An interview with Ranae Holland of “Finding Bigfoot”


AE: As you say, the show seems to be really taking off this season. How are you dealing with suddenly being a recognizable public figure?
RH: This is minute 14, Andy Warhol, as far as I’m concerned. Like I said, this started out with a very special personal connection with my father and his memory. And now, to me, it is definitely about connecting to kids and getting them outdoors and thinking for themselves. And learning not only how to think, but also how to communicate. So basically, I have my field gear. I have two loves: The environment and music. So normally when I’m out in the field, which I’ve always done, contracting for NOAA, I sort of wear a lot of the same stuff. But when I’m out on the street, my hair is different, I don’t have glasses on, and hopefully a different outfit where I don’t get recognized. So this is my revert to Clark Kent theory. It doesn’t always work. It probably does for the most part. 

You know, it’s odd. I did not seek this out; it happened organically. I’m not an actor. I really am a biologist. I don’t just play one on television. And if people come forward and they’ve seen show — It’s interesting. People who approach me come in two varieties. I look at the people who come forward – they’ve have had their experience or they want to tell me about a place to look. And I will reach out to them and I will hear them, but I also want to say, respectfully, “I don’t believe in Sasquatch. I want to; I don’t. You’ve had this experience. You should share this with the BFRO, you should let Cliff know,” and kind of redirect them a little bit.

 And the other variety is the people who are acknowledging, "Hey, I’m totally with you. I’m Team Skeptic." Or "I need more too. It’s a great idea." But a lot of it is the parents saying "Hey, me and my family go out Squatching together. Me and my kids." And it’s become this — nothing warms my heart more than when I hear from a family telling me that they all get together on Sunday nights and they start having a conversation and watch the show together. Or their kids are so excited and they’re making a Bigfoot Valentine box, or Bigfoot-themed birthday party, and the kids are all getting out, and are going out in the woods. 

And it’s twofold: Kids are going out into the woods! It’s threefold – families are sitting down together and talking. People are thinking and talking about something. I love it! I mean, it’s like 30 – Well, let’s not do the math here too much, but 30-some years ago, sitting with my dad watching that P-G film, thinking, "What is that? Do you really think there is some undiscovered population of 8-foot animals walking around the woods that we haven’t found yet? Do you really think that could happen?" I mean, we’re talking. 

And now, here it is, parents are doing that with the next generation and talking. I just love that it really is bringing families together still and kids are thinking for themselves and getting outside. I couldn’t be happier. 

 AE: You’re out and identify as fluid, is that correct?
RH: Yes. That is an interesting thing for you: I can talk to anybody. I am definitely the type of person that if you walk me into a location where I don’t know a soul, I’m going to leave with a friend. That’s just who I am. I don’t know why – I think that’s part of my dad. 

But I thought that coming out in the gay press was the very first time that I ever had a hard time. The reason is, you do it once, and you really have to identify something that you just shouldn’t even have to think about. But, yeah, I identify that LGBTQ is a part of me, and that’s enough for me. But it’s interesting, because I don’t find it necessary to define it. My innate sense is first be sad that I even have to discuss it and define it, that it even is a question. But I understand that with bullying of gay youth, that they need people who say, " I am, and it’s fine." But you may not be aware: In the media, I was given a hard time by a heterophobic lesbian mother because I wouldn’t make it a platform. 

And to me, I believe that our sexuality falls along a continuum. It’s one characteristic in a multidimensional construct that encompasses your self-identity. People can argue there’s your gender, there’s your sexuality, there’s — Sexuality doesn’t define me. As a person, not just as far as who I date, but who I am. My self-identity is almost — I guess what I’m trying to say, my belief is that LGBTQ rights are basic civil rights, and they’re moral values, end of story. 

Life is comprised of a multitude of continuums. Sexuality is one part of it. It’s really about societal norms. Unfortunately, it’s a constant battle because humans, by nature, we seek out similar people. The problem that arises is our innate fear of people who are different. Whether it’s origin, religion, personal beliefs, habits, language, orientation — And we group. It’s xenophobia: We group usually with what’s alike. And this is why I think we need to challenge ourselves. Like I said in our conversation earlier. I very much feel that when we raise our children, we need to raise them to be independent, to think for themselves. They need to be secure enough so they can speak. They need to be educated enough that they can speak articulately, and they need to be compassionate enough to be able to listen to others. 

And our society, I wish we could embrace that more, because that runs the gamut. Like I said, I’m all things. People have different personalities, different religions, different cultures, different languages. Different habits, for that matter. I ultimately shouldn’t have to hide a sexual orientation. Romantic love is something that we’re all entitled to. And we shouldn’t have to hide it as a part of the human condition. And denying that to someone else, and making them suppress it is, I still believe, incomprehensible. 

And it all falls into this larger picture: People have been asking me what I think about bullying. And I basically feel — I want to back that up and just say that all of those parts that make a person who they are, like I addressed earlier: I’m a person. I’m myself. I’m Ranae. And I’m going super personal here, Ali, and I feel comfortable saying this: When I came out, I had fears about telling people, who I could and couldn’t tell. And this was many years ago. But I remember my grandmother saying, “She’s still Ranae.” And my grandmother, is a very — I come from a very Christian family, and she made her statement how she interpreted her religion to be. I’m still Ranae. It doesn’t make a difference. 

So my identity, how I see myself is: I’m myself. Who I love is about the person. I identify as a research biologist. My loves are conservation and music. And that’s what kind of brings me up. And then there are other, smaller pieces of my personality, my habits, but that’s how I kind of see myself. So when someone wants to out me as a “lesbian biologist,” I kind of go, “Well, you obviously aren’t comfortable with just letting me be who I am. That’s fine if you need to identify me that way.” But to bring it all full circle, I believe sexuality is fluid. And, yeah, I am a biologist. All right: You can lock me in on that one. [Laughs] I joke that I’m a bi-ologist. 

I’m going to come up with an app, and I shake it, and ask how gay I am today. "Today I’m 87%!" And then I meet this woman that I’m mad crazy about: 99.3 % gay! I went on a little tangent there for you. It’s interesting because there are so many threads that run through that. 

Photo courtesy of Ranae Holland/Facebook

AE: It’s not even really a continuum. It’s a smear. And it’s nice that it’s a smear.
RH: Yeah, and you think about — The thing about coming back to constantly challeging yourself is that I’m even, where I fall in this sexuality and gender identification, and all that it is, is people want to lock me in because I’m six foot and it happens to be the last few years I have short hair, and I have broad shoulders. And people will identify me more – if I’m in a relationship and dating a woman – more on that than who I am. You’re basing me on my physical build? There are all those pieces of it. There’s your gender, there’s your sexual orientation. It goes on and on. I just have to say that knowing myself and my coming to terms with my sexuality and coming to terms with who I am and coming out, you really need to know yourself. For the youth of today, my heart — I’m just floored. We have these kids who are coming out in high school! Or in junior high. And these kids are contacting me and thanking me, and I’m like "You’re my hero." 

And things that I say to my peers, to my friends in the gay community, unfortunately that is a constant conversation. Right now, things maybe things will be good, maybe things will be positive. Things were pretty good in the early ‘90s, and then we fell backwards and we have the Mars Hill church — and certain religions were definitely — As much as it is to say that we all have our continuums, or smears, if you will, I won’t attack Christians. Just as much as I don’t think that all Christians will attack me because of who I am, and I believe that the same way. But there were certain folks who have unfortunately been Christians who were definitely attacking us in the Seattle area. And it was a conversation I had even within with my family. It’s like we’re in this pendulum of it’s becoming negative again, and we need to stand up. Seeing these kids coming out in junior high school, I’m in awe of them. 

AE: You spend days at a time living outdoors for the show. In the unlikely event that a lesbian should wish to go camping, what are your best tips?
RH: Wow. Pardon me, I’m going to need to narrow this down a little bit. Do you mean to what location should they go? What they should carry in a pack? 

AE: Your top tips for preparing to go out in the woods.
RH: What I would pack? Oh, my gosh. This could be a whole side thing here. I have to say, if we could do a follow-up some other time, I would gladly give you recommendations for gear. Besides, I’m updating my website to have a blog that is going to have a focus on those kind of recommendations, because I get asked that all the time: "Your legs are three feet long. Where do you get your field gear?" So I am— I’m a field gear whore. You have to be prepared, obviously, with what type of gear, and then location. And then, are you car camping? Are you back country? Are you day hiking? Are you wanting to oversee vistas, or are you wanting to do technical hikes just for that? 

I came home and on my first day I went on a hike, which is weird because I’m camping and hiking all the time, and I did a hike when I got back. And my friends were like, "Why?" And I said, “I’ve been in the South and on the East Coast, and it’s totally different here in the West. I miss these hard hikes.” I was like "Take me out. That’s what I want to do." 

Interestingly enough, just a sidebar: This guy who was an apocalyptic survivalist who was crazy had murdered his wife and daughter, unbeknownst to me, and had built a bunker up on the side of this ridge that I went hiking on, and like two days later it was closed, and he was in the bunker. My friends were like, "Hey, Ranae, you went up Rattlesnake Ridge?" It’s this 11-mile hike. "Yeah, why?" and then they sent me the article. Oh, my gosh, really? Sidebar over. 

But I think that would be a follow-up conversation. E-mail me or something. There’s so much — it’s really “what do you want out of your experience?” Are you going to go kayaking? Are you going to go climbing? What type of experience do you want? Are you going to go up to hot tubs and go snow camping and lobster pot it back and forth? 

AE: Clearly we need to trick you into writing a column for us.
RH: I don’t think that would be fun. 

AE: At any rate, we should do a follow-up after I’ve looked up all the camping vocabulary you’ve just used.
RH: Absolutely. I would be game for that. 

AE: Is there anything you wish I’d asked you?
RH: No, you were very thorough. The only thing is, for me, I think the most important thing that’s understood is that I don’t believe. I truly am fascinated by the phenomenon of what it is. It started out as grabbing this tiger’s tail, and even starting it really did begin with this relationship and kind of a salute to my dad’s memory. And now it has grown into a connection with the kids. 

New episodes of Finding Bigfoot are set to start airing soon on Animal Planet, Sunday nights at 10:00 Eastern/Pacific.

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