‘Keep on Board’: New Netflix Doc Exhibits Journey of Trans Skateboarder

Since quitting the 2020 U.S. Olympic workforce and stepping away from aggressive skateboarding, Leo Baker has had no regrets. “I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life, past what I might have ever even imagined,” he says, talking on a sizzling August day by Zoom from his Brooklyn condominium. He’s sporting a black tank high, exposing tattoos on his chest and arms, and his side-parted blonde hair has simply the correct amount of bounce to think of one other Leo’s beloved Nineties type. “Purging all of the stuff that was not working for me, like quitting the Olympics and eliminating all these items that was not ‘it,’ created a clearing for issues which are it or may very well be it.”

After rising to fame as a baby skater on the competitors scene, Baker was thought-about a positive factor for the game’s debut on the 2020 Tokyo video games. However he felt deep ambivalence. A brand new documentary, Keep On Board: The Leo Baker Story, which premiered on the Outfest movie pageant final month and begins streaming Aug. 11 on Netflix, captures his misgivings: Along with feeling disillusioned by the rigidity of the principles and laws of the trials main as much as the occasion — a course of Baker repeatedly describes as “bleak” — he was additionally rising bored with being categorized as a feminine skater after he had already begun utilizing he/him pronouns in his non-public life. Baker got here out as trans-masculine in late 2019, and in early 2020, he stop Crew USA..

Now 30, he’s sponsored by Nike and skates for his personal queer-centric skate firm Glue, which he runs along with his enterprise associate and fellow skater Stephen Ostrowski. “We take our workforce on journeys and do issues that we have been by no means capable of do as a result of there was not area for trans queer folks to be in skating in that manner,” he says. “We’re dwelling our childhood desires of occurring skate journeys, filming, hanging out with our workforce and being round folks which are queer or are down for us.” 

A guitar participant since 14, Baker can also be beginning to nurture a music profession when he isn’t skating. His music “Maintain Me Til We’re Dwelling” performs on the finish of the documentary. “That’s my first music ever to return out, and it’s beneath the artist Leo Popstar,” he says. “I simply assume that’s such a ridiculously humorous title for the music. I’m like, nobody’s taking this critically. Please don’t.” Baker will launch an EP this fall known as Crying All of the Time

Regardless of his prominence within the business, Baker has currently been taking time for himself. “I like to do issues alone,” he says. “I write music. I’m going to the health club. I wish to really feel nameless, nearly not there in any respect. Particularly now, as a result of I’ve been studying a lot Buddhist literature, I’m like, the much less of me there may be the happier I’m. So I’m simply going to be quiet in my room, and I’m going to speak to the folks I like, and possibly I’ll see someone for dinner.” 

Baker spoke with Rolling Stone concerning the new documentary, his method to music, and life after quitting the Olympics.

While you first began making the documentary, have been the filmmakers anticipating to inform the story of you going to the Olympics? I’m simply questioning how large a change it was while you determined to not go.

They positively pitched this as like, trans, non-binary athlete going to the Olympics, and Netflix purchased that story. So yeah, the plot twist was tremendous genuine and actually sudden. I dropped out of the Olympics in February. Then, in March, the pandemic occurred, and the Olympics have been postponed one other yr, and I used to be like, “Thank God I’m not doing that.” The timing of every part was simply actually attention-grabbing. It wasn’t a matter of, oh, no, the Olympics are postponed so now I’m gonna stop. It was like, I stop, after which it was postponed, after which I used to be like, nice. Don’t care.

You spoke within the documentary about realizing from a younger age that you simply have been a boy, however that getting misplaced in your branding, as this “lady skater.” Might you inform me extra about how rising to prominence within the skate world on this gendered manner affected you?

The truth that my complete profession was contingent upon my gender was actually unusual. I’ve recollections of being tremendous younger and telling those that I’m a boy. After which as issues began to progress with skating… I received my first sponsor at 10, and folks have been like, oh my god, this “lady skater” is wonderful. And I simply didn’t even take into consideration being trans in any respect, mainly, from age 10 to love, once I was like, 20. After which I [realized], ohhh, that’s nonetheless a factor. Ah, fuck! Shit! Now what am I gonna do? Clearly, that prompted lots of turbulence for me, as a result of [for a long time] I used to be like, effectively, that’s by no means gonna occur. I simply began transitioning at like, 29. And all people’s like, ‘Oh, you’re such a rad lady skater.’ And I’m like, “I’ve received some information for you.”

I believed the doc captured some moments like that basically effectively: Just like the coach at your former highschool congratulating you and saying you’re such a star feminine athlete. And also you simply kind of regarded like, “Oh no. What do I do?” 

I’m so glad they put that in there. As a result of that basically depicted what it’s like when that occurs. I used to get known as ma’am on the telephone, after which I used to be like, I’m simply gonna go up on my T dose, as a result of I simply can’t cope with this. And now, none of these issues occur. So in current instances, I’ve turn into much more passing, which — that in itself is problematic, proper? As a result of we’re speaking like there’s a particular manner it’s a must to be if you wish to be a man, and it’s like, none of that applies. However yeah, passing as he/him, it’s taking place extra now, so I haven’t been dealing a lot with being misgendered as of late, in order that’s good. 

Was there a turning level? Within the documentary, your girlfriend on the time requested you about your pronouns and it appeared like that gave you the area to think about it, maybe for the primary time.

Yeah, assembly Mel was tremendous useful. Within the relationship I used to be in earlier to that it was like, the alternative. I didn’t discuss this relationship in any respect within the documentary, however this specific individual had dated different trans folks and had dangerous experiences with them and had lots of trauma round it. So once I would discuss it along with her, she would get tremendous, like, unhinged about it. So I used to be like, OK, cool, I simply gained’t discuss it with you. Then once I received out of that relationship, I met Mel, and Mel requested these questions. Then all of it simply got here out. And I used to be like, rattling, I’ve actually received to cope with this. After which, having that come up, and having freedom to discover led to essentially intense despair, simply because I’m just like the fucking mountain I’ve to climb to love, get to the place I must go is just too large.

There was a scene within the documentary the place the interviewer requested if you happen to have been frightened about backlash if you happen to got here out, and also you simply stepped away from the digital camera. What have been you feeling in that second? 

Yeah, it was simply every part. I used to be simply considering like, fuck, I’ve to return out. Meaning a reputation change. After which from the attitude of it being public in my world of skating, that half was probably the most overwhelming. As a result of I had already skilled feeling there was no area for me. I had already gotten [ backlash] simply by having my complete dyke period. Individuals have been like, you’re not cute or fuckable, so that you’re not going to get a sponsor. After which I stored pushing by way of. And now it’s like, I’ve to do this once more. I don’t need to do this once more, however I’m gonna need to. So for all of these ideas to return up without delay as a twister in my mind once I’m getting requested that query it’s like, unfathomable to even begin to discuss it. So I’m like, I’ll simply stroll away. [laughs] It’s gonna be simpler. I’m gonna select not this.

You got here out publicly in an Instagram put up in Oct. 2019, the place you requested folks to name you by the pronouns he/him or they/them. What led you to that second? 

I don’t know precisely what led me to that second. Having a cut up life is so exhausting. After which it simply results in extra splits, as a result of it’s like, once I’m this individual, there’s all of these items I’ve to do, and it’s simply this complete factor. I needed to convey it again collectively. I used to be like, I simply don’t care anymore. I can’t preserve doing this. Individuals must cease calling me she/her. As a result of it fucking feels horrible. So please respect my pronouns.

The doc portrayed the Olympic trials, you looking for high surgical procedure, and the Covid-19 pandemic all colliding. Might you speak a bit bit about how all these skilled performed off of one another? 

Yeah, it was an ideal storm. I had been making an attempt to get high surgical procedure for years, and it was simply not one thing I might do due to competing. However then [when the pandemic began] I used to be like, I don’t need to be wherever besides residence, and that’s the right state of affairs for what I used to be going by way of. Main as much as it, the years and years of making an attempt to determine when it’s going to make sense, getting a session, however then, fuck — I’m touring. Within the doc, it exhibits me asking for 2 appointments, as a result of I’m like, one has to work. After which a contest got here up and the appointment really was the day earlier than I needed to fly out. I used to be like, thank God. It was simply worlds clashing, like, I can’t do each; I’m gonna have to decide on. Additionally I don’t actually care about competitions in any respect, and I by no means actually have. It’s enjoyable to see my mates there, which is why I preferred doing it earlier than. However now that it’s hyper-competitive due to the Olympics, I’m like, that is so bleak. I’m tremendous bored. I don’t need to come right here. So it was an apparent no-brainer. If I’ve the choice to not do that, that’s going to be what I select.

Are you finished with competitions perpetually?

The Olympics was the most important factor. I imply, there can be different competitions that aren’t associated to that, that can most likely be extra enjoyable because of how bleak that aspect of it’s. However I imply, folks nonetheless are on my Instagram like, ‘Properly, who’re you? How are you going to be competing now? Boys or ladies?’ I really simply had a state of affairs the place I used to be going to do that video competitors. I had filmed clips for it, submitted my stuff on time, however the firm that was placing the competitors on couldn’t legally get the language to be like, males, ladies and non-binary, despite the fact that there was a class for trans and non-binary. I’d have needed to signal a doc as a girl. So I pulled out, as a result of it was like, I don’t want one other fucking goal on my again. These individuals are ruthless. It’s an enormous sacrifice as a result of I had the potential to win a very good sum of cash, nevertheless it’s not value folks coming for me about like, being someone who’s on T skateboarding in a contest with cis ladies. No sum of money is value the best way folks would deal with me if I did that. I’m bored with being the instance. No extra guinea pig. No extra envelope pushing for me. Like, thanks all for exhibiting up, however I’m gonna be in my room. So yeah, the competitors factor is fucking chaotic nonetheless.

As a author for a publication that’s coated you up to now, I’m curious, is it unusual to have a lot protection of you on the market from while you have been so younger and in addition from earlier than you got here out? 

Yeah, it’s weird for positive. I didn’t know the burden of what I used to be doing at that age, placing out movies of my coming-of-age years, the place I’m growing tastes in garments and having phases and a few stuff is basically fucking bizarre and embarrassing, and it’s all simply on the market, and I’m like, oh my god, can everybody delete something they’ve ever posted of me pre-2020, please. I’m solely simply now self-actualized within the final 4 months, most likely, the place I’ve reached an enormous stage of being at peace lastly, and for all of my life main as much as that to be documented not directly is a wild expertise. 

What’s your music about? What conjures up your songwriting?

Oh my god, it’s extra of me simply pouring my coronary heart out. I simply can’t cease doing it, apparently. I’ve all the time been tremendous drawn to love actually unhappy music. Sufjan Stevens is likely one of the finest. There’s Novo Amor, who I’ve found just lately, who, Oh my God — it makes me dissolve once I hearken to it. Additionally Amber Run, James Blake. There’s a music by Fionn Regan known as “Dogwood Blossom” that is rather like, the very best music ever. I all the time discover it actually comforting to hearken to [that kind of music], and so naturally that’s what began popping out. There’s songs popping out about like, household stuff and my relationships and it’s all emotions. Simply being tremendous emotional. I actually love love songs. 

Have you ever heard so much from different trans folks within the skate neighborhood since popping out?

Yeah, so many. There wasn’t an individual earlier than me, in my particular world, who carved a path for trans folks, though clearly, there have been centuries of trans folks carving paths for future generations. I’m not the hero, however in my world, folks inform me, “due to you, I can now exist on this world, too, and really feel comfy doing it.” It appears like lots of weight, however not in a nasty manner. It’s identical to, that’s intense. After which if you happen to zoom out, it’s like, it’s solely as a result of the world is so unaccepting of trans those that that is vital. However really, being trans shouldn’t be probably the most attention-grabbing half about my persona. I’ve been having lots of conversations about this with folks. The factor is, I don’t need to hang around on a regular basis in queer areas and discuss how I’m queer and the methods issues are mistaken for us and what we have to do to repair it. Like, I need to simply have a joyful fucking day and play music and never, be afraid to go exterior or use the toilet. I don’t want to speak about being fucking trans on a regular basis, nevertheless it appears like such a spectacle generally. So it’s an attention-grabbing paradox. Persons are like, you’re actually essential. And I’m like, am I? It’s simply attention-grabbing.

There are few industries extra entrenched within the gender binary than athletics, which skating has been pulled into. How would you wish to see the skate world change sooner or later for trans, queer, and non binary youngsters?

There’s a few issues. The very first thing is, whether or not it’s trans youngsters in additional conventional sports activities or one thing like skating, I’m not saying I’ve the precise reply [to what this should look like], however let the fucking youngsters play. Who provides a shit? Nothing issues. We’re floating on a rock in area. Cease tripping. After which the opposite factor is, I’m hoping that by creating Glue, — and Jeff Cheung, the proprietor of There Skateboards additionally has a queer-centric skate factor in Oakland — I’m simply hoping that the extra momentum there may be for us, the extra folks will resolve to begin one thing, after which there’s a queer skate business the place the folks on the gates usually are not straight white cis hets. It could simply be cool to see like, multiple trans individual being profitable at one thing, and to see extra examples of how one can be trans and reside a dope life. It doesn’t need to be all fucked up on a regular basis due to the truth that you’re trans. There’s going to be extra struggling inherently due to the best way the world is, nevertheless it doesn’t all need to suck. So that’s actually what I hope to see occur in skating and in addition within the fucking world. We have to diversify the folks on the high in order that the folks beneath might be seen.