If you follow skateboarding with even the most passing of interests, you probably caught Reda’s recent documentary ‘Brian Anderson on Being a Gay Professional Skateboarder’. Even if you don’t particularly follow skateboarding, news of BA’s coming out has clearly transcended the boundaries of the industry with news outlets such as The Guardian, Rolling Stone and the NY Times all reporting on the recent events. Considering the depth of passion that skateboarders have for their culture, the importance and increasing prominence of the LGBTQIA movement, and also the radness of BA and his stellar career, it’s no surprise that the documentary (which you can peep below, for context) has sparked important conversations in skateparks, and skateshops across the globe. It’s no different for us here at THE6BY6, so we’ve decided to throw our six cents out there and reflect on the many reasons why Brian Anderson’s coming out is important for the culture, industry and future of skateboarding.
First and foremost, it must be said that this article is not an attempt to piggyback on BA’s coming out in order to drive traffic to our website, nor is it a cheap attempt to cash in on the inevitable buzz that the news created; this is a moment that belongs to BA, his close friends and family, but also, in many ways, the waves of people that will be inspired- or perhaps challenged- by his story. And arguably, the majority of the skateboarding community fits into that last category.
As a community, we’re often quick to assert how skateboarding has instilled in us an open-mindedness and lack of prejudice that is hard to find in widespread society, let alone other, more conventional ‘sports’. In our weird corner of the world, it doesn’t matter what race you are, what creed, what ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation – what’s important is your skateboarding, your attitude and the kind of person you are. This is an attitude we can rightly be proud of, and one that probably stems from the fact that skateboarding is, irrespective of its current vogue and its cyclical popularity, something which emerged at the fringes of society. It’s a scene that embraces those who might not be accepted elsewhere, and a scene which thrives off the personalities and the creativity of freaks, geeks, weirdos and rejects; at its core, it’s fundamentally countercultural.
Indeed in the documentary itself, many interviewees essentially vocalise this idea, none more succinctly than the Phelpher (7:10 onwards). To paraphrase, ‘He’s gay. So fucking what? You skateboard, I skateboard, who gives a fuck?’ Now we’re not shitting on the Phelpher, nor are we condemning this attitude; in fact Phelps’ remarks are a testament to the very open-mindedness that our culture attempts to cultivate. But perhaps when you’re a straight white dude in the skateboarding scene, it’s easy to adopt that commendable, but nonchalant attitude. Just maybe, in rushing to proclaim our acceptance of people of every gender, sexuality, race and religion, we diminish the difficulty BA must have faced in deciding to come out, and also perhaps we fail to adequately reflect on the aspects of skateboarding culture that make such an admission particularly hard.*
(*In many ways, this argument is kind of similar to the colourblind ideology that permeates an American society that has elected its first black president. Though we urge you to have a quick read of the above link, suffice to say, just because America has elected a black president doesn’t mean that racism has stopped existing – similarly, just because BA has been able to come out in our community, doesn’t mean that it’s a perfect space free from homophobia or prejudice regardless of our best intentions)
I think we have to accept that skateboarding is a space that, regardless of intent and our best intentions, must be particularly difficult to come out in. Being the freaks, geeks, weirdos and children-at-heart that we all are, it’s safe to say that a lot of us bound around the slang, stupid insults and colloquialisms that we’ve been using since we were kooks and groms at our local. Anderson even reflects on this in the documentary when he says “Hearing [the word]’faggot’ all the time made me think, at a young age, that it was really dangerous to talk about it [his sexuality].”
What’s more, due to faulty preconceptions and understandings of male homosexuality, there seems to be an assumption that the energy, aggressiveness and rugged power that skateboarding demands – its ‘gnarliness’ if you will – somehow precludes gay participation with the scene (whilst if you’re a woman skater who shreds, the inverse assumption is often made). It’s both refreshing and important then, to understand how the raw energy and aggression that characterises BA’s style of skateboarding can potentially challenge stereotypical understandings of homosexuality, but also ‘masculinity’, sexuality and the point at which these two things intersect.
However, Brian Anderson’s revelation, though unprecedented due to the skater’s legendary status and popularity, is not the first instance that the skateboarding has confronted diverse sexualities. As mentioned in the documentary, Ed Templeton has spoken openly about the idiocy of Homophobia in an interview with Transworld, and Jarret Berry’s Big Brother cover demonstrates that these ‘issues’ aren’t new in the skateboarding world. This is actually positive proof that both skateboarders and the industry that it has spawned, certainly have the capacity to support LGBTQIA pros and challenge homophobia wherever it rears its ugly head – even if one does take issue with the typically ballsy and controversial method that Big Brother took, in particular.
But again, for every attempt to demonstrate acceptance and open-mindedness, there’s a tale like Tim Von Werne’s, who’s attempt to come out in the early 90’s was suppressed by his sponsor; a move which speaks to the closeted culture of skateboarding. The interview with Huck in the link above certainly does a great deal to explore how, regardless of the plethora of skateboarders who strive to make skateboarding an open and inclusive space, this culture still undoubtedly exists. The article also nods to the rumour and controversy surrounding the ‘Danny Way and Josh Swindell’ incident which, as Swindell even details in his version of events, is saturated by an uncomfortableness with homosexuality.
Of course this shouldn’t be read as an attempt to lay heaps of blame at the feet of the skateboarding community. Lindsey Byrnes mentions how “The world is homophobic, so to think that skateboarding isn’t…” whilst Girl and Lakai legend Mike Carroll similarly remarks that “There’s a lot of homophobia in skateboarding, there’s a lot of homophobia in everything…it’s not just skateboarding, it’s the world.”. Both essentially hit the nail on the head. A lot of these negative attitudes aren’t cultivated by skateboarding – they are cultivated by a western society which, in large part, seems to have some deep-rooted issues with anything that isn’t white, male, or straight.
But, as a countercultural scene that is meant to stand as an antithesis to the jockish and conservative ideals of mainstream society, it’s shouldn’t be too much to admit that, in this respect, we can do better. And this is why, as respectable and correct, and even as true as that nonchalant attitude might be – it doesn’t pay heed to the issues that underpin the ‘closeted culture’ of skateboarding; be it the unintentional consequences of the vocabulary we use, or the flawed attitudes we might have absorbed from the very society that we constantly attempt to skate away from.
Of course this article isn’t an attempt to tell you how we, as a skateboarding community, should behave; nor is it an attempt to shit on a culture that we love and appreciate- a culture that is largely defined by its capacity to embrace ‘difference’; be it in thought, style, attitude, or in sexuality. We can choose to be blasé about BA’s coming out by all means; that’s a cool and accepting attitude to have, and there are unquestionably swathes of the community for which BA’s homosexuality simply is not an issue. And It makes sense that there is a resistance to ‘make a big deal’ about it; it’s as if a failure to be stunned or moved by BA’s gesture proves that the facets of skateboarding culture that we’re most proud of – our countercultural roots and our embracing of those society seems to shun – are alive and well.
But maybe it should phase us. Or at the very least, maybe we should make a ‘deal’ out of it. Not because being gay, or being a gay professional skateboarder should be an issue, but because what BA has done is both a brave individual decision that deserves our respect, and a decision that can help to shed light on the few, lingering things that, when they rear their ugly heads, keep skateboarding from being as awesome as it can be. It must take a lot of courage to do what he has done, and we should repay that courage in kind by admitting that this fantastic, inherently creative, rebellious, gnarly space that we have carved out for ourselves, might not be as inclusive as we think it is and might not be as inclusive as it should be.