Featured below is an extended interview with our friend Jeff Wolfe from the latest Kingskate magazine.
Why did you quit skating for a couple of years?
Jeff: Simply put, I quit due to depression. When I came out of the closet, I was dealing with a lot of gay shame and self-loathing issues. I also felt a shift in my group of friends and was pushed into this outer circle. I felt lost. It was at a time where the words "gay" and "fag" were quite common at the skate park, so I didn't feel welcome. It was a few years later when my friend Jamie Perkins messaged me to go skate that helped me get out of that funk. Shout out to him for that push to get me back on my board!
Do you think that most skaters in your community know that you are gay? Does it change their attitudes towards you?
Jeff: Honestly, I’m not sure. I definitely don’t hide it when I’m at the park or out and about. I’ve definitely seen people's attitudes change when they found out that I was gay. Either it was a more of an openness around me or it was a cold shoulder. I used to skate with someone that (and I only learned this later down the road, after I came out) only kept skating with me because I wasn't "a flamboyant fag" and I was "tolerable”. So, when it comes to acceptance, you win some, you lose some.
As an openly gay skater, do you resent that your sexual orientation defines who you are in a culture such as skateboarding?
Jeff: It’s a blessing and a curse. I've had friends say to me "You're like, my best gay friend" and I would respond with "I'm your only gay friend asshole.” I don’t need to be separated or sub categorized from the rest of a friend circle because I’m gay. I get instantly categorized into this other subsection that isn't needed. It's like when people say to women, "you're a really good skater, for a girl." Why do you need to classify and categorize people? Are they good at skating? Yes? Then give them that compliment. The blessing though is that, being known as that "gay skater" gives me the opportunity to make a change and help others. Visual representation is super important. I would have loved to have someone to look up to when I was younger. To be that someone for a queer skater who’s still in the closet, or who's out but not sure about being open in this - not so welcoming community - is important and an honor.
Skateboarders have often promoted the fact that skateboarding is very inclusive and welcoming. As a member of a marginalized group would you say that – your experiences in skateboarding have been welcoming and inclusive?
Jeff: Thinking that we as skaters are an all welcoming community is a load of shit. Just walking into any skate park you can hear and see young boys and grown men living the modern stereotype of this toxic hyper masculine culture. Slurs, calling each other fags and whatnot, plus plenty of derogatory comments towards women. Furthermore, this ongoing concept that you have to constantly prove how tough you are is just sad. I fell into that trap and said terrible things to feel included among my peers at a young age. I ended up looking like an asshole.
I can see this constant battle for women to be recognized in the skate community. They are always shut down by males who state that they aren't as good as other pro skateboarders who are men. But we’re an inclusive community right? We’re here for each other, right?
Fortunately, I’ve been welcomed by some close friends in the skate community and have extended my reach to help others within skateboarding. Even to this day, for how long I’ve been in the skate community (21 years) I still get the cold shoulder. I still hear the shit talking. And I know too many people that are not welcomed. Hopefully opportunities like this one act as the beginnings of new conversations. Skaters need to start realizing that “we can do better than this".
What group of people do you think need the most support and what can we do as skaters to support them?
Jeff: People who are trans and/or people of colour (POC) need the most support I feel. It’s almost every day that I hear or read an article about someone who is trans being murdered for simply being transgender. Last year alone in the US, out of 102 Transgendered people who were murdered, 75 were POC. We as skaters need to open our minds and our spaces for them, so that they can feel welcomed and safe from the outside world. Skateboarding gave that to me, so we can give that to them. I, as a white male, am very much aware that even though I’m gay, I have a lot of privilege. I can walk through life with a lot less troubles than people who are POC or Trans. So, let's open our parks and our skate shops to let these people in with a warm welcome.
Do you think that people avoid talking to you about certain things because you are gay?
Jeff: Sometimes. I can see people's eyes glaze over when I start talking about queer culture or men I find attractive. Some have no clue what to say or how to continue a conversation when the subject changes in that direction. Just talk! Ask questions! I'm not going to bite your head off or freak out because you say something wrong or an outdated term. If anything I’m more likely to help you out and educate you with proper terms or answer questions. It's the lack of information and knowledge that screws us over in the end, when it comes to these biases. I’ve listened to y'all for years talk down about women and refer to them as your "slam piece", so you can deal with me talking about queer history here and there. To answer a few questions: yes, I'm considered a "bear", yes I’m into bear type dudes, and yes I’m still upset that Katya didn't win Season 2 of All stars.
Who do you most often go skate with and why?
Jeff: My main crew is usually Jamie Perkins, Brian Barbier, Brett Malone and Diego Benedetto. Those are my main four I contact and have been skating with for the longest. There are a few other homies that I'm stoked to see and skate with but those four are my "ride or dies". With them, I can just be my true self, I have no worries about talking about anything and we vibe off each other real well. We motivate each other to just be better, to progress, and just have fun. I've watched those guys be the skaters that they are and watch them progress so much. When I came back to skateboarding, they were the first to welcome me back with open arms.
What is your favourite aspect about skateboarding?
Jeff: The creative process. I love the journey and the struggle of trying a trick. Trying to break down a trick, piece by piece, and really figuring out what makes it work. How to make it better and how to evolve it. I love how creative skateboarding is and how it changes the way you look at the world. Without skateboarding, I definitely wouldn't be the person I am today and I'm sure many others could say the same.
You play in a pretty gnarly metal band. I went to a show and watched your band tear shit up. Do you worship Satan or something in your spare time?
Jeff: Yes, and on the side I push the modern Gay AgendaTM
Are there any parallels between skateboarding and music besides both groups seem to love drinking beer in shitty bars?
Jeff: The creative process is very similar. The trial and error process of trying something new and different. Each world has its own set of rules to follow, but with both, the joy comes from breaking those rules. Looking at music theory or skateboarding and being like "oh, this is what I’m supposed to do? Fuck that."
Music and the arts seem to be more inviting with openness and experimentation than skateboarding. Have your musical experiences been reflective of this?
Jeff: Openness, definitely, I've never had a problem with being gay at a venue or a local show. It's a very unanimous thing where everyone is against homophobia and any form of discrimination. Though I do feel its way more clicky than skateboarding, hands down. I've done music since high school and have yet to really break into a social circle. I've only been in bands with people I've met outside of music, except for the two new guys in my band and one band before mine.
Would you rather be a professional skateboarder or musician?
Jeff: I'd rather be a professional musician. At first I thought I would answer with "skateboarder", but honestly skateboarding is a really nice escape from reality. It's good for my health to keep me active. With music, there are things I can express through that I could never do through skateboarding. I will always be thankful for skateboarding and what it gave me, but music has helped me, if not saved me more than once.