Reality TV Star Andrew Shayde Discusses Representation in The Outdoors
The outdoors is for everyone. Nature can be harsh and beautiful, often at the same time, and these qualities have attracted all sorts of people to overcome its challenges and experience its resplendent beauty. Andrew Shayde is one person who was drawn to the allure of nature. “I’ve always loved the outdoors,” says Shayde, “I feel like adventures happen outdoors and much less so on my couch. As a kid who was always playing make believe in my head, the outdoors provided an avenue for excitement and danger.” Shayde would find wilderness adventures while hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, and more. However, Shayde, who describes himself as a “gay Robinson Crusoe”, would also encounter the ways in which intolerant people would try to claim nature for themselves.
Shayde spent several years as a Boy Scout, but eventually left because of the bullying he received from other Scouts and troop leadership. For much of its history, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) excluded open gay people from the organization. It was only in 2013 that the BSA voted to repeal this ban. Describing the bullying he experienced as a Scout, Shayde said “It was enough that Scouts ceased to be fun, so I left. I still hate that”. Moving on from Scouting, Shayde took up cheerleading and found it incredibly enjoyable.
According to Shayde, there is work to be done to make the outdoors experience more inclusive for everyone. “I don’t think LGBTQ+ or perhaps even people of color feel very welcomed in the outdoors.” Shayde explained when asked about the relationship between LGBTQ+ people and the broader outdoors community. “This may be because we’re not as often introduced to it at a young age but also because of some of the people that seem to stake claim in the outdoors. I’ve been to campgrounds and have seen confederate flags waving and have heard derogatory words thrown my way. It sucks that some racist and/or homophobic think they own nature and popular outdoor areas. On the flipside, I have met some of the kindest, most open minded, sometimes perfectly-hippie, people while out on hikes or camping.”
In 2002, Shayde made his reality show debut on season 3 of CBS’s “The Amazing Race,” and from there he would appear on other outdoor oriented television programs. Shayde and a team of his LGBTQ+ friends appeared on CBS’s “Buddy Games” and has appeared on The Discovery Channel’s “Naked and Afraid” franchise three times. Notably, Shayde is one of only a small handful of contestants on “Naked and Afraid” to be openly gay across its entire 15 season history. For Shayde, his appearances on “Naked and Afraid” represent an opportunity for broader representation, saying:
I love that our community has representation across shows like “[RuPaul’s] Drag Race” and “Project Runway,” but I want the world to see how diverse our community is. I have no fashion sense for those series, but I can survive in the wild using my hunting and foraging skills. I don’t mind getting real-real dirty.
By competing on a show like “Naked and Afraid,” Shayde widens the scope of how LGBTQ+ people are depicted on television, allowing for more people to see themselves reflected on screen. Not only can LGBTQ+ be fabulous fashionistas, but they can also be resourceful survivalists.
Being one of the few gay contestants to ever appear on “Naked and Afraid” came with challenges. “Going into surviving on ‘Naked and Afraid’ (3 times now) I felt like I had this added pressure because I’m gay,” Shayde says. “I felt I didn’t want to show weakness to allow homophobes the chance to scoff at me but also the pressure of feeling like I had to represent an entire diverse queer community.” Explaining how he dealt with this pressure, Shayde continues, “There’s no way I can represent all of us so I just wanted to get out there and be myself. That’s all I can do.”
Andrew’s television appearances are part of a broader trend of broader LGBTQ+ representation. LGBTQ+ people are being cast in fields where they haven’t traditionally been highlighted. As Shayde explains, “We’re making serious headway but we aren’t done yet. We may rule in the realm of ‘Drag Race’ and be a constant on ‘Project Runway,’ but we’re still knocking down doors in sports, outdoor survivalism, strategy games, on and on”. This representation is undeniably a good thing, and Shayde believes it is good for everyone. As he explains, “Storytelling is so much better when it comes from diverse storytellers.” He believes that The Discovery Channel is moving in the right direction by showcasing more LGBTQ+ people.
Figures like Shayde not only let more LGBTQ+ people see themselves on screen, but they also grant others a demonstration to others about the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community. Nature existed long before any human bigotry, and it will outlast it as well. Andrew Shayde and many other LGBTQ+ survivalists have found joy and adventure from the outdoors, and hopefully in time nobody will feel excluded from partaking in the varied beauty of the natural world, forging their own stories in the great outdoors.