A version of this essay originally appeared on Jenkemmag.com
I am thirty years old. I have been skateboarding since I was eleven and realized I was gay when I was twelve or thirteen.
As a suburban kid in Rhode Island, I was attracted to skateboarding because it is so unlike organized sports. There are no rules, uniforms, or coaches telling you what to do. Skateboarding’s welcomes arty misfits like myself who are more interested in doing something creative than competitive.
I came out when I was seventeen, a few months before president Bush went on television to endorse a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. I had the best parents a gay kid could’ve hoped for and I don’t have any horror stories about homophobic bullying in school.
While I was in college I got more seriously into skating and connected with the downhill scene, which led to getting my first sponsor at twenty two. After graduation, I moved to California to skate and take photos. Longboarding took off right after I got to LA and I have spent the last seven years traveling the world as a photographer and pro longboarder.
As I became known in my little niche of skateboarding, I made a point of being visibly out because there were never any publicly out gay pros when I was a kid. Representation is important: skate media features all kinds of riders--jocks, preps, stoners, drunks, heshers, punks, hip hop heads, pretty boys, people of color, hippies, old dudes, preteens, even severely disabled people--but no out gay people. As a result, your average teenage skater never sees an LGBT person they can relate to and the LGBT kids never see a skateboarder they can identify with.
Now Brian Anderson has decided to be the first professional skateboarder to come out. What BA just did is fucking radical, in every sense. 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, especially someone widely respected with major sponsorship, opens the door for other skaters to come out, and is an important step toward making skateboarding more accepting of LGBT people.
To be honest, my initial reaction to the news was “It’s 2016 and we have openly gay NBA players and soldiers. What took this dude so long?”
That’s easy for me to say because I’ve had a pretty easy time of the gay thing. BA is 10 years older than me and came of age during a much scarier time for gay people, when homophobia was worse and AIDS was killing gay men by the tens of thousands. More importantly, the skateboard industry has been overtly hostile to LGBT people for decades.
Skateboarding embraces violently homophobic pros. Most skaters have no idea that Jay Adams went to jail for instigating a fatal gay-bashing. Danny Way also had a role in the beating death of a gay man, an incident that sent his friend and fellow pro skater Josh Swindell to jail for 19 years. These incidents go unmentioned in skate media.
There has never been an out gay pro before BA. The closest we have come is with Tim Von Werne, who was forced to stay in the closet when Birdhouse pulled Von Werne’s 1998 Skateboarder interview because he planned to publicly discuss his homosexuality. Another openly gay skater, Jarrett Berry, got the cover of Big Brother’s “gay issue” skating in chaps with his ass hanging out. The tagline was, “Jarrett Berry and other fruits and fairies.” In the eighteen years since, we’ve had no out gay sponsored skaters.
During those same years, there was widespread tolerance of homophobic language. I shed no tears for the death of aggressive inline, but skateboarding had a big hand in harassing it out of fashion by calling rollerbladers faggots for years on end. Recently, skateboarders adapted the joke about “the hardest part of rollerblading” being “telling your parents you’re gay” to hate on longboarders too.
I know you are all about to get in the comments to tell me this is all in the past and say sexuality has nothing to do with skateboarding because nobody cares who you fuck as long as you shred.
Sexuality would have nothing to do with skateboarding if the skate industry wasn’t so heavily identified with male heterosexuality. Sexualized images of women are pervasive in skate media and marketing. There’s a wheel company based on pictures of naked chicks and a board company based on softcore anime porn. Creature has a hot chick calendar. Skateboarding is frequently portrayed as something women watch men do. When we do see women skate, they are sexually objectified and valued for their looks more than their skills. None of this is particularly surprising--the skateboard industry exists to sell shit to teenage boys--but if you’re a gay person or a woman it’s easy to look at all of this and conclude that skateboarding wants nothing to do with you.
Also, skateboarding is heavily identified with toughness and a willingness to endure physical pain. This makes sense: mastering basic skateboard skills requires a tolerance for hitting the ground over and over again. Getting reasonably good requires enduring a long series of bruises, scrapes, and sprains. Doing anything moderately impressive comes with the risk of getting broken off. Thrasher’s Hall of Meat, which celebrates the blood and broken bones that come from reaching the limits of gnarliness, is skateboarding’s ultimate display of hypermasculinity.
Skateboarders often presume gay men and women do not possess this kind of toughness. That’s why your friends will tell you to “stop being a pussy and fucking go for it” when you hesitate on a trick, and why they’ll 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.
There is an important distinction to be made 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 usually cool about the gay thing. Yes, some younger skaters casually use homophobic language out of habit, but I blame that on mental laziness, not intentional malice. When I talk about the skateboard industry, I am talking about professional skateboarders, the companies that sponsor them, and the media outlets that cover them. These businesses exist to sell shit to teenage boys and live in fear of the lost sales that might come from being perceived as being lame or uncool--in the parlance of their customers, “gay.”
Maybe it takes someone like BA—a big, physically-intimidating white dude with untouchable skate credibility and major sponsorship—to change the industry’s mind about sponsoring openly gay people. Personally, I think skateboarders have been ready to embrace a gay pro for years and the only reason it didn’t happen until now is because the forty year-olds who run the industry are out of touch with modern kids’ nonchalant attitude about homosexuality.
Anyway, here we are. Welcome out, Brian Anderson.
So where do we go from here? Will skateboarders freak out when they discover that 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 here’s hoping.