Portland’s Transgender Skaters

CeCe Meddock

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Interviewee’s identities kept anonymous for their own safety

The familiar clack of skateboard wheels landing on concrete rings throughout the park. Laughter and conversation provide the welcoming undertone to the harsh sounds; voices floated above the noise, discussing everything from new clothes to new tattoos to medical treatments. This is a safe space. In a time where women and transgender people are persecuted and ignored by the greater systems at play, places like this are where they can build a community.

There are smaller groups, friends who have separated themselves from the larger group, but the sense of community is still there. Regardless of who’s friends with whom, everyone is friendly with each other. Skaters ride by, adding a layer of sound to the atmosphere. Music suddenly blasts from the large speakers set up in the back of the rink; women-led rock.

Skating as counterculture

Skateboarding as a leisure activity was born out of the 1940s and 50s, when Californian surfers needed an activity similar to surfing to participate in when the waves were low. Original skateboards were just that, boards with wheels attached to the bottom, likely an altered form of crate scooters. Since then, skating has become a ubiquitous symbol of youth as well as counterculture, with more white-centric counterculture adopting skateboarding, and African American counterculture adopting roller skating.

Skateboarding has become a safe space for a large amount of people throughout the years, eventually breaking out into popular culture and solidifying its place in the world of sport. This sense of community can be valuable to marginalized groups.

“I think the idea that you can just come here and be surrounded by other trans femmes and women who also skate is just an all around amazing feeling,” says one member of the Skate Like A Girl group in Portland, Oregon, a skating club open to all feminine transgender people and women who have an interest in skating.

Specifically, however, Skate Like A Girl provides a safe space for people of diverse identities to express their shared interest in skating. This type of safe space is needed in a world where women and trans people are under attack. Building a community can be essential for survival.

“It’s always nice to come to an open skate and just be surrounded by people who know what I’m going through.”

Recently, there has been a nationwide resurgence of white nationalism in the United States, and along with this, a rise of transphobia and gender based violence and discrimination, especially since the 2016 election. Both the NAACP and the FBI have reported a rise in hate crimes since then, sparking a growing sense of unease amongst minority communities.

In Portland, it’s no different.

“We’ve seen multiple sort of, drive-by hate crimes against the transgender community here lately; I’ve personally heard instances of trans women specifically being targeted by a group of unknown men… beaten up, assaulted, gotten hateful words hurled at them, stuff like that,” another member explained. “It’s beginning to feel more and more dangerous to just exist, even though everybody hails Portland as a progressive utopia.”

According to a paper published in 2014, Portland is the twelfth most progressive city in the United States. Minority groups, however, tell a different story. Prominent Portland rapper Aminé has made his critique of the city’s reputation evident, buying a billboard in the middle of the city with the words “Yes, there are black people in Portland” plastered next to a picture of his face.

On Instagram, the rapper explained “Black teens are killed, arrested, and moved out of our city every week. I grew up in Portland, not Portlandia.”

This distrust of the local government spans identities, and trans folks specifically have refused to report assaults against them out of a general fear of police, especially after text messages between Portland Police Bureau officers and members of the Proud Boys, a neo-nazi group prominent in the Pacific Northwest, were exposed in mid-February.

“This is why communities like the one we’ve created [at Skate Like A Girl] are so important. Trans women and fems deserve to have a space to be themselves around people who feel what they feel every day.”

While Oregon has many laws in place to support and protect the transgender community, such as a third gender option on drivers licenses and the ability to change your gender on state IDs without the requirement of a letter from a doctor, but this doesn’t ensure social protections. Members of minority groups insist that communities like this and others within the LGBTQ+ community are valuable because they keep the community together and keep people who want to harm them out.  

As for Skate Like A Girl, the community created through skateboarding, historically and socially seen as an activity for outsiders, is a close-knit one.

“When we’re here, we’re just skaters. Yeah, we’re also members of the trans community and some cis women, but mainly, we’re just skaters.”