AT THE INTERSECTION OF QUEER AND SKATE CULTURE
WORDS BY JULIAN RONEY
Skateboarding is a curious sport with a complicated history. Both its virtues and vices arise from its fragmentation across sub, and counter-cultural lines. The emergence of ‘skate culture’ as a popular fascination stands in stark contrast to the heterogeneous ‘90s and ‘00s movements of the same name. In its contemporary form, the sport persists as a pioneering symbol of street culture; an ironic normalization of its alternative origins.
The intersection of queer and skate culture may not be an intuitive alignment, especially given the ‘macho’ and heteronormative ideologies of the sport’s past. Yet, more so than any other sport, skating, and its history, has a strong cultural parallel with queer culture. Emerging from the fringes of the mainstream, skate and queer culture have edged their way into a new social standing, with all new, and mighty, influence on popular culture.
“Emerging from the fringes of the mainstream, skate and queer culture have edged their way into a new social standing, with all new, and mighty, influence on popular culture.”
The parallel between skate and queer culture is not a tenuous one. Skateboarding resembles what is called a ‘constellation’ sport, divided across cultures, internally conflicted and without the conventional structure of any other performance activity. In its early and unpopular days, the ‘skater’ identity was that of the outsider, who faced the animosity of the public and rejected the conventions of popular culture. These identities bore all of the frustrations of an outcast community; comically declared ‘a new medical menace’ by the California Medical Association, it was a sport driven by internal necessity rather than public perception. Thus peers were elevated to became role models, with a hierarchy organized according to style and personality over status. Suffice to say it was against the pressure to conform to the tried and tested life-path that the skater emerged as an obscure vocation and a new identity.
“But what skater doesn’t feel like an outsider? It’s a collection of people who don’t belong in collections. And in there, there’s a sense of pure respect and camaraderie”
Cole Louison. The Impossible: Rodney Mullen, Ryan Sheckler and the Fantastic History of Skateboarding.
As a lifestyle and a haven from the conventional demands of society, skate culture was amenable to the strange and the wonderful; to a mixed bag of innovative and peculiar personalities like Ed Templeton, Mark Gonzalez and Harmony Korine. Jarret Berry became the posterchild for queer representation in the industry, coming out on the front cover of Big Brother Magazine in 2002. More recently Brian Anderson, Thrasher’s 1998 “Skater of the Year”, came out publicly in his documentary, recalling his experience as a gay pro-skater and the changing perceptions of queer skaters across the industry.
Skate culture and queer culture cease to occupy the marginal, and separate, social positions they once did. Their intersection today is even more transparent than it has been before. Until now, the two have shared the narrative of the outsider, of the need to create one’s self against the demands of a dominant and repressive cultural force. Now they are free to shape each other.