. At the bottom reside the marginalized and oppressed, most relevantly to Clare including the queer and disabled, who are labeled as lazy should they fail the climb. An integral part of Clare’s metaphor is understanding that the climb is not created equal for all who push towards the top. Because of his experiences living as disabled, Clare’s writing on the mountain illuminates the differing struggles of accessibility and equity that face disadvantaged and scored members of the ‘bottom’ of society. His metaphor is backed by a personal anecdote of a physical climb he attempted with an able-bodied friend, having to turn around as the steep and jagged trail was drenched in rain and became unsafe and impossible to continue on. He recounts friends and family trying to encourage him by pushing him to try again, and in the quote above reflects that none of them validated his decision not to reach the top. Instead, conquering the mountain is always assumed to be the best possible outcome of the climb, even at the cost of comfort, safety, and stability. The quote extends beyond his real-life experience and to the subsequent metaphor of the mountain, as society advertises life at the top to be the highest quality life possible for everyone, never considering the possibility that stopping along the side, or even remaining at the bottom, is an equal option. Selling the dream of the mountaintop is all about control, serving to maintain not only heteronormativity, but also capitalism. Imagining a world where the mountain has let go, and a life at the top is no longer the exclusive land of dreams above the cloud, but instead regarded as equal to a life built along its side, or at its base. Perhaps in this world it is an even field, not a mountain. The mountain demands exclusivity, not only thanks to its rough journey but in its very shape, the pointed top having less than half the surface area available at the bottom, built to have a singular highest point occupied by no more than one at a time. In a field however, no one is above another. That threatens a heteronormative society. It is harder to look down on someone when you are not standing above them. Furthermore, without the desire to reach the top, those already there can no longer force others to make the climb. Status means nothing when it is not desired, and people content to stay along the side cannot be manipulated with the promise of a valueless reward. That threatens capitalism, a system fueled by competition and hierarchy. People will no longer follow any societal rules which promise to get them to the top, nor will they buy any product which promises to aid in the climb. Contentment is the enemy of both heteronormativity and capitalism, leaving them linked in their efforts to retain power, and that contentment starts when we can stop pushing each other to reach the top, reject its illusion of utopia, and together make the choice to turn back,

2 thoughts on “Overpriced Hiking Gear”

  1. I really like what you said here, especially the part where you talk about how “stopping along the side, or even remaining at the bottom, is an equal option,” to climbing to the top. It reminds me of a concept I learned about in a philosophy of race/gender class called the “basement metaphor,” from Kimberly Crenshaw. Similarly to Clare, Crenshaw argues that there exists a group of people in a higher room equivalent to the peak of Clare’s mountain that looks down upon the oppressed people confined to the basement below, just like Clare and other disabled people who cannot (or simply decide not to) climb the mountain. I like how you, through Clare, come to a similar solution to the problem that Crenshaw does, which is to make a home anywhere but the peak/upper floor they want you to strive for in order to zap away the power of the oppressors.

  2. I LOVE THIS POST. When you write, “Selling the dream of the mountaintop is all about control, serving to maintain not only heteronormativity, but also capitalism.” It made me immediately think about the myth of the American Dream that the US tries to sell people. That you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps and become a millionaire (when really it’s impossible to do both), but the American Dream continues to pressure people into exploitative work which only benefits America and not its workers….

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