Pro Skateboarder Brian Anderson Opens Up to Playboy About His Groundbreaking Coming Out
Words: Robert Brink / Playboy.com, October 4, 2016
Photography: Kristina Patterson
In 1999, professional skateboarder Brian Anderson won the World Championship, followed by the most coveted accolade in skateboarding, Thrasher’s “Skater of the Year” award. Just a year prior, in 1998, Tim Von Werne’s soon-to-be professional skate career came to a screeching halt after his sponsor, Birdhouse Skateboards, killed an interview with Skateboarder magazine in which Von Werne revealed he’s gay.
The world of sports hasn’t traditionally been kind to gay athletes; skateboarding is no different. Anyone relying on a heterosexual, male-dominated, youth-driven activity for their livelihood has always had to carefully consider the impact that coming out could have on their career and personal life. In skateboarding specifically, nobody wanted to become the next Von Werne.
Anderson is big for a professional skateboarder, towering at six-foot-three. He’s covered in tattoos and skates with the eyes of an axe murderer and the elegance of a zenned-out surfer. You don’t want to get in Anderson’s way during a session, but you do want him at your side in a bar in case there’s a brawl.
Throughout his career, Anderson has designed his own shoe for Nike and collaborated on boards with some of the most respected skate brands in history. He’s been an icon in the skate world for more than a decade. Last week, Anderson upended that world when he came out publicly in a Vice Sports documentary directed by Giovanni Reda.
Anderson knew he was gay since he was four years old, when he found himself attracted to Popeye’s enemy, Bluto. His friends in the skate industry didn’t know until he told them in the early 2000s and, although word spread through inner-circles, a tight knit group of insiders protected Brian’s secret, speaking about it only amongst themselves and behind closed doors.
When the news hit in late September, Anderson did more than break the internet. He transcended skateboarding and harnessed the web’s power to bring people together in support of someone who pulled off a career move greater than any trophy and gnarlier than any trick. With little to no backlash, you’d be hard-pressed to find another example of a time when there was so much compassion and unity in the skate community.
Anderson might not be the first pro to come out, but he is the first A-list World Champion and “Skater of the Year” winner to. It marks yet another watershed moment in the recent wave of mainstream sport athletes coming out, from Michael Sam to Jason Collins to David Denson. But unlike what Von Werne experienced, this time around the skate community is grown-up enough to embrace it.
To celebrate this pivotal moment in socio-sexual progress, Playboy asked sports journalist Rob Brink to meet up with Anderson to talk about the aftermath of his important public announcement. One thing becomes clear during their conversation: if you are going to hate on Anderson for being gay, you are hating on one of the most beloved, talented and influential figures in the history of skate culture. You’re also an asshole.
In the documentary, you say that you originally hadn’t plan to come out until after retirement. What changed?
I’d already told so many people in the industry over the last 15 years. It was irritating being halfway out. To be honest, I just want to be able to post a picture of my boyfriend and me on the beach on Instagram. But it’s not just about social media—that’s not real life. I simply wanted to be able to walk down the street and give my boyfriend a kiss in public before he got on the subway and I went skateboarding. I want simple things like that.
Just for my soul, I had to get this out. When you hold it in for so long it really messes with your head. I would hate to leave this planet and not tell my story. I wanted to tell everyone so that some little kid in the middle of nowhere who is wondering what’s going on with his life gets to hear all these fantastic people say, “Screw it, we love Brian!” Now, anybody who wants to come talk to me can. If there’s some kid that wants to pull me aside and go, “I’m gay and I’m freaked out” and I will be like, “I’m here for you. Want to go talk about this?”
What reaction were you expecting prior to the release of the documentary?
I wasn’t expecting it to be this huge at all. I should make the point that this thing was supposed to come out a week earlier, but due to some technical difficulties, it was delayed. I was upset because I had watched and combed through the edit so many times and was finally not afraid anymore. I was texting Reda, “Just put it out!“ That being said, it was a magical blessing because the night before it came out, Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton debated. I got so many messages from people saying, “Last night was the worst, but to have something great come out in the world the morning after that madness was so refreshing.”
How has life been since your public coming out a week ago?
My phone is like a volcano. I wake up at five in the morning and look at Instagram, which I never used to do. It’s all been positive; the support from all different kinds of people is amazing. I’m very happy and just busy trying to be a gangster and embrace it all with the little sleep I’m getting.
What was it like for you to watch footage of your friends talking about you?
I shed tears watching it. Having that kind of support is incredible because not everybody does. I’m fortunate in that I’m a six-foot-three tattooed, hairy guy with a masculine voice, so I haven’t experienced anything too crazy. I was able to slip under the radar and my heart goes out to the people who it is more difficult for. What I went through was awful, but if you live in a small town in middle America and you are effeminate, I can’t imagine what that must be like.
I’ve been in my fair share of skate tour vans and have heard the way people say “faggot!” and “that’s gay!” How difficult was it to keep your mouth shut when that happened?
At times it was tough. I was scared. I couldn’t call someone out so I just had to deal with it. The people around me who might have used those words, they weren’t mean people. They weren’t racist; they weren’t homophobic. I was always careful to surround myself with good people and they never hurt me too much in that way.
Early in my career, being with [skateboarder and owner of skate brand Toy Machine] Ed Templeton helped a lot. To be on his team you have to be open-minded because you’re dealing with him. As an artist, he has a lot of provocative photos of he and his wife having sex and stuff. The people he let into our world were pretty darn open-minded folks. I never really felt a lot of homophobia with them. I would hear it around me in other venues, at contests and stuff, and I was like, “Thank God I’m not in the van with them.”
It’s amazing how respectful and protective the skate industry was of you all these years. I once saw a Vice UK article outing you, which is scary. Did that create any urgency for you to come out?
That disgusted me. I don’t know who had the audacity to think it’s their right to publicly post something like that. Like, who are you? Do you understand what it’s like to be gay? Screw you. I’m a public figure to a degree, so of course people are going to talk, but for someone to tell your story before you’re ready to, that’s disrespectful. That person should be ashamed of him or herself.
There have also been incidents where people’s careers were damaged as the result of coming out, such as Tim Von Werne’s. Mark Nickels, a friend of mine, was a videographer for Osiris and allegedly lost his job because they found out he was gay.
I don’t want to name names, but I heard how Tim was, what you’d call “fired.” That totally disturbed me. It made me angry about whoever was involved in doing that to him. And fuck Osiris for doing that to [Nickels]. Put that in print. That’s disgusting. They should be ashamed of themselves.
Based on percentages, one has to assume there are more gay pro skaters. Do you think you’ve encouraged them to come out?
I only know one and I think he’s basically retired. In the future, I hope so, just so they can be themselves. After all this stuff is over, we need to not even talk about the fact that we’re gay. It’s a great point to make right now and I’m thrilled, but I’m looking forward to just being a skateboarder again. It’s going to be cool when this is over so we can say, “Okay, we all puked this up and shit it out of our systems. Now we can just live.”
What would you say to other people out there, especially skateboarders, who are scared to come out?
Be careful. We are fortunate that we live in a time where things are becoming more accepted, but somebody can still throw a fucking bottle at your head. There are a lot of close-minded people and if you’re on a bus holding your partner’s hand, there might be someone who’s going to freak out and want to hurt you.
If you feel like your family has old-fashioned values that may result in negativity, or if you think your parents are going to freak out and disown you, then don’t come out. It sucks to say, but we all have to wait for the right time in our life. But then guess what? There are going to be a lot of new people you’ll meet that will become your new family. They are going to hold your hand and walk you through the rest of your life. They’re going to love and embrace you and help you go further and be happier. There are millions of people out there ready to help you.