Transparent actor enables LGBT skateboarders to say they’re ‘not gay as in happy, queer as in f*** you’
Tara Jepsen is a blond, badass queer-punk-feminist writer and performer in her 40s who lives in LA with her cats.
When Tara started skateboarding at 36, her 90s punk identity resonated with the outsider element of the skate park.
“There’s room for so many different kinds of people and so many sorts of ill-fitting people at the skate park.
“So many people who are not necessarily comfortable to be around have a place there.”
Overhearing the homophobic language used in the skate park inspired Tara to create a bespoke skateboard deck that screams: “Not gay as in happy, queer as in f*** you.”
Pave the Way is a joint enterprise between Tara and queer graphic artist and teacher Miriam Klein Stahl.
It sells neon decks featuring queer icons including Brian Anderson, Audre Lorde, Alvin Ailey, Adrienne Rich and Morrissey, among others.
After professional skateboarder Brian Anderson came out as gay last September, the homophobia in the skateboarding scene became more apparent.
In the Vice Sport video in which Anderson came out, he said that “hearing faggot all the time, it made me think at a young age, it was really dangerous to talk about it.”
Tara thinks queer women are more accepted in the skate scene because they “don’t rock the balance” of gender expression.
However, she didn’t see gay men being as accepted – especially not with the word ‘faggot’ being thrown around so casually.
In her opinion, “if men weren’t being accepted as queer and women were, there still wasn’t an acceptance of queer identity.”
The motivations of the folks in the 90’s queer punk Bay Area scene of Tara’s youth were “to be free and break away from the idea of queer women as non-threatening, Sister Side-By-Side, sexless aunts.
“We were claiming our bodies for ourselves as sex objects and locations for feminist art.”
The queer messaging on the Pave the Way decks is a way of explicitly stating: “This is a queer presence in skateboarding; this is an intentional, outward, and queer freaks kind of thing.
“Not an act of respectability politics, but to say: ‘we’re comfortable being freaks or anomalous or whatever and we didn’t come to conform, we come here to be part of something we deserve to be part of.’”
Tara wrote and acted in the original web series ‘Rods and Cones’ with long-time collaborator Beth Lisick, with the series released on Transparent creator Jill Soloway’s web channel, wifey.tv, in 2014.
The duo also performed with queer-feminist spoken-word group SisterSpit.
They worked throughout the 90s into the 00s to subvert the mainstream understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity through their performances and writing projects.
For Tara, Pave the Way acts as an extension of the zine scene of her past, “in the sense that it’s like, well f*** you, we’ll create a space for ourselves, we’ll make it on our own terms.”
Tara and Miriam met in the Bay Area in the 90s.
They reconnected decades later when people started tagging them in each other’s Instagram posts.
As Tara put it, they were two “middle-aged punks who are having mid-life onset skateboarding.”
The two made a low-stakes decision to do a one-off print of 200 decks, thinking that if they didn’t sell them all they would just give them to their friends.
After six weeks, there are only 50 remaining.
“It would be fun to do collaborations with other people, but you know, you don’t make any money on collaborations.
“I don’t think the world needs another deck company.”
Being exposed to so much casual homophobic language at the skate park has caused something of a change in Tara’s radical approach to queer advocacy.
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“After growing up and coming up like I did in the 90s in San Francisco, where none of my friend or in my world gave any f***s about getting anyone’s approval or translating yourselves for other people, it’s very strange to be in this position where I suddenly want to be like ‘gay pride’ because I just never f***ing cared.
“That always seemed like such a mainstream thing to do.
“I am in this situation now where I see young men’s lives being threatened by the culture around them, that if they are young gay dudes they would never be honest about who they are at the skate park and that’s what made me think, maybe I need to do just like some good old fashioned, middle of the road activism.”
Tara’s book ‘Like a Dog’ will be published in September by the City Lights Publishers imprint City Lights/SisterSpit.
The book is a “highly fictionalised” account of Tara’s late 20s/ early 30s, her introduction to skateboarding and her relationship with her brother.