A Brief Look at Skateboarding's Gay Past
Does Brian Anderson's announcement mean we're going to see a new wheel company based on Tom of Finland graphics? Or a board company with bara and yaoi graphics challenging Hook-Ups?
This article was originally published on Jenkem.
My name is Max. I am 30 years old. I have been skateboarding for roughly 20 years and kissing boys for 13.
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 pressures 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 you are going to jump down to 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 is 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 Huston 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," you say. Nah. With some notable exceptions, the skateboard industry has a long and occasionally repulsive history of homophobia.
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 skateboarding in the 1990s, 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 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's 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 features 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 LGBTQ person they can relate to, and LGBTQ kids never see a skateboarder they can identify with.
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 LGBTQ people's social and legal equality. The appearance of an out gay pro is an important step toward making skateboarding more accepting of LGBTQ 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 going to 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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