3 min

Muff Scouts conquer adventures and fears with style

'If you can jump out of a plane or throw an axe wearing heels, you can do anything'

Toronto queer activist and philanthropist Lia Grimanis started the queer- and trans-positive adventure group the Muff Scouts one year ago. Credit: Tanja Tiziana

Meet the Muff Scouts, a group of badass adventure-seeking queer women who can regularly be found shooting guns, driving tanks and jumping out of planes, always looking fabulous with stiletto heels and perfect manicures.

This month the group celebrates its first birthday. Someone pop the pink champagne, darlings.

The Muff Scouts is the brainchild of Lia Grimanis, also known as “Mamma Muff,” a Toronto philanthropist, daredevil fun-seeker and fierce queer activist recently named one of Chatelaine‘s Women of the Year.

Grimanis beams when she talks about her Scouts and her enthusiasm is infectious. She loves to tell uplifting stories about members who have conquered phobias, overcome fears and fulfilled lifelong dreams. Most of all, she says, the Muffs feel empowered.

“I started this group because I wanted playmates. It was purely selfish,” she confesses. “I thought I’d make a handful of new friends and we’d go have fun together.

“All of a sudden something happened that I didn’t expect. People’s lives began to change.”

Mamma Muff knows everyone’s story by heart. “One woman survived a home invasion and confronted her fear of guns. The Girls and Guns event was very important to her because she felt quite vulnerable and wanted to protect herself.”

Minna Mettinen Kekalainen, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, says being a Muff Scout has given her life new meaning.

She spoke to Xtra via email because she cannot use her voice. This week Mettinen Kekalainen is in Whistler for a paralympic event, courtesy of the Muff Scouts, who entered her in a contest for the all-expenses-paid trip. The agenda includes wheelchair bungee jumping, skiing and snowmobiling. “She became paraplegic 30 years ago, so this will be the first time she’s skied in 30 years,” Grimanis says.

When Mettinen Kekalainen first found the Muff Scouts she was reaching out for help, Grimanis says. “She asked me, Can crippled girls fly helicopters?’” Turns out they can.

“It was a truly incredible experience to realize that I was able to take control for a considerable amount of the flight,” Mettinen Kekalainen says. “I can say with certainty that knowing the Muff Scouts and Lia has helped me to save my life.”

She also became the first Canadian female paraplegic solo freefall skydiver. “She refused to let her body stop her from living her dreams,” Grimanis says.

But when they first met, Mettinen Kekalainen was living in poverty and isolation. “I reached out to Lia and told her what has been going on in my life.”

Grimanis leapt into action, contacting another Muff Scout who works in a Toronto healthcare facility where they have now found a home for Mettinen Kekalainen. She moves in next week.

“Joining the Muff Scouts has not only brought fun adventures and new friendships to my life,” Mettinen Kekalainen says, “but it has been instrumental in saving my life from the horrible conditions I was stuck in.”

Grimanis, who was once homeless after fleeing an abusive home at a young age, now runs Up with Women, a non-profit organization she started to help homeless women and children rebuild their lives.

“I had done all these adventures, like drive a tank, swim with sharks and jump out of a plane,” she says. “I started planning pink-champagne and dirt-biking parties. Then someone suggested we go and shoot guns. Now, I am completely against gun violence, but I was happy to plan the trip and organize a group.”

One adventure led to another. And another. And another. 

Sexy pictures of women dirt biking, skydiving, throwing axes and pulling trucks started appearing on Facebook profiles. “It just exploded. It’s insane,” says Grimanis. Membership ballooned.

And the adventures always have a sassy, girly flair: axe throwing with martinis, manicures and pedicures in drag and target practice in high heels. Others are so fabulous they need no flair at all: sky diving, pole dancing, archery, helicopter piloting, trapeze walking and U-Haul pulling.

“Who wouldn’t want to go shoot guns in high heels?” Grimanis asks.

Most people assume Grimanis chose the name Muff Scouts because it’s an obvious nod to female anatomy. “Not true,” she says. “In the early 19th century, ‘muff’ became slang for screwing up in sports, specifically, a suggestion that the failed boxer was wearing muffs, not boxing gloves.”

“While one definition of the term obviously refers to the body part, my real purpose was to take new ownership of the sexist sports insult and say, ‘That’s right; this is how a girl drives!’”

It wasn’t long before she started making merit badges. “I always wanted to be a Boy Scout. Girl Guides and Brownies were never for me, wearing dresses and selling cookies. Boy Scouts did cool stuff.”

In August, Grimanis’s friend, Muff Scout and local activist Wendy Babcock was found dead. Grimanis honoured Babcock by jumping out of a plane, posthumously earning a “Sky Fairy” badge.

The group is now growing into an international phenomenon, with chapters popping up in San Francisco; London, England; and soon in Vancouver. Grimanis couldn’t be happier.

“With London I just met a total stranger and told her all about Muff Scouts,” she says. “She got excited and started a chapter. People get really excited about it.

“Hey, if you can jump out of a plane or throw an axe wearing heels, you can do anything.”

Follow the Muff Scouts on Twitter at @MuffScouts.