A BRIEF LOOK AT SKATEBOARDING’S GAY PAST

September 29, 2016/ Max Dubler/ ARTICLES/ Comments: 72

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I’m sure we won’t be the first to tell you that Brian Anderson is gay. Maybe you heard it first as a rumor at your local skateshop, or maybe you found out two days ago when BA publically came out on Giovanni Reda’s show on Vice. Either way, he’s out, and words and emojis of support have been coming in from every direction. It’s a big step for the heteronormative skateboarding industry, and the sheer positivity of the responses gives hope that other skaters can come out and be respected, even if they haven’t front blunted Hubba Hideout.

As a crew of a few straight dudes (who have admittedly marketed ourselves using hetero male fantasies), it’s difficult for us to really imagine the leap of faith it would take to put ourselves out there in the way BA just did. I mean, growing up was hard and awkward enough without having to try and account for feelings we’d been implicitly taught were wrong or weak or “gay,” so we reached out to someone who might have a little more insight into what it was like to grow up gay in skateboarding. Meet Max…

My name is Max. I am thirty years old. I have been skateboarding for roughly twenty years and kissing boys for thirteen.

My initial reaction to the news that Brian Anderson came out was, “It’s 2016, we have openly gay soldiers and NBA players. What took us so long?” But then I remembered that it’s because professional skateboarding exists to sell shit to teenage boys, and the pressure and scrutiny that come with being “the First Gay Pro Skateboarder” is tremendous.

So yeah. Good on you, BA. What you just did is fucking brave and radical, in every sense.

Now, I know some of y’all are about to get in the comments section and ask, “Who cares? What’s the big fucking deal?” First off, let’s dispense with the whole “nobody cares who you fuck as long as you shred” thing.

Sexual identity would be irrelevant to skateboarding if skateboarding wasn’t so thoroughly identified with macho toughness and male heterosexuality. If you crack open a skateboard magazine you’re gonna see a lot of straight, mostly white dudes skateboarding, and some almost-naked chicks who probably don’t skate advertising skate products. When women are shown actually skateboarding, they’re usually presented to titillate the straight male viewers that brands consider their real customers. If you’re a woman or a gay dude, the message was pretty clear: skateboarding is a subculture for straight men, not you.

That’s why your friends might tell you to “stop being a pussy and fucking go for it” when you hesitate on a trick, and why they might call you a fag if you back down. When Nyjah said, “Some girls can skate, but I personally believe that skateboarding is not for girls at all,” he was saying he didn’t think women are tough enough to take slams. Calling someone a faggot is akin to calling them weak, cowardly, and feminine.

This is all some sexist, homophobic, jock-mentality bullshit. It cannot go away soon enough. But that doesn’t mean skateboarding is super homophobic, right? I mean, most skaters I know are cool with gay people. Nah. With some notable exceptions, the skateboard industry has a long and occasionally repulsive history of homophobia.

If you’re a woman or a gay dude, the message was pretty clear: skateboarding is a subculture for straight men, not for you.

Let us pause for a moment to recognize the difference between skateboarding, skateboarders, and the skateboard industry. Skateboarding has never given a shit about who I date: I’ve never hung up on a homophobic piece of pool coping or gotten pitched by a pebble that hates fags. The skateboarders I meet are mostly pretty cool about the gay thing. Aside from some casually homophobic language used out of habit, not malice, skateboarders by and large have never given me shit for being gay. But when I talk about the skateboard industry, the professionals, brands, manufacturers and media outlets, that’s a different story…

Look at the 1990s in skateboarding for example. In 1998, Birdhouse am Tim Von Werne had his Skateboarder magazine interview pulled by his sponsors when they learned he planned to openly discuss being gay in it. Big Brother gave a gay skateboarder, Jarret Berry, the cover of the magazine, but the photo was him skating a handrail in chaps with his ass hanging out. Several times, Big Brother editor-in-chief Dave Carnie has asked people if they “ever, you know, gayed off with the Bones Brigade.” And while I shed no tears over the death of aggressive inline, it’s undeniable that skateboarding harassed rollerblading out of existence with a relentless campaign of homophobic bullying, exemplified by the joke immortalized in a Big Brother rainbow rollerblade sticker: “What’s the hardest part of rollerblading? Telling your parents you’re gay.”

Today, we continue to celebrate violently homophobic pro skateboarders. Jay Adams went to prison for his role in instigating the fatal gay bashing of a man named Dan Bradbury in 1982. This incident went unmentioned in most of Adams’ obituaries, and instead his life continues to be celebrated by murals all throughout Venice. Josh Swindell, a former pro skater for Think, went to jail for 19 years for beating a gay man to death outside of a bar in 1993. Although it’s unclear what his involvement in the fight was, Danny Way was also with Swindell and swung a punch earlier that night. Yet skateboard media don’t criticize these skaters or even talk about these incidents.

Representation matters. Skate media feature all kinds of skaters – jocks, preps, stoners, drinkers, heshers, punks, hip hop heads, pretty boys, people of color, hippies, old dudes, preteens, even severely disabled people – but no out gay dudes. So your average (male) teenage skateboarder never sees an LGBT person they can relate to, and LGBT kids never see a skateboarder they can identify with.

photo: shafer

photo: mac shafer

Now Brian Anderson has finally stood up and decided to be the first major dude to come out. That’s fucking rad. Most respect. Coming out has always been the most powerful tool for securing LGBT people’s social and legal equality. The appearance of an out gay pro is an important step toward making skateboarding more accepting of LGBT people (and, hopefully, making society more accepting of skateboarding).

So where do we go from here? Will skateboarders freak out when they discover they are a fetishized masculine archetype among gay men? Are we gonna see a new wheel company based on Tom Of Finland graphics? Will a company with bara and yaoi graphics emerge to challenge Hook Ups for the softcore anime porn skateboard market? Will this t-shirt replace Janoskis as the hot item at your local skatepark? Are gay dudes finally gonna get the skateboarder beefcake calendar we’ve never wanted? Will Alex Olson go full Nick Jonas and cultivate a gay fanbase more than he already has? Will the Bones Brigade finally, you know, gay off?

Probably not, but thanks in part to BA, here’s to hoping it won’t take another 20 years for skaters to feel comfortable coming out.

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Comments

  1. Danny Way

    October 16, 2016 6:31 am

    i love the gays

  2. Mike

    October 23, 2016 9:38 am

    I remember about ten or so years ago, similar stories were surfacing about Heath Kirchart (birdhouse rider at the time) being gay. I had one of his boards back in the day, the Heath Kirchard “Joker” board. I loved it. Homophobia was a huge problem in skateboarding in the late 90s and 2000s. My friend from Germany had the pink and black striped zero board along with some pink blank wheels, pink grip. Guys at the park would call him a fag, I remember he actually got into a fight once because of the ridiculousness. My buddy went on to own Droshky skateboards in Germany. But still ten years later I see kids getting picked on at the local park. “Fag” and “homo” are words that are thrown around our local parks and spots almost mindlessly. These are hurtful words that unfortunately kids say without even thinking of the real meaning of them. Hopefully these stories that are surfacing today will help put a stop to that.

  3. Ben

    December 2, 2017 6:28 am

    This is a long overdue article. Good job. If someone could pass the message to Thrasher then maybe they could get their act together. Starting by sorting out their coverage of female skaters on skateline.

  4. Joe Mc

    July 23, 2019 1:09 am

    Skateboarders putting down others for doing their own thing is a direct reflection of their own insecurities and goes against everything that skateboarding and all action sports represents. The freedom to roll, the freedom as a human being to express yourself by moving your body through space and time in a manner that incorporates bravado and style into an art form is one that should be accepted, respected and allowed to do by any and all human beings no matter what they ride…I have ridden inline skates on half pipes, skateparks and street with the best int the world. With the top pro’s their was always a mutual respect for each other no matter what discipline we rode but skating with the skateboarders in parks there was always tension towards anyone who didnt ride a board. It was like we were a direct threat to them, when all we were trying to do was express ourselves in the same manner but through a different discipline. We are all part of the human race and need to live in peace as one, its a lesson that man has yet to learn and will be the downfall of life as we know it one day, for it seems that human nature to destroy ourselves and our primitive parts of our brain still rule our lives today.

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