Back in 2002 a guy named Jarret Berry showed up on the cover of Bi
g Brother nosegrinding a handrail in assless chaps and a cowboy hat. It was a big deal dressed up as a joke: the first openly gay pro skater playing into the flamboyant stereotype expected of him. It was both brave and ludicrous. If you were a kid that happened to get your grubby hands on that issue, it was most likely an eye-opening experience. I remember seeing some of Jarret’s tricks in the interview and thinking in the homophobic parlance of my American adolescence, gnarly, what’s gay about that?
Big Brother Issue #82 comprised the entirety of Jarret’s moment in the spotlight. He soon became a novelty piece of skate trivia, and the skateboard industry’s conversation about homosexuality mostly receded with him. Even as many skaters (like myself) learned to stop using “gay” as an insult and to start caring about inclusivity, we probably weren’t learning about it from skateboarding.
A decade and a half later, we’ve finally gotten to the point where a notable pro can feel comfortable posting a picture with his boyfriend on the internet without the fear of losing all his sponsors (or much worse). That got us wondering, what ever happened to Jarret Berry, the man who first got skaters talking about LGBT issues? We looked him up and had our friend Ian Browning give him a call to re-engage him in the conversation he started so long ago.
Which came first: Knowing you were gay or starting skating?
You feel it when you’re five years old. You feel something different. I didn’t mature sexually until way later in life. When I started skating in Chicago in junior high and started feeling those feelings, I didn’t quite know how to explain it or what it was. I was like “I’ll just go skate more!” So I think I just went skating harder and harder and kept pushing that aside. Finally when I got to college and was on my own, then shit started to hit the fan. Everyone else was dating around me in high school and stuff like that, and I was just watching. I just convinced myself that I was celibate. Everybody around me was like, “Yeah, good luck with that,” but I was convinced.
Where, in terms of your skateboarding career, does going to college and realizing you were gay factor in?
I sent a lot of sponsor videos out in high school, and just really focused on that. It kept me out of drugs and everything else and just skating. I got hooked up by H-Street and started getting flowed from them, and when I graduated, I was like, “I’m going to go to San Diego State,” because that’s where my sponsor was. I was partying, skating, and going to school full-time, and then suddenly I started getting into hard drugs. I started doing a lot of meth, and around sophomore year I had a buddy, we were drug buddies or whatever, and I hit on him. I just went for it, tried to suck his dick, and that wasn’t happening. He was like, “bro, I’m not gay,” and then we didn’t talk about it. And then after a while we were cool again, but we definitely weren’t going to be roommates anymore. That was my first time actually going for it, but that didn’t work out super well.
So being super high and coming out like that, that spread around a little bit because I knew a lot of other sponsored ams. Eventually, I was headed back to Chicago and I got my last package from Evol. [Ed. note: H-Street became Evol after Mike Ternasky left to start Plan B.]
Did Evol say anything else? Or just, “This is your last package.”
There was a lot going around. It had to do with me being a little different, and also being a little high. I was going to school so much and didn’t have a car so I couldn’t go on filming trips with them, so I probably wasn’t as productive as I could’ve been. I was skating all the time, just not with the team. I think it was a combination of all those things.
Then, junior year at San Diego State, I finally found someone at school and had my first experience. I was like, okay, I can come out to my family and friends. Basically, I felt it. I was getting high and put it aside and waited for the right time, and just kept skating and suddenly it was the right time. After junior year I moved back home. I had to stop school and clean up my act. I had to sober up and get off that shit, so I went back to Chicago and saw my friends and that was pretty chill. Nobody gave a shit.
Meth is speed, right? How were you doing it?
I was snorting it for two years and then took a break. Then I got back on it when I started school again because, in my mind, I needed it for homework, and I was smoking it – chasing the dragon. It’s been, I don’t know, 18 years since I last did it, but the process of smoking it is the best: you gotta set up the foil, make a little tooter, kind of like a straw, and then you tilt it and burn and there you go.
Was your family supportive when you came home out of the closet and needing to sober up?
They’re different. I’m adopted, so, I think some of my addictive personalities are genetic. I met my birth mother when I was 27, and she was totally like me. She had been rung through the ringer a bit, and I’m like, oh, that’s where I get it! That was missing forever. I didn’t feel like I related to my parents. They treated me well. They’re great. But when I had a struggle, I didn’t think about talking to them. We didn’t relate, so I never shared anything with anyone except my skate friends.
How did the Big Brother interview come about?
So I went back to Chicago in ’96-ish and went cold turkey and focused on skating. I got some local sponsors, and they hooked me up with a pro model and sent me out to Slam City Jam in 1999, that was my first pro contest. I was doing contests for about three years and choked a lot. I’d do good in practice, but then would just choke. I made the finals maybe twice, but could never win.
Anyways, I did the contest circuit and met all those people, and everyone was always cool. After about three years in the circuit one of my buddies was like, “Hey, you need to talk to Dave Carnie at Big Brother.” We had grown up with Big Brother since the early ’90s, reading every issue. Shit was funny as hell. No one took shit too seriously, but it was still talking about real shit. That’s the way to handle some serious shit, with humor.
I had local sponsors and was flow for Bones wheels, but that was the only big sponsor I had. So I was like, I’m working full-time and going to school full-time. I’m going to pro contests on the weekends and landing and going right back to work, I couldn’t care less if I lose any sponsors because I’m my own made man, I can buy my own damn skateboards, so I said okay, let’s do this. For me, I wanted to help the gay cause. I had a chance to do something that helped other gay people that were growing up, whether they wanted to take it as a jab and mockery of being gay or as empowerment, that’s on them.
Which came first, the interview or the cover?
All the photos were my idea and what I wanted to do. Me and Dave Carnie [Big Brother’s editor at the time] had actually talked a lot before the interview, and he was really cool. I was ready for his questions, whatever he had. I’d answer one question then he’d ask some off-the-wall shit, and I’d be like, “Hmm, no, Next question. That’s not relevant.” Then he’d ask a stupid question, and I’d give him a stupid answer. I thought it was funny, and anyone reading it should have known that it was kind of a joke. He asked, “How many hamsters have you put in your ass?” and I said “Five. Next question. Let’s go.” Some people came up to me later like, “Dude, what?” and I was like, seriously? I honestly can not believe that anybody has actually put a hamster in their ass. I just can’t believe it. There’s some pretty crazy shit out there, but come on. So we did the interview and he was like “Well, we need a cover shot, and it’s between you and a skateboarding monkey. You need a better shot.” So I went out in wintertime in chaps and got a shot at the cemetery rail that was a winner.
”I honestly can not believe that anybody has actually put a hamster in their ass.”
I was ecstatic with the whole thing. I thought it was the funniest shit ever. If you read the words and get into it, there’s some real shit in there. It wasn’t all fluff. I got to edit the transcript of the interview – I had creative control. That’s why I’m proud of it: I had a vision and it totally came together.
And, I was thinking, I’m not going to be in skateboarding forever, I’m not going to get that million-dollar payout, so I had to start working. I wanted to own things. I didn’t want to be that pro skateboarder sleeping on someone’s floor. I wanted a big flatscreen. A house. I needed to start working on that stuff. So I focused on that. But also, the magazine in the back of my mind was also a big personal ad for the world. Like, if you can handle this, you can handle me. I got a couple random emails from people who found my email and were like, “Hey, Jarret, just wanted to say hello!” and I was like, “No.”
Then one person emailed and I was like, “Oh hello,” and a year later I moved back to San Diego, of all places, to be with him. He surfs and motocrosses, and we’ve been together about 13 years now. That’s the best part of it.
And now I have my own little backyard with my own mini-ramp and am skating into my 40s.
Did you stick around in the industry after that issue came out?
Yeah. I was still going to comps and stuff. Bones wheels — it was just flow — I saw them at the next contest and they were like, “That was a little heavy, Jarret.” They were cool, but I understood because every company has an image to play and they’re thinking of it from a different perspective. They’ve got people in marketing thinking it won’t play well or won’t sell or they can’t market that guy, but if you’re on the ground skating in some random suburb or town, they don’t give a shit. The boots on the ground — the people actually skating — they don’t care as much as the industry cared. I lost the Bones flow, but my other sponsors were like, “Go for it, dude.”
Do you have any stories about being hassled (or worse) as a skater who was out?
Um, no. I would always see that stuff in high school, but in skateboarding I never saw it. People would say “gay” and “that shit’s gay” and “faggot” or whatever, but skaters are rad. I never really had that experience. Whatever happened to Tim Von Werne sounds pretty shitty. I heard Tony [Hawk] was into it, but then the rest of the marketing board, or whoever else was involved moneywise wasn’t into it.
Yeah, that was my impression. It was some suits saying, “Yeah, I don’t know if this works for the Birdhouse brand.”
Yeah, but in the late ’80s and early ’90s people would drive by us and yell “fag” all the time. We would all laugh and raise the middle finger. Sometimes they would come back and we’d get into some shit, but skaters to skaters? Long hair to green griptape to punks, everyone was accepted. That’s what was really awesome about skating. I wasn’t too worried about that. If skaters did feel shitty about someone being gay, they weren’t going to go out of their way to say anything. You still have to respect your fellow skater.
How do you feel about BA coming out on that VICE video the other day?
All my friends are pissed because Ed Templeton called me a marginal pro, they’re like, “he wasn’t a novelty, you fucker!” But I’m like hey, it’s true. I don’t want to steal any thunder. We’re all in this together.
Everybody does something every day to try and better the world around them, or most people I know. We all want peace, we all want equality, we all want a better world. So it was awesome to see Brian come out. Hopefully there’s a little stepping stone in there somewhere so more people can come out. I remember skating Skatepark of Tampa after my interview came out. We’d run into each other a few times before, but this time he came over and shook my hand. My gaydar is all wack. It sucks. So I was like, cool, a pro respecting another pro, but then later I was wondering about him… It was interesting.
”My gaydar is all wack. It sucks.”
The internet has been blowing up after Brian’s interview, and everybody is saying shit – there’s been a lot of gay shit coming out in the past few weeks. (Can I say that?) Now this interview is going to come out and people are going to be like, “Fuck, still? Why don’t you let this gay shit rest?” I get it, let’s get back to watching Guy Mariano or Brian Anderson footage. Let’s get back to skating.
But the thing is, this is skating. People say politics don’t belong in skateboarding, but we became political a long time ago just by riding a skateboard. They said don’t go here, don’t skate that. They called us fags. They always put skateboarders down. But we were rebels because we didn’t follow their rules, we were going to go be ourselves and fuck what the world thinks. Skateboarders have always brought up social issues. So this has everything to do with skateboarding — we’ve been freaks forever.