The Skater’s Guide to Girlhood

Skate Kitchen (2018)

illustration by Tom Ralston


  • Use your back foot to move pressure to the back of the board
  • Slide your front foot forward and jump the board
  • This is the basic move to get the skater airborne—the foundation of all tricks

It’s 2018, and I’m still shaky with the foundations. I shift from my masculine default to a sudden jump into the feminine, too sloppily, before I even have time to find my footing. I throw on a dress for a night out alone, or coat my nails in a glittery pink, but I tilt the balance too fast. I bail and duck into a bathroom, feverishly washing off the cheap foundation and concealer I now see as garish under fluorescent lights, their orange tint screaming against my skin tone. I know the balance has been wrong for so long, and yet I’m still having trouble getting myself level and calling myself a girl.

In the opening of Crystal Moselle’s 2018 feature Skate Kitchen, Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) finds herself on similarly uneven ground. At a skatepark by herself, Camille hesitates in front of a stairset, unsure if she can gap it. Egged on by teenage boys, she wipes out on a flip trick, her skateboard bloodily gashing her genitals in the process (“credit-carded,” as another character unpleasantly refers to it later). Her home life is just as turbulent—with her mother seeing her passion for skateboarding as disruptive, something pulling Camille from the “beautiful girl” she could be.

Camille’s life should feel unfamiliar to me. I was never seen as a girl growing up, and all the gendered expectations I faced in adolescence were rooted in masculinity. But even in my earliest watch of Skate Kitchen—when I was still conceptualizing my own gender after the illusion of myself as a cisgender man had first been torn, irrevocably scarred—I saw a kindred depiction of what it means to seek a life outside the bounds of normative gender, right down to the inciting, literal wound Camille endures to her cisfemininity. (It didn’t hurt that, like Camille, I also came from a Long Island upbringing, where the silhouettes of performed boyhood clung at every turn, and found I couldn’t freely explore my own gender until I fled from it entirely.)

On its surface, Skate Kitchen appears to be no more than a standard naturalistic indie coming-of-age film about a girl finding her rightful place through friends who share her fervent love for skating. But there is a subtextual narrative beneath the film’s loose structure: a freeform exploration of identity and belonging. It’s a narrative that becomes instrumental to how I find myself engaging with the film time and time again—in the process of grasping what my gender identity even is, eventually finding certainty in myself, and discovering the people who make me feel seen as I wanted to be seen. Each time I revisit Skate Kitchen, Camille’s arc toward self-expression and community becomes clearer in even the most minute details, with Moselle’s knack for letting small, organic moments speak to what her film says about the intersections of gender, companionship, and skateboarding.

Each sport has its own complicated history and baggage when it comes to gender, but skateboarding occupies an especially unique place in this capacity. The rampant misogyny of skating culture is no secret, reflective of the unspoken boys’ club maintained via harassment and exclusion. To date, there’s never been a female pro skater given the level of exposure or ubiquity afforded to famous men like Tony Hawk. Still, I understand what draws many women to skating in spite of all this: the aesthetics of the sport, and its inherent grunginess, appeal to tomboys and all others who don’t conform to rigid markers of femininity. I was enamored of skating long before I started questioning my gender, but recognizing how butch skaters see themselves in the sport proved vital as I started experimenting with my identity, in spans where small acts of genderfucked expression were more comforting than going full femme.

Skate Kitchen, by extension, acts as a celebration of all the ways non-normative womanhood seeps into the very nature of skateboarding. More than half its core skate crew are Black women, including the outspoken but kindhearted Janay (Dede Lovelace), videographer Ruby (Moonbear), and the androgynous, eyebrow-bleached Indigo (Ajani Russell). Then, there’s Kurt (Nina Moran), the scene-stealing, profane, loud-mouthed, unabashed lesbian of the group—naturally, the one I initially gravitated toward most in my days of identifying as a genderqueer butch.

And though Camille may at first appear to simply be a shy girl looking for female kinship, the film’s greatest subtle reversal of unorthodox womanhood comes in how she’s able to to express her complicated feelings about gender to these new friends. After an explosive falling out with her mother finds her moving in with Janay, Camille looses a vulnerability she kept guarded before—about growing up with only a father figure immediately after her parents’ divorce, and how that seeped into her conflicted feelings toward adolescence. As Moselle lets the camera linger on her nervously fidgeting hands, Camille speaks, more at length than ever before, on how her tumultuous childhood fed into how she saw her own gender:

Once I turned 11, I started…changing…physically. I used to stand in front of the mirror and punch myself in the chest, because I didn’t…want to grow breasts. It was horrifying ‘cause I was always, you know, dressing in boys’ clothes and playing football and hanging out with my dad. And when I noticed that I wasn’t going to be like that forever and that I was growing up, it was super embarrassing because he didn’t…he didn’t notice, he didn’t understand.`

It’s 2018, and I live with the gnawing feeling that my chest will never change the way I want it to. My unnameable discomfort in my body keeps growing louder, until it becomes impossible to ignore. And though I desperately wish I could change it, I am still frozen in place—too afraid of regretting the lasting effects of any choice, even as I beat myself up with every second of indecision that passes me by. Camille’s words cut right through me, her frustrations with her changing body echoing the dysphoria I feel about my testosterone-fueled puberty, and the adolescent girlhood I grieve never living. I’m even more struck when I learn that this monologue, like much of the film’s dialogue, is improvised, “coming from real stories” and Vinberg’s own desire to open up about her life.

As Camille trails off, talking about how she chose to cope by living exclusively with her mother instead, the film cuts back to her hand. Janay is now holding onto it, comforting Camille. In this burgeoning friendship, Camille can finally give voice to the thoughts that silently plagued her for so long, and be heard in return—the way only a girl who shares your place as an outsider can.



  • With your back foot in the ollie position, put your front foot behind the front truck bolts
  • Jump the board and slide your front foot to flip the board
  • Builds from the foundations of the ollie for a complication of the basics

The first time she skates with the Skate Kitchen crew, Camille moves like she’s flying. Moselle, selectively, renders the image in slow-motion, so Camille appears as if all the burdens of her life before these girls came along are stripped away in an instant.

Moselle takes great care in this earliest montage of the girls bonding, set to Junior Senior’s “Move Your Feet” spilling out of a streetside boombox, to emphasize the free-spirited joy they find in each other’s company above all else. Notably for a film all about skateboarding, this sequence doesn’t feature the cast doing many skate tricks at all—Kurt does a DIY drop-in from the top of a trash bin, but otherwise, all the group do is push off through the Lower East Side’s traffic. What matters here isn’t the act of skating itself, but what it represents—the ways it pulls these women together, beyond any flaunting of skill or showboating. This is the peace of mind Camille has been looking for: the ability to share in who she is with others like her, unfettered, free.


It’s no accident that what upends the status quo of Skate Kitchen—the plot complication that threatens Camille’s newfound sense of peace—arrives mere moments after she lets her guard down to Janay. In the very next scene, a clash with a crew of boys at the skatepark introduces Devon (Jaden Smith). His presence, soon to be all the more prominent in the narrative, is controversial for many viewers, his interruption of the crew’s tight-knit bonds the most common point of criticism. But this contentious element of the film is also the most crucial aspect of Skate Kitchen’s core nuances.

For the rest of the film, Camille becomes torn between the girls in Skate Kitchen and the unexplainable pull she feels toward Devon, a new masculine figure in her life. With her preceding monologue in such close proximity, the connection between Camille’s adolescent uncertainty with gender and her desire to seek the male influence she’s felt deprived of becomes all the more obvious.

This shift is so rigorously implemented in Skate Kitchen’s structure that even the film’s editing subtly reconfigures itself across the runtime. In the opening scenes, modest close-ups of Camille around her mother mimic the claustrophobic pressure she feels in this setting, but the continuity of shots is always relatively linear. Contrast this with later scenes after Devon enters the picture: in one sequence, the film cuts back and forth between conversations Camille has with Janay and Devon about the other—Camille’s perspective literally split between the female and male influences in her life.

As the film grows progressively less tethered to either gendered side of Camille’s social life, it evokes a different element of figuring out my trans identity: the exploration stage, in all its messiness and chaos and questioning. In the near-decade I spend calling myself trans, I move from an apathetic outlook toward gender entirely, to arduous attempts to present androgynously, to reticent claims to a sense of femininity while insisting on my genderqueerness, to shirking all pretense and giving myself the victory of seeing myself as a girl without hesitation. At different times, I feel varying pulls toward different people in my life—the balance between masculine and feminine vacillating until my absolute identification with womanhood instills in me a deep desire to find the kinds of female friendships I was never afforded in my youth.

It’s 2019, and, like Camille, my own process of navigating my gender sometimes alienates those close to me as I veer from the life and personality they knew me by first. Where Camille begins flaking on an injured Janay to spend more time with Devon, I find myself drifting away from the male friends I made in my self-closeted days, gathering instead with trans community of all ilk. When pre-HRT impostor syndrome about my own transness strikes, I bolt from these newfound companions entirely, only to find myself socially marooned from those I lost touch with in the interim.

When Camille’s conflict comes to a head—when her crew finds out about how much time she’s been spending with Devon and kick her out, and her subsequent attempts to completely commit herself to Devon’s boys’ club prove too much for her to bear—she becomes similarly stranded, untethered from either gendered sphere in her life. For a girl who begins her journey of discovery alone, this hurts all the more—a return to the isolation, with the added sting of loss, knowing the serenity of self that slipped from your grasp.


Before Camille breaks away from the boys, however, Moselle gives her a moment of unabashed belonging, pointedly calling back to her first skate montage with the girls. In a sequence set against Khalid’s “Young Dumb & Broke,” Camille spends a night skating around Midtown with Devon’s crew—this time, with the focus squarely on the tricks themselves rather than the dynamics of the people involved (save Camille’s fixation on Devon). In the quick cuts from the boys’ manuals and stair gaps, Moselle depicts an entirely different visual language of the potential bonds at the core of skateboarding, and what Camille takes from this group that she can’t with the girls. Where the girls’ time spent together transcends the sport they share, the men bond through the masculine posturing that defines their time skating, one-upping each other in the flashy tricks they pull off. After hearing Camille describe the boyish side of herself that she felt deprived of for so long, seeing her revel in fleeting moments like these is like witnessing her unlock a key piece of herself, long dormant, waiting all this time to emerge and make her whole.


360 Flip

  • Position your feet toward the back of the board
  • Pop and scoop the board with the back foot
  • A more advanced trick, combining elements of a kickflip and a 360 pop shuvit—pulling from both to make something all its own

My lifelong fascination with skateboarding is, itself, built on the shakiest foundation of all. When I try to recall what the first definitive spark was—renting Nintendo 64 cartridges of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater from the local Blockbuster, or idly watching reruns of Rocket Power, or any number of turn-of-the-millennium family comedies that expressed the inarguable coolness of its preteen lead by making them skateboard around town—my memories only seem to get cloudier. Whatever it was, I couldn’t shake the mental image of myself as a skater after it first formed, and I couldn’t shake the vague feeling that my sense of self would find shape in this hobby alone.

It’s 2002. I’m eight years old. I convince my parents I need to pick up a skateboard on our next Toys “R” Us trip—it has to be the coolest one I can fathom: the one adorned with a Pokémon-themed deck on the underside. As soon as we get home, I don’t put the wait off any longer. I put on my pads and helmet, and take the board onto our quiet suburban street. But it quickly becomes the common pitfall of childish idealism: the frustration with not being instantly perfect at something new. It doesn’t take long before I realize all I can do on the board is push off, fearing my wobbly stance will send me crashing into the pavement, and I give up in a matter of minutes, for the rest of my life. I stash the board into the recesses of our garage—for all I know, maybe it’s still there, two decades later.

I’ve never lost sight of that irony—being a girl with no skateboarding experience enamored of the sport all the same. It’s a harmless fixation to have from this distance, but the persistence I’ve felt in that fixation only gets more pronounced. At times, I’ve wondered if my appreciation for skateboarding with this remove is just respectful admiration, or makes me a tourist in a sport I may never dig further into. Try as I might, sometimes the place I see myself most in Skate Kitchen is Kurt’s joking deadpan response to a man mockingly asking if she can do an ollie: “No, bro, I’m a poser.”

Regardless of how little I’ve actually skated, or whether skating is even in my future, there’s something to be said about the act of looking, and adopting pieces of yourself even from afar. There’s the aesthetic appeal, the ways I still unconsciously take the butch elements of skater attire into my everyday wardrobe—no longer because I want to look androgynous, but because I find power in the non-normative femininity it represents. There’s my longstanding affinity for skating media—the familiar comfort that makes skateboarding feel like it’s always been a piece of who I am, no matter how I see myself in the moment. And then there’s the question of what that consistent interest in skating means: what does it say that, for as much as my gender identity and interests have changed over decades, skating has been this lifelong constant, something that I could see as a reflection of both my masculine adolescence and my drift toward the feminine in adulthood? Maybe skateboarding is no less important to me than it is to an actual skater. The unshakable attachment is there, even if I’ve only ever spent mere minutes on a board.


One of Skate Kitchen’s most curious elements, even on rewatch, is its lack of denouement. In the midst of repairing her relationship with her mom, Camille sends a short, unspecific, apologetic Instagram DM to the crew. She sits back against her bed and waits, the ambient score swelling. Then, in the matter of a cut, she’s back on the streets of NYC with the Skate Kitchen crew, pushing off through traffic like they did on their first day together. The sun is lower in the sky, and the camera captures the girls in a dreamier haze than before. Critically, the Skate Kitchen now has a few boys in tow, a deviation from the all-girls configuration from the first time they took to the streets—an implicit sign that Camille’s place was never fully at either gendered extreme, a tell about her comfort in borrowing from both influences for her own form of womanhood. No words are said, no moment of reconciliation is shown between Camille and the rest. They simply skate, and the film cuts to credits.

Moselle’s deliberate excision here is her boldest tactic of all: true to the film’s hangout energy without shoehorning a melodramatic resolution, but making the last words the girls share those in their falling out with Camille, rather than any of the camaraderie on which the movie thrives. Yet, this embodies a kind of careful trust Moselle places in the viewer by the film’s conclusion, a tacit understanding that she and anyone watching have from spending time with these women: that they can’t stay apart from one another forever—not when they’re the people who understand each other best of all, not when they’re the people who help Camille best know herself. In this crew’s company, skating on the city streets, Camille pitches her head back, and lets the presence of these girls carry her, soaring to where she most belongs.


It’s 2023, and I’m contemplating picking up a skateboard again for the first time in 20 years. I scan Instagram videos of girl skate crews on my phone late at night, like Camille in the early spans of Skate Kitchen, longing to find others like her. Something deep within me feels a greater pull beyond simply living a skater’s life vicariously—beyond the skateboarding films and videos I watch, or my endless hours playing Skate 3 or any number of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games. In a way, this too is only the natural progression of how skateboarding has been like transness for me—there’s only so long I can sit at the sidelines, fixating and passively wishing to be something I’m not, before I recognize that I need to just take it for myself. I find myself scoping out nearby skateparks around my city, and stumble onto a local queer skating group, one that openly states their concerted effort to center trans skaters. For now, I’m looking at all this from afar. But maybe someday soon, the pull will be too great to ignore. Maybe there’s a crew out there waiting for me, ready to welcome me into the fold as one of their own. Maybe they’ll teach me more about the girl I’ve always wanted to be.