“I think there is a certain type of person attracted to [rollerskating],” said the founder of the brand GNDR SHREDR, Alex Gray. They reflected on their initial impressions of the Portland, OR rollerskate community saying, “I got the sense that we were all on the same page. Everyone was cognizant about the societal issues I find important. I really have never met somebody [who rollerskates] that I didn’t think I could get along with.”

Alex Gray chilling at the skate park wearing a tie-dye GNDR SHREDR shirt. They have their hand on top of their helmet with a scrunched up smile.

Community is perhaps the last thing Gray expected to find when they first picked up a pair of skates. “I was still in college [at St. Edward’s] getting my bachelor’s in [Graphic Design], when the pandemic hit in 2020, and I had been looking for a new physical activity. Obviously I was looking for something I could do by myself. I went to the [rollerskating] rink when I was a kid two or three times. It was always a really fun, special activity. [So], I got a really cheap pair of skates and started skating at the tennis courts in my apartment complex and just never stopped,” they smiled. “It’s so fun being on wheels, it feels like you’re on a rollercoaster.”

After finding their feet in the flat terrain of the courts, Gray was ready to select what branch of the rollerskating skill tree they wanted to pursue: park or jam skating.

For those unfamiliar, jam skating is what comes to mind when picturing disco roller rinks blasting those groovy 70’s tunes, stylish suede, and fancy footwork on wheels.

“I’m not coordinated enough for jam skating,” laughed Gray. “I’m kind of a clumsy person, but I’ve always been an adrenaline junkie.”

So the choice was clear.

Flying down ramps, launching themself off jumps, Gray dropped into park skating with zero fear. Well, almost zero. While Gray would happily throw themself into the concrete park, conversations with strangers was a different story.

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“It was honestly scary at first, because I do have social anxiety,” they explained. “I would find spots that were small and go at weird times.”

Alex Gray getting intense in the park.

But as they pushed themself and found confidence in skating, it became easier for Gray to push back against their anxiety and do the unthinkable: strike up small talk.

It turned out folks at the skatepark were pretty dang nice. Connecting with their first skate friend at a ramp in Austin, TX Gray’s friendship sphere snowballed in size when they decided to attend said friend’s morning skate meetup. “I just decided to push myself and go chat with people there,” said Gray. “I really clicked with [that group]. It was so fun!”

When it was time for Gray to move from Austin to Portland for work, they were sad to leave that skate community behind. Thankfully, that intrinsic sense of camaraderie crossed state lines with Gray, and they quickly found a home in the PDX skate community.

“I think there are less roller skaters in Portland,” said Gray, comparing the two skate scenes. “But I think Austin is a little more spread out. When there’s only a couple places you can meet up for seven months of the year [because of the rainy weather in the Pacific Northwest], there’s going to be a tighter collective.”

At Stronger Skatepark, an all-together indoor park within the Portland metro area, Gray found an inclusive community that welcomed them to the city with open arms.

The same could not be said about their job.

“The real estate brokerage I started at was the opposite of the community I was finding at Stronger Skatepark,” sighed Gray. “It was like going back to high school. I was working as a designer, but it’s a corporation, so I was basically a glorified cut and paste person. I was printing things, filling out templates, and doing the dishes of these brokers who couldn’t even use my pronouns.”

Gray was stuck between two different lives. One, a world of wheels that embraced them as a whole, celebrating them not just for their skating, but for their transness and all their lovely queerness. The other, a place where respect was nonexistent and creativity was checked at the door.

It was, to put it lightly, soul sucking. But even in the most desolate conditions, a seed of trans joy began to grow within Gray.

Alex Gray and friend laying in green grass wearing GNDR SHREDR shirts.

“Whenever I had down time, I started coming up with the concept of GNDR SHREDR,” said Gray. “At the time my purpose was to create a concept brand for my portfolio. I started asking myself, what do I want to see out in the world? What messages would I want other people to see on me? How would I, as a middle schooler, respond to seeing this in the world?”

Gray soon became attached to the idea. At the same time, the pile of microaggressions tossed at Gray during their work day just kept growing. The weight became heavier and heavier, until one day, it finally overwhelmed them. So they quit.

Casting themself adrift in uncertainty, the one thing keeping Gray anchored was GNDR SHREDR. From puzzling through how to put together a website, to shooting product photos for the first time, Gray relished in the creative problem solving they’d lacked at their day job. Of course, their favorite part of piecing together the brand was the art.

“I’m trying to create a piece of wearable art, not just a message that I print onto a shirt. That’s the challenge I set for myself as an artist and designer. Thinking of my influences, I like comics, abstract [works], and grungy textures. I’m always experimenting. Once I have a message that I want to convey, I think about how I can push myself to best convey it in terms of the craft,” they paused for a moment and then laughed. “That sounds super pretentious.”

With the strengths and limitations of screen printing as their guide, Gray worked to create compelling and unmistakably queer pieces. Finally, in Spring of 2022, GNDR SHREDR launched.

“It surprised me,” laughed Gray. “The positive community reaction to [GNDR SHREDR]. I’ve met so many cool, nice, and interesting people that have heard of my work.”

Filled with loud and proud queer messaging with a roller skating twist, GNDR SHREDR captured the inclusivity Gray experienced in both the Austin and Portland skate communities. This commonality, they soon discovered, goes beyond these two cities, and is shared by every person who chooses to strap wheels to their feet.

Now GNDR SHREDR has a skate team made up of athletes across the United States, from Afton in Richmond, VA to Charlie in Indianapolis, IN, and of course plenty of local Portland skaters. “[Having a skate team] was not something I planned to do in the beginning. [But when I started organizing it] I wanted to create a skate team that was different,” explained Gray. “It was important to me to have all queer skaters, but that was always going to be a given. It was really important to me to put together a skate team of people that are all different levels. I wanted nice people. People that have something to say. People who have a connection to the sport regardless of how they skate.”

Along with building a transcontinental skate community, Gray works to empower and connect with local skaters through their new event, Half Cab Queer Market. “I started going to other people’s queer markets. I was in love with the idea of all queer vendors, it just feels so good to be surrounded by your community,” they said. “Stronger has this amazing indoor space and I thought ‘we can bring a market to Milwaukee, OR and have it specifically be for queer skaters’.”

Those markets are Gray’s primary focus moving into the next year. With each iteration they hope to grow and improve, eventually making the market a monthly staple of the PDX skate community. Gray also shared, “For the past nine months I’ve been conceptualizing free screen printing classes. I really want to be able to share this trade with people who don’t have the money to take classes or buy the equipment. I want to share the fun!”

Of course, when Gray isn’t working a shift at Stronger Skatepark or making new designs for GNDR SHREDR, you can still find them at the park, launching themself down a ramp. One recent win is that after “working on 50-50s for literally a year”, Gray finally locked in the move. The solution? Smaller wheels.

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Alex Gray sitting at park with knee pads and rollerskates.

Beyond creating art and community, Gray has brought something immeasurable into the world through GNDR SHREDR. They’ve opened not one, but hundreds of gateways for queer folks to enter the roller skating community. A single shirt at the park signals to the apprehensive potential queer skater that they will be safe there. Gray’s art is a visual representation to outsiders of the loving and welcoming community of roller skating.

All it takes is one simple message:

“trans joy”

“protect trans kids”

“queer skaters belong here”

For a young queer skater, that t-shirt might just make talking to a stranger at the skate park a little less scary. And who knows, they might even make a friend.

“GNDR SHREDR is a feeling,” Gray explained. “I screen print t-shirts, I make designs, but it really is about seeing yourself reflected in the community. Showing up loud as yourself and taking up space in the skate park.”

ALEX FIG is the founder of Butter Mag, an online magazine that strives to highlight women and queer folks that you're reading right now. A casual outdoorist, she enjoys climbing, surfing, skiing, and skateboarding when she isn't reading.

ALEX FIG is the founder of Butter Mag, an online magazine that strives to highlight women and queer folks that you're reading right now. A casual outdoorist, she enjoys climbing, surfing, skiing, and skateboarding when she isn't reading.




IG @gndrshredr



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