An Ordinary Disaster
Brothers and Teachers
E16 / Sky Racing and Self Expression with Galen Kirkpatrick

E16 / Sky Racing and Self Expression with Galen Kirkpatrick

Free flight as self-expression and as a higher project. Managing risk. Gender euphoria and the responsibility of coming out. Learning to stop learning—and to love the infinite game.

This conversation is part of a series of interviews with various brothers and teachers, including many fellow writers, all of which are part of the body of work surrounding my book-length memoir An Ordinary Disaster—one man's proof that we can all learn to listen to ourselves, and to act upon the inner voice of our self, our sanity and our soul.

Today, I'm speaking with Galen Kirkpatrick. Galen is a professional paraglider pilot and coach, and the 2022 FAI Women’s Pan-American Paragliding Champion, which means that she’s a world-class practitioner of the exceptionally rarified and extraordinary sport of sky racing! Racing paragliders is a lot like sailboat racing in that the object is to complete a given course in the shortest time possible, racing around marks or “turn points”—but it’s all in 3D, up in the sky.

In additional to her passion for flying, she’s a skier, improvisational comedienne and a very talented Tetris player, and, I would add, humble, intelligent, courageous, passionate about her sport and about life, and a pioneer.

A post shared by Galen Kirkpatrick (@galenmmmk)

I’ve been a paraglider pilot myself, which is how Galen and I met a few years ago, and we both know what it’s like to practice something so incredible, that most people don’t even know exists, and also—whether they’re right about it or not—that most people consider ridiculously dangerous.

Galen stopped in for an interview in between flying trips to Brazil and Colombia, both frequent destinations for pilots this time of year, and I’m excited to share this conversation with you. Galen is the both the first fellow pilot, and the first trans woman I’ve had on the show. She is someone who I’ve learned from, and shares the experience of how paragliding has been a teacher for me and so many others.

A post shared by Galen Kirkpatrick (@galenmmmk)

As you listen, you might scan the questions at the bottom of the show notes, or just consider this: how has your relationship with gender and your own identity evolved over time?

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Show Notes

Some of the topics that we cover in our talk:

Becoming a professional paraglider pilot

Flying as a discipline — “we require ourselves to get our shit together.”

Free flight as a form of self-expression

How flying forces you to get your shit together if you want to fly well, and safely.

Discipline, and how creating an environment where you can remove yourself from the equation — “I really thrive in an environment where I can remove myself from it.”

How flying “becomes not an escape, but sort of like a higher project, something that's to be worked on.”

Risk and Creativity

Fear and Anxiety

Managing Risk — “by seeking expertise and training really hard and immersing myself in the sport, I can manage all this risk, but I'm still performing in a unforgiving environment.”

Identity and Gender Dysphoria

Gender Euphoria

Limiting Nature of a Binary Point of View

Getting More Specific about "Binary"

Deconstruction of Gender

“Men talk about their feelings and women blow snot rockets.”

Activism and Resistance

The Responsibility of Coming Out

Learned to Stop Learning

Paragliding as an Infinite Game

“it's not about in it to win it, it's in it to live it”

You can find Galen on Instagram at and in this profile in Cross Country magazine.

The music that you hear briefly is Flying, by Moon Duo.

Further Reading

You can dig into paragliding racing on and also on the FlyMaster Live Tracking site (although it’s pretty opaque). A great resource if you’re interested in paragliding is Gavin McClurg’s Cloudbase Mayhem podcast. If you want to learn to fly, search up your local paragliding school. In the San Francisco Bay Area, I recommend Airtime SF and Penguin Paragliding.

You might enjoy some of my other writing on the subjects of sports, paragliding, and identity, especially The Last Time.

Richard Reeves on Equality Without Androgyny

Kathryn Bond Stockton’s book, Gender(s) and interviewed by Ezra Klein Gender Is Complicated for All of Us. Let’s Talk About It.

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I’ve got some questions for you… please join the conversation.

  1. How has your relationship with gender and your own identity evolved over time?

  2. What is your own relationship with risk?

  3. Do you experience sport as a form of personal expression?

  4. What might you possibly come out about?—that is, be more open, forward and direct in expressing about yourself?

  5. Did you learn anything new listening to this conversation?

  6. Are you playing a finite or an infinite game?

Please join the conversation by answering any or all of these in the comments below.

And finally, please don’t forget to let me know that you enjoyed this episode by clicking that cute little red heart ❤️down below ↓

An Ordinary Disaster
Brothers and Teachers
This show is a series of conversations with and about people who embody positive presence, talking about identity, addiction, depression, adventure, intuition, love, relationships, gender, sexuality—and becoming ourselves as much as possible. It's also an effort to honor people who who have been teachers, who I love and respect, and who I want to get to know more deeply. In short, a way to highlight people doing and being good in the world.