Steve Brandi Interview
How do you introduce one of the most important moments of someone’s life, a moment of such gravity that it’s nearly impossible to put it into words? Perhaps the first step would be reminding the reader of the gamble being taken by counting on the open-mindedness and maturity of one’s peers to read his story with empathy and respect. It’s often mentioned in our culture how ethnically and socio-economically diverse skateboarding is, but rarely considered is the significant percentage of LGBTQ skaters within our scene—a mostly nameless, faceless crowd of pros, ams, artists, filmers and industry workers who contribute significantly to our culture but still feel uncomfortable or even unsafe being open with who they truly are. But some brave skaters have recently chosen to take the risk of stepping up to share the story of their true identity, and we’re here today to add one more name to that short list. Please let me proudly introduce you to my friend, the real Steve Brandi.
How did you go from being a teenager skating at the Skatepark of Tampa to being in a tour van with Kenny Anderson and the Planet Earth team?
Basically, back then I was at the skatepark a lot and I would always see you and the older guys from the Cigar City video. You eventually invited me to come out skating with you and we got a couple of clips that first day out that ended up in, I think it was Transmission 7, and then from there we started filming together a lot and became good friends. After Static I came out, you were going down to Miami to film a thing with Converse for 411 and you invited me to come along. I remember we were skating at the MLK spot and Kenny had just filmed an incredible line and he sat down afterwards and asked me, “I don’t know what you’d want, but I’d be psyched to put you on Planet Earth. Do you think that’s something you’d be interested in?” And he asked me to send some footage. I was honored, of course, but for some reason I never ended up sending footage. Then months later, Ed Selego called my house and left a message on my parents’ answering machine asking me to ride for Planet Earth. So that’s how I got on.
Damn, I wish you still had that answering-machine tape! So that was your first sponsor. That’s a good start!
Yeah, we did some trips filming for F.O.R.E. and Friends and we did some demos and signings and during the signings little kids would think I was Kenny Anderson for some reason. They’d say, “Are you Kenny Anderson?” and I’d say, “No,” and then they’d be, like, Next and just walk away. It was pretty funny. I didn’t really think about how much of an honor it was at the time, because we were all friends and I was basically just stoked to be able to skate and travel with them. But looking back now, yeah, it was a pretty rad crew that we had.
Floating through the night on a curb-cut-to-curb-cut ollie in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan Photos: Stewart
￼You’re probably the only dude who’s been on trips for every Static video. Did it have an impact on you, traveling with so many different kinds of people from so many different scenes around the world?
Yeah, one of the most memorable trips for me was probably when I was still in high school so it must’ve been during the summer. Jake Rupp and Ed Selego were on the trip and just seeing Jake’s approach at skateboarding and his approach to life opened my eyes to a different way of thinking and living. He was vegan at the time and this was probably about 20 years ago. That had a big influence on me. Everyone who has been in Static has come from different backgrounds and different cultures, which kind of got me hip at a pretty young age to the different ways of life and kind of the way the world worked a little bit. That’s what’s cool about skateboarding: we get to meet people from so many different backgrounds and sometimes, at least for me, if I really like someone’s personality it makes me like their skateboarding a lot more and it can happen in reverse as well.
After Planet Earth disintegrated you were without a sponsor for a pretty long gap. How did you end up on Hopps?
Planet Earth went out of business and I started getting boards from another brand for awhile but that never really went anywhere. I had grown up playing tennis as a kid, but I quit after discovering skateboarding. In 2007 I moved to New York for a job to teach tennis. I was still skating the whole time and after moving here I ended up skating mostly with you and Bobby Puleo. And then we started skating with Jahmal Williams a lot. Jahmal and I clicked as friends and I was into what he was doing with Hopps. We had dinner one night after skating and I remember telling him that I never really thought I’d wanna do the sponsored thing again, but I told him that I believed in what he was doing. It seemed honest and genuine, I liked the artwork and it was run by a true skateboarder. I told him if I ever rode for anything again I would want it to be Hopps and I just left it at that. And then I started buying Hopps decks off his website because I hadn’t been getting boards from anyone for a while. And one day he sent me an email and asked me if I would want to film a little introduction commercial for Hopps. I was super stoked and I was working six days a week at the time so you and I would get out to film one day a week and we finished the part in three weeks. That’s how I got on.
It was a little awkward for Steve to run down into this active kitchen to retrieve his board when he bailed, but capturing this backside 50-50 photo was well worth it
After that welcome-to-Hopps part, you started focusing on Static IV. That video seemed to be a culmination of a lot of different things happening here in NYC at the time and for all of us in our crew. But there was a lot happening for you personally at that time, right?
It was a weird period for me. I was really driven to skate at the time because a lot of things in my own head were bothering me. I was pretty much living a secret life. I’m gay and I was living together with my partner. That was around the time that I knew I needed to change a few things in my life to be happier. I knew I was going to have to put myself in a little bit of an uncomfortable situation in order to be more comfortable. So I started to slowly come out to a few close friends. Some of them were in skateboarding and some of them weren’t. I felt like I wanted to tell all of my friends, tell the people I’ve skated and traveled with and learned from over the years but it was overwhelming for me because we’re all so connected and at that time I wasn’t ready. It wasn’t the kind of thing I wanted my friends to hear through word of mouth from another friend. That’s what really made me feel uncomfortable about it. I decided to tell some of the people that I am around on a daily basis. I told you six years ago, which is insane to think that this process has been going on my whole life and I only just started telling some of my friends six years ago. That was prior to the Static IV video coming out. I told Pat Steiner, Jahmal, Joel Meinholz and a good friend of mine from the tennis world, Nic, as well. Everyone I told was extremely supportive and that sort of helped me build up some confidence and fueled me to tell this story.
It’s crazy to think you were going through all of this while we were filming for that part.
Yeah, the Static IV video was a tough period for me and that’s part of the reason why I chose that song, too. I thought maybe some of my friends that I told in skateboarding might say something and people may be hearing things through the grapevine. So I thought, You know what? This song might mean something to me down the road. It’s like a piece of art in my portfolio as a skater. A video part is sort of like a painting or an art piece to me. You have your tricks and you have your spots. Your spots are your canvas and your tricks are your tools and you put your time and energy into developing the way things are presented and how music goes with the skating. I thought that song fit well but it was also very personal to me.
No-comply pole jam a rare unskated spot in Hell’s Kitchen
If you watch that part today does it bring you back to what you were going through at that time, or do you think it shows in your skating?
I think I was enjoying skating more at that time and from that point forward because I was becoming more at peace with this aspect of my life. But I was still terrified about how to navigate it. I’ve obviously always enjoyed skating, which has always been an escape for me. And I think all of us in a way were outsiders. I mean, when I started skateboarding we were all nerds. I’m still a nerd and I just skate because that’s what I love to do. But now when I look back at that part I enjoy it because I know what I was going through and I know what that part meant to me and I was honored to have a part in the Static series. I’ve been in every one you’ve done and that was apparently the last one in the series.
As teenagers we all felt like we were different. At what point did you feel like you were going through something more than what other teens were going through?
Maybe not everyone who is gay feels this way but I feel that I was born gay. When I was a kid I never got the same feeling when I looked at a woman in comparison to a man. Skaters are far from the type of guys that I’m attracted to, so that was never awkward for me in that manner. But I remember from a very young age thinking Why do I feel this way? There’s this confusion in your head. Society is telling you one thing and you’re feeling so strongly about something else. So I played the role. I dated women. I had a girlfriend in high school and another years later. I was in a relationship with this girl that I cared a lot about but on a physical level it just didn’t feel right. After that I felt like I knew I had to deal with it but I didn’t know where or how to start. I felt like somebody dropped me off in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language, had no currency and I had to figure out how to navigate my way around, build a life for myself and evolve to survive in that new world. It seemed impossible. I took my time, thought it out and I sought therapy, which really helped me. It definitely put some things into perspective for me and I think good things take time. I feel fortunate to be where I am now.
It seems a lot easier to just keep it to yourself. So why do you feel motivated to share it?
In many ways it could possibly be easier to just keep it to myself and there have been many times where I’ve just thought, That’s what I’ll do and I’ll just not continue being a sponsored skateboarder and just skate and avoid dealing with that. I think one thing that motivated me was knowing that if I do keep this to myself it would keep me from being the most truthful to myself that I could be and I want people to know me for who I am and understand that this is just part of my life. It shouldn’t change anything. When I told myself I had to deal with this—I don’t want to say I had to deal with it because I didn’t have to do anything—I told myself I had three options: I could complain and feel sorry for myself, I could just deal with it and not tell anyone or I can try my best to come to terms and be the happiest with it that I possibly can. The last one is the one I went for and I worked hard to do it, and yeah, it’s been a long road but so far it has been nothing but positive and I feel like I’ve grown as a person and that makes me feel good and I think this next step of sharing it with the skateboarding world and all of my friends feels right to me at this time. And maybe if someone picks up this magazine or reads this article online and they can relate to it and better themselves from it in any way, that’s worth it right there to me.
A new addition to one of the most skated spots in Midtown, these planters disappeared only days after Steve threaded the needle with this tailslide/noseslide combo
Why is it important for you to tell people directly, as opposed to someone finding out about it through a rumor or something that you don’t have control over?
I guess it just goes back to the original question you asked. I wanna share my story, but I want to share it with people directly so they don’t just hear it through someone else. It makes me more comfortable telling it in my words. That way it’s kinda like, Here it is; it is what it is; I’m gay. It’ll make me more comfortable knowing that people hear it from me than to show up somewhere and have three people there know this about me and I don’t know that they know.
Some people might say, “It’s 2018. This isn’t even a big deal anymore.”
Yeah, maybe if you’re not gay it may not be a big deal. But, you know, obviously after many years of hearing different slang that’s geared towards homosexuals it takes a toll on you. It made me feel guilty. It made me feel like the way I was feeling was wrong and shameful. I mean, if you read back on old psychology stuff, it wasn’t until 1973 that they took homosexuality off the classification of being a mental disorder. That’s not long ago at all really.
Trying to keep your private life a secret in a suburban city where you can control your environment is one thing, but living in NYC with so many skaters all over the city I imagine it must’ve kept you constantly anxious.
Yeah, I’ve always separated the two. I’ve had two long-term relationships here in NY, and I’m currently in one of them now. I meet up with my friends and I skate and then when it’s time to go home it’s one of those things that can be overwhelming at times. That’s why I wanted to do this interview because I’m more comfortable with it now and I’m tired of having to navigate around everything to keep this concealed. It’s very mentally taxing at times and obviously it’s not fun having to come up with excuses every time. So I often try to skate with Jahmal and the very few friends who know about my gay identity. So hopefully this will make it easier for me to not have to navigate my way around things and I can just be upfront and say, “Hey, you know what? I’m going home. Me and my dude are having dinner.”
After sharing your story with a few friends, what’s it been like not having to keep that side of your life a secret from them anymore?
It’s been more than reassuring who my real friends are and hopefully I’ll find that the other friends who are reading this can understand and we can also have a close relationship as well. My relationships with the people I’ve shared my story with have become closer and stronger and some of them have opened up to me about their own personal issues as well. It’s kinda helped me to gain a bit of momentum to get up to this point. So obviously I really appreciate all of those people who’ve been accepting of it and supportive.
You got to go to the world premiere of Brian Anderson’s Vice piece here in NY. What was that like for you?
That was amazing. The first showing was at The Sunshine Theater in NY. A good friend of mine, Tia, who’s married to Mark Gonzales, is someone who I came out to a while back. She was able to get me, Jahmal and you on the list for that and it was awesome to see all of the support he received. I was extremely happy for him and it was really meaningful for me to be there at the premiere. There were so many things I could relate to on so many different levels. Forrest Kirby is a good friend of mine and he just recently came out as well and that was really inspiring. He doesn’t know I’m gay yet, but now maybe he will. And in the same way they did, I feel the need to share my story and maybe it’ll inspire someone else to share their story to let everyone know that we are still skateboarders. Skaters come from all different backgrounds, ethnicities, religions but also different sexual preferences and hopefully that can be something that will help other people understand that they’re not alone.
Over the years, being in tour vans with dudes using derogatory terms for homosexuals the way a lot of kids do, does that kind of stuff make it harder for someone to want to come out and be themselves?
I only really know my situation. I can’t speak on anyone else’s process. I know that being on skate trips when someone was saying, “That’s gay,” or “That dude’s a fag,” or whatever, it made me start questioning Should I ever share this part of my life with that person?
When you first told me it took me completely by surprise. In hindsight, there were things about you that started to make sense now that I knew what you had been going through, but it was definitely unexpected.
Yeah, there were times that I may have just broken out of a skate session and hopped a train without any explanation because it was easier than telling people where I was going. I don’t think anyone ever guessed I was going home to my boyfriend, but perhaps now some of my behavior will start to make sense to my peers.
I’ve been seeing you struggle with the decision to do this and I know it’s taking a lot of courage so I’m stoked for you that it’s finally happening.
Thanks. Yeah, there’s someone I taught tennis to that has been a big inspiration to me. He’s 68 years old and he’s had leukemia for about 10 years. When I teach tennis in the summer time I teach him every day. When I see him walking onto the court straight from chemotherapy he’s sluggish and exhausted but he’s doing his absolute best to do the thing that makes him happiest in life which is playing tennis and continuing to learn and progress even though he’s battling something incredibly difficult. Seeing him do this was a big inspiration for me because being gay isn’t an illness and seeing him battling this disease and still trying to better himself I felt that I needed to better myself. This is something that could potentially make my life a lot easier, much happier and make my relationships with my friends more genuine and real. So, yeah, I found a lot of courage from his story and our conversations as friends and I think that contributed to my decision to come out. You can always put your situation into perspective and NYC is obviously a very sobering city. You see disadvantaged people on the streets of all walks of life. It makes me feel grateful and it and makes me wonder why I’m hiding my true self. I’m happy and healthy with good friends and a caring partner, so it’s something I should share with people and it’s not something to be ashamed of. If there’s anyone else in a similar position, hopefully my story can help make them feel the same way.
Seems like you’ve gone through a long process but that you’re in a good place with it now. Do you wish you had done this earlier?
No, I don’t regret not doing it earlier at all. It’s been a process, a learning experience and the struggles I’ve had with it have only made me stronger as a person. It took a lot of self-evaluation, personal work and therapy to get to this point, but I wouldn’t trade my sexuality for anything. I feel like it’s made me who I am now and the struggles have made me stronger, I think. But if it wasn’t this struggle it may have been something else. Everyone has some sort of struggle they’re going through. It’s just the way life works and all I can do is try my best to better my life to be happy. And that’s the way I view life, that it’s not about the quantity of life you live but the quality. I’d rather live 75 years happy than live 100 years in the closet.
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