In a world that’s evolving from traditional masculinity and outdated gender roles, sometimes sports and leisure can become grassroots grounds for significant socio-political change, writes Mike Hitch.
When you picture an archetypal skateboarder, what do you imagine? Long hair? Baggy clothes? A straight, white male?
Whether professionally or casually, skating has remained largely dominated by straight, cisgender men since its inception in the 1950s. Now, however, skateparks across the globe are seeing the emergence of a novel queer skate scene – one that emphasises inclusivity, and demands recognition above all else.
Peter Darnley-Stuart is a 22-year-old queer skater who’s been scooting across Sydney’s Inner West for four years. Speaking to the Sentinel, Darnley-Stuart says that in an area of sports known for its counter-culture spirit, the emergence of out ’n’ proud skaters marks a dismantling of ideas around traditional masculinity, femininity and sexuality.
“In a very cis, straight man orientated environment that can be a very standoffish and very cliquey, it feels hard to fall into place within the skate community,” he says while showing me videos of other queer skaters on his Instagram feed – some in Sydney, others as far away as Wisconsin or Ontario.
“But, I feel like once you’ve found a few people you can skate with, they bring you up and encourage you, and help you improve. It can be really great.”
He believes the emergence of this niche queer skating scene is creating necessary change from the ground up.
“It’s a completely different headspace. It’s not like ‘who can do the best shit’ or ‘who can land the sickest tricks’ … It’s literally just like ‘get that trick you’ve been trying for months,’” he says, grinning and readjusting his bucket hat.
“And, it’s good to separate myself from that side of the gay community that can be toxic and cliquey at times. And, it’s just good to destroy toxic masculinity!
“It makes it a more open and level the playing field for people like us. Queer skating, and especially women, in skateboarding have just flourished in the last year. It’s really sweet!”
Darnley-Stuart noted that skating still carries the perception of a male-dominated environment, in part, due to the heteronormativity that exists within professional skateboarding.
However, while sponsorships with famous skate brands have long had a heteronormative ‘vibe’, the rise of queer skate brands such as Unity and There Skateboards are working to dismantle heteronormativity within the professional skating scene.
Furthermore, the rise in popularity of trans and gender-diverse (TGD) skaters such as Kane A Caples and Marbie point to the future of queer skating, which has notoriously lacked representation and visibility for TGD people.
Vi Ayanami is a trans skateboarder known for her laidback, ’80s style of skateboarding. In particular, she uses her hands to grab her board and nearby railings – a move that is sometimes considered a big ‘no-no’ among traditional skateboarders.
While Ayanami hopes to break tradition with her niche style of skating, she also hopes representation among professional skaters, as well as the brands that sponsor them, will break down the “macho” image that looms over the scene.
“The way I look at it is that skateboarding is traditionally such a male-dominated sport and it’s such a macho, cis het environment,” Vi told the Sentinel.
“But that’s not how it started. Skateboarding started as something for outcasts.
“What’s going to make a difference in getting rid of the macho side of skating is having allies that will side with us.
“We’ve just gotten our first official proper queer skate brands! If you’re queer and you’re a skater, it’s not as big and scary as it used to be. It’s getting better, and we’re getting representation. We’ve got trans-female and trans-male pro-skaters now!”
Natalie Choy, a queer female skater who recently found a home within Sydney’s growing scene, says acceptance of the queer community would allow others to become more accepting of themselves, too.
“I feel like since I’ve been diving into this sea, I see more representation,” she says.
“I’ve been finding new people that are sick, and they accept me.
“I see a very bright future for skating. I feel there’s a really good future with accepting queer skaters because it allows everyone to be more open to be themselves.”
Natalie believes queer representation must begin from the ground up, and is adamant that the grassroots queer scene is necessary in allowing others to feel a sense of belonging.
“Times have changed, and while we can do this stuff now, we’ve also got to be the representation for other people – all that cheesy shit! No, but it’s true. When you can be yourself and know who you are, and others can see that, then others can be true to themselves too,” she tells the Sentinel.
“It’ll be nice if one day there isn’t a ‘queer scene’ within skating, but for now it’s nice to have this body of people who understand you, and who appreciate you.”
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