For a long time, I’ve wanted to write a piece on the very strange relationship the rollerblading community has with the gay community. For those of us who grew up in the 1990s, just about every altercation or shouting match we participated in (with skateboarders or bikers or security guards or whoever) included hurling homophobic slurs like faggot or homo or queer at each other. We rollerbladers were just as often as guilty as all the others for using those terms, and many of us contributed to the creation of an environment in which LGBT and queer folks felt exceptionally unsafe.
At the time, few us were able to grasp the horror and callousness of what we were doing—we were, to be fair, pretty young. However, that shouldn’t let us off the hook. Much of the circulation of those slurs has to do with the perception or belief (held either tacitly or vociferously) that being gay is just about as bad a thing as you can be.
For LGBT and queer rollerbladers inside our own culture, such hateful acts, I expect, can (and could) be felt acutely. And it doesn’t seem like it’s a whole lot different today. Take this as an example: putting on a white cloak and hood doesn’t make you a member of the Ku Klux Klan—but it sure makes you look like one.
From the outside, it’d be hard to know the difference (and frankly, asking someone to search out such a difference puts the burden on the victim rather than on the aggressor).
Similarly, using slurs like faggot and saying things like ‘gay’ to mean ‘stupid’ don’t mean you’re a hateful, homophobic piece of shit—but it sure makes you look like one.
So, if we look in good faith at those around us still using those slurs and those insipid expressions, we find a lot of decent people who haven’t been reminded that they’re parading around—effectively—in a white cloak and hood. Most rollerbladers I know AREN’T hateful homophobes, but a lot of us sure talk like we are.
Having said that, we turn to the recent news of the worst mass murder shooting in American history—at a gay night club in Orlando, Florida. Many Americans looked on with the same tired disgust that emerges from hearing about the hundreds of mass shootings that occur annually in our country. For others, it was new, horrifying, and grotesque. Because of the ambient homophobia in the US, gay clubs are seen both within and without the gay community as something much more dear than simply a place to go get drunk and hope to maybe get some tail—they’re sanctuaries for a community marginalized almost universally.
For Tim Adams, it was another thing altogether. Like—fucking enough is enough. So he dug into his soul and decided it was time to roll the hard six, for better or worse—to ‘come out’ as a gay man. A gay rollerblader—with enough resolve to meet two generations of hateful jokes and homophobia eye to eye.
So, given all this context, I wanted to give Tim a chance to speak directly to the rollerblading community—about being gay, about coming out, about what he would like to see from us. I sent him a couple of dozen questions and he answered the ones that he liked best. He skipped all the questions about rollerblading (flat vs. anti, favorite tricks, etc.), so I’m just gonna overload you with pictures and videos of him so everyone can be reminded of who is doing the talking here.
Why was it important to “come out” to the rollerblading community for you? Did you expect any particular response from us?
I think we all strive for a certain level of acceptance from the blading community (and in general). Let’s be real: bladers are some of the most self-conscious people out there, concerned with how our arms look on certain tricks and that our new VX jeans look bad ass and match our skate setup. Some call it “style”. It incorporates everything about our presentation. And without getting too into the psychology of it all, I think it’s very human of us to want to be liked, admired, accepted, and to portray ourselves and our skating in that way.
With that said, I like to think I’ve been pretty well embraced by the blading community over the years. But I also haven’t been completely honest. My world has been very compartmentalized, broken down by different activities like blading, automotive stuff, camping, activism, etc. The shitty part about being semi-closeted is that my gay identity fell into its own compartment, as opposed to incorporating that part of me into everyday life. While I was grieving from the Orlando tragedy, I felt those then-separate worlds wanting to collide (for example, wanting to talk about it openly and not just with my gay friends). For me, if there was anything salvageable from what happened in Orlando, it’s that it forced me to have that difficult conversation.
You mean with your dad?
With my dad, but also with you, with other bladers, with childhood friends, and family members. It afforded me the opportunity to become closer with the people in my life. But also to be a part of the national conversation on what homophobia looks like in real terms. It’s cultural, it’s political, and it’s fucking dangerous. If there was ever a necessary time to come out to the world, it was right now.
What have the responses been like? Any particular surprises? Anything exactly as expected?
The responses have been overwhelmingly positive. And that’s the thing. I think people have been hailing me as some kind of hero for coming out. And to my credit, it took a lot of emotional energy to do it. BUT I also knew my safety wasn’t in jeopardy. There’s a lot to be said about the progress that has been made, and standing on the shoulders of giants who’ve made that progress happen—from the uprising at Stonewall to my good friend Grant Hazelton who came out to our immediate group of friends years before I could even fathom it. Those are the real MVPs.
I’m also fully aware that my struggle isn’t mine alone, and this only reinforced that. I won’t divulge details, but I’ve had countless closeted bladers (and non-bladers) reach out to me, thanking me for making the statement I made. That makes me really happy, to be able to support people in that way.
A lot of people have asked what the response was like from my dad, so without getting too into what was a very private conversation, I’ll say it was a good start. My dad and I have never had much of an emotional relationship, and we both bring a lot of baggage to the table. This was essentially our first completely honest conversation in 31 years, and it feels pretty damn amazing to finally be on that side of disclosure with him.
What has your experience been like rollerblading all these years with guys who, at times, can come across as exceptionally homophobic? How can
rollerbladers do a better job of being more inclusive?
Ha! That’s a really good question, but I should start by saying it’s not very different from any other facet of my life where people act exceptionally homophobic. I think there’s a lot of machismo embedded in American culture, and that men—most men—have a serious problem coming to terms with it. That’s the short answer, and an obvious one.
As for my experience, it’s been probably 10 years since my crew stopped referring to things as “gay” or people as “faggots“, so I don’t deal with it very often. But it always strikes me when I go to a new city and bladers still say that shit. I usually let it go for a while, and then a little longer. There are lots of ways to call out homophobia, and I have yet to master a single one. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt — that these words have just become part of our American lexicon or whatever — but dude. Words hurt. That kind of shit kept me in the closet for a long time. LGBTQ people kill themselves over that shit. And so, on the one hand, it’s all good, typically ends with an apology and some vague statement about “not meaning it that way,” but on the other hand, I think we are all responsible for the world we create. So it’s a constant struggle.
Fortunately, I’m an adult. If I don’t like how a certain person or group makes me feel, I just don’t associate with them. But I also understand that it’s not always that easy, and it’s not always just about words. It’s strange that I need to say this, but being called a “fruitbooter” at the skatepark (esp. if you’re a straight, cis, probably white, possibly college educated dude) is very different from being gay or trans and feeling unsafe in this world. So if you’re a straight dude, and see yourself as a nice guy or even an ally to LGBTQ people, you should probably cut that shit out. At the very least. I’m not a big fan of policing people’s language, but I’m pretty much done policing my own.
It’s also a beautiful thing when a straight friend steps up so I don’t have to.
Have any bladers been especially kind since you came out?
Back around 2005 or so, I met a man and totally fell for him (what would become a nearly eight year relationship—we are still good friends to this day). I was living with Mike Torres at the time, skating and filming, really enjoying what was essentially our “prime” years—early 20s—figuring out our niche in the blade world. It was a good living situation. But I started dipping out on weekends to visit my man, and I knew Mike was legitimately concerned for me. Out of respect for him, and assuming it wasn’t a big deal, I told him (via instant messenger, lol). Torres—being the mega-boss that he is—was surprised, but totally cool with it. Three days later, our friend Grant (who was attending school in Buffalo, about an hour away) came to skate with us for the weekend. It was Saturday night, and I’d gone to bed, and apparently Grant decided he needed to come out to Mike. Literally three days after I did. Poor guy probably thought we had the hots for him or something. But yeah, Torres is the dude. This world would be a better place with more Mike Torreses walking around.
Also, I’ll never forget my thirtieth Birthday. All of my friends — gay and straight, like 50 of them — went to the roller rink. Afterward, a handful of my blader friends came out to the gay bar for karaoke, ready to rage. We sang “Piano Man” (as did the rest of the bar) and had such a wonderful time. I love those guys.
Do you see yourself being married one day? Will it be with another rollerblader?
Ha, maybe I’ll get married someday, sure. But I also could very well see myself being single forever. And that’s not a bad thing, necessarily. I’m a pretty picky person, and the pool of single, intelligent, attractive men (who are local to Western NY) is not huge. I’d much rather be single and happy than in the wrong relationship. So if it happens, it happens.
And no, it won’t be with another rollerblader. I like big fat guys who don’t have coordination.
Yeah, I should probably take a minute to address something I’ve felt since I first posted that piece to Facebook.
I want LGBTQ people to be respected as LGBTQ people. Period. I think a lot of bladers might tolerate my being gay, thinking I’m an exception or exceptionally “ok” (for a gay dude) because I’m good at skating or whatever. I don’t want this to be a Caitlyn Jenner moment where an important opportunity to learn and teach and to do better gets lost in personality bullshit. So, while I’m happy with the little bit of progress I’ve seen over the past couple of weeks, I need folks to understand that I’m only scratching the surface of a huge, complex, incredibly nuanced issue. And that I can’t speak for anyone but myself.
Huge, huge thanks and gratitude to you Frank and Freddy White of Be-Mag for reaching out like this. I’ll be seeing you around.
Frank: I’d like to add my thanks to Tim for agreeing to speak to me about this. I applaud everything he’s done and I want to say that I value enormously his extraordinary contribution to the rollerblading community. He’s really played the long odds here, and it seems he’s gonna help us run the table on this one.