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Interview: Mia Roberts


Interview by Alice Smith

Photography by Rob Whiston & Stephen King

 

Hey Mia! I hope you’re doing well. Could you introduce yourself?

My name is Mia; I’m (laughs) 29, maybe 28... late twenties (laughs). I’m from North Wales.

 

You grew up skating in Holyhead and Bangor; how did you find it growing up skating in North Wales?

I grew up in Holyhead. There wasn’t much to skate when I was growing up; there was this one busted metal skatepark. The floor was worn to gravel, and we spent most of the time trying to learn flips out of a kicker that stuck out of the floor. Eventually I started venturing to Caernarfon and Bangor. I met Yannick (Hammer), Mikey (Griffith), Sion (Tunicliffe), Dafydd (Williams), Jasper (Clough), Rob (Parsonson) and Dion (Keenaghan). They were all part of the scene I grew up skating in.

 

Your skating style is so gnarly; I’ve seen so many clips of you tearing that pink bowl in Bangor to pieces. Do you feel like your skating has been shaped by the nature of a lot of the spots you encounter in North Wales?

When I started skating, the scene was different. People mostly skated street as there wasn’t much else. A lot of people from that group became involved in the drug and party scene, myself included. Skating became less frequent and drinking became more recurrent. But people like Rob, Jasper and Yannick were always skating. I love Yannick as he skates the weirdest and roughest obstacles he possibly can. Rob has been an integral part of the scene since way before my time. He worked really hard to get Bangor bowl constructed, and got a bowl built in his back garden. That really changed skating; everyone started learning to skate bowls. Jasper has been skating hard throughout it all. We grew closer when I sobered up as I wasn’t the most pleasant to be around when drinking for somebody hyped to have a session. The spots in North Wales have greatly contributed to my own skating, although it’s the people in the scene that have shaped the way I skate the most.

 

Bridging the 4,797 mile gap between The Lone Star State and Sheffield with a golden hour Texas plant. Photo: Rob.


I noticed that you recently did some work for Clown Skateboards. Do you want to talk about that, and your art more broadly?

Jeff (Boardman) and I had a conversation about my work and how we could collaborate. This culminated into me creating a board design, in which I took elements of a previous piece of my work and redeveloped them. The idea was to give the profits to workshops for trans and LGBTQIA+ people. With my art, I get different pieces of imagery that are meaningful to me and piece them together. This makes an amalgamated image that tries to convey personal emotional thoughts, witnessed scenarios and events, while creating an image that people can apply their own narrative to. These tend to be large-scale woodcarvings, sometimes digital. With my last piece of work, I went to see my nan before she passed away and helped her get off the floor when she fell out of the bed. It was a really strange emotion, to have this strong matriarchal figure be in a place of vulnerability. The piece was not related to my nan, but the positioning and imagery left from that emotional moment influenced the positioning of the character in my art. 

 

So, although this is niche and personal to your lived experience, it still invites other people to create their own associations with your art?

Yeah. I don’t really know how to express events or experiences in any other way, and so I would rather them manifest in nondescript aspects of a piece.

 

You’re also involved in building DIY skateparks; to you, what is the main appeal of being involved in DIY builds?

I’ve helped people on a few different projects, and it’s always nice to skate something that you’ve helped build. It’s great to see how other people approach it. It also can bring together the community. I kind of got a bug for doing it from a friend who passed away, Dan D88 (Daniel George Williams). He got me hyped to build; he made it such a laugh. Since he’s passed, it’s felt nice to be more involved and feel that excitement for building from Jasper, Yannick, Rob and the community at large. It’s also something that even if it doesn’t last, it’s still really satisfying to do.

 

You don't see too many flip tricks at New Bird, for obvious reasons. Mia goes against the Liverpool grain with a 360 flip to fakie. Photo: Kingy.


You mentioned that you struggled with your mental health a few years ago. Do you want to talk about that?

When I was first skating, there was a lot of partying going on. I was still closeted back then and wasn’t very happy as a person, so my dependency on alcohol for happiness increased as the skating decreased. It culminated with me being severely depressed and trying to be overtly masculine to combat feelings within myself that I didn’t understand. I shaved my head, got into fights, got pissed all the time. I got more and more unhappy and didn’t know why. It got to a point where I was taking everything possible, numbing myself. I started having paranoid delusions about people knowing I was closeted. I then ended up losing where I was living and slept in train station bathrooms, and just didn’t want to live anymore. There was one Christmas Eve where, instead of going home, I went out on a bender and was sleeping in the train station toilet and made a plan to jump off an oil rig stack docked in the harbour. Luckily, some of the people that I grew up with in Holyhead saw me and convinced me to hang out with them, they looked after me and took me home the next day. It was at that point that I realised; either come out and take steps to be myself, or not live for very long. I made that choice, and it took a couple of weeks of shaking and throwing up and hitting rock bottom. I started skating again, pressing on the gender clinic to get seen. Eventually I did, and my partner helped me learn to express myself. Essentially, coming out and accepting that part of myself saved my life.

 

I can’t even imagine how difficult that must’ve been. And I suppose there’s no need for escapism when you don’t have to escape who you are anymore. Sometimes you need to hit rock bottom to get to that, as peak as it is.

Yeah, it makes you realise how much you appreciate life, and having that support network is so important for people that struggle with sobriety. Having people that know how you need them to be there for you. But it’s so difficult to break out of substance abuse when you’re in that state. Once you start binge drinking, you can’t just stop; your dopamine receptors only activate after the amount that you’re used to.

 

Sometimes it can be really difficult to take accountability for your own mental health. Ultimately, you’re living in your own head, you obviously want to make it good for yourself, but it can be so hard to own those feelings and break that cycle.

Totally, I do think it’s important to take that accountability. There’s so much that I regret doing when I was partying and not in the right frame of mind. I’m ashamed of that, and that’s okay; I’m aware that it was my responsibility. Be accountable and recognise how far you’ve come. I feel like since I’ve come out and expressed myself more, I appreciate life so much more, which is really cool. I’m grateful to be alive, so any skating I can do is great.

 

And how has your journey with transitioning been?

It’s been hard to get referred and put on the waiting list. People sometimes make it out that it’s easy for us, but I’ve had to wait since 2018 to get referred. I got evaluated by two different psychiatrists, and had another four or five years of waiting. People just want to be happy and be comfortable in their skin.

 

Exactly! I hear so many people talk negatively about trans people, and then advocate for free speech, like “no, that’s hate speech, you’re attacking someone’s existence here”.

Exactly, even if you believe that people should have this right to say and do whatever they want, you can’t then restrict someone else’s freedom or rights to bodily autonomy. People often think it’s easy for us, but transitioning is way more of a struggle than it should be. It has been difficult watching my fat distribution change, having to go through voice therapy. Before I came out, I suppressed my emotions more, whereas now my feelings are quite overwhelming. I’m more easily able to do things like cry and stuff since I’ve been on hormones, and I feel so much more content with life because I’m able to express my emotions.

 

And pushing those emotions down forces them to negatively present through escapism and all the other things we just spoke about. It’s important to feel those emotions and let them out.

So important. The next step is staying on these hormones, getting my facial feminisation surgery. Hopefully I don’t die (laughs), or come out looking like a giraffe.

 

(Laughs) “Oh shit guys, you put me on the wrong list; I got the wrong surgery!”

Yeah, and then I get a proper Chad chin.

 

Charging wallride Weddle at Holyhead's favourite weatherworn wall. Photo: Rob.


(Laughs). I never understood people’s argument against surgery and treatment for trans people. At the most basic level, it’s just gender affirming surgery; it functions in the same way as cis women getting a boob job. Like, surely that’s gender affirming too? But people handle both surgeries with completely different attitudes.

I think the argument comes from a lack of understanding, which breeds hate. People always use this argument of biological man and woman and all this other stuff. Our current developing social structure that accepts people is part of evolution, through this redefinition of gender. Trans people are human beings that should be seen and treated as such. If we are supposed to just live in this lens of ‘biological humans’, based on their logic of science, then we should be ripping each other apart in this primal state, which is such a simplistic view of humanity.

 

It’s so reductionist, and I think people forget that gender and sex are two different things. Sex is biological and gender is a social construct. People just want to feel comfortable in their own skin.

Yeah, and like using their argument of ‘biological human behaviour’, none of our behaviours really fit into that anymore. I think it’s a shame that rad fem has now come to represent women that are anti-trans, like people who were once considered liberal have been pushed further to the right.

 

All the J.K. Rowlings of the world. So, do you feel like skateboarding has helped with your transitioning?

Definitely. The first people I really came out to were my partner and skating friends. The people in the North Wales scene really made me feel the support. It gave me an outlet to be able to express myself. Some people were surprisingly supportive, and there were others who I expected to be supportive that kind of weren’t. You realise that when you come out that it’s not as bad as you think. A lot of people stayed with me through it, which I really appreciate. Being able to focus on skating more and sobering up has reinvigorated my love for skateboarding.

 

The ramp might still be under construction, but the backside boneless is fully formed. Teetering on the edge of a homemade North Wales creation. Photo: Rob.


And redeveloping that love really shows in all you’ve done over the past year or so. You got on Sabbath and Heathen, making you the first trans skater in the U.K. to get sponsored, as well as being featured in Mess Mag and getting your first picture in Companion. How did this feel?

I’m really appreciative and grateful, but sometimes I feel like I should be making up for things. To be getting such positive things does feel amazing, but a part of me feels like I don’t deserve it, like I should be repenting instead. Through transitioning and sobriety, I’ve had time to reconcile things, especially with my partner helping to make that possible. I just feel grateful to be able to skate, and love doing it. Anything else is a bonus that I’m exceptionally grateful for. It’s amazing; it’s like icing on the cake when I’m just happy to be healthy and still skating. And I think that’s why it’s important to show people that having fun on the board is the best part about skateboarding. With or without those opportunities, I’d still be unbelievably grateful for what skateboarding has given me. It has saved my life and given me a purpose.

 

The most meaningful things you get out of skateboarding aren’t the pictures or covers or glory. It's the connections, the friends, the things that are way less material.

I agree. And I think it’s great to see an emergence of trans skaters in the scene in the U.K. now; it’s really cool to see loads of amazing trans skaters and a proper scene developing.

 

Yeah, like the women’s’ scene has been growing for a while, but I do think in the past, although advocating for inclusivity, it has still had problems with who that inclusivity has catered towards.

Yeah, and skateboarding has come a long way. The more acceptance in our scene, the more you see queer people killing it. I was grateful to be given a second chance in many ways, so it makes me happy to see other people flourish. Beforehand, I saw myself as a flawed human being that didn’t deserve to be alive. Self-acceptance is so important.

 

Cutting through the strawberry tinged Bangor dusk with a coastal backside air. Photo: Rob.


For sure. And today, you’ve hit another huge milestone. You’re the first trans skater in the U.K. to get a cover, right? Rob (Whiston) and I described it as “tailblocking the edge of the world”, and he mentioned that you learnt that trick at that spot. Is that correct?

It is. I’ve always liked tailblocks. Rob helped push me to try it, and once I started doing it, it made sense. Rob is such a nice guy, and I really like skating with him and all the Birmingham lot. Rob gave me these tips with the tailblock that just made sense; it was almost like a backside air motion, but you kind of pivot off it.

 

And you did that on the gnarliest, most narrow thing. Rob and I were also discussing how the picture is so emblematic of the early punk scene. The studded collar, the cut-up thumb, fishnets, even your facial expression. Do you take a lot of influence from the punk scene?

Yeah, I listen to a lot of different music: Gary Wilson, Frank Zappa, Nirvana and The Pixies. And I suppose I relate to it in terms of the attitude towards binary society. For example, coming out as trans and wearing things outside of the general social construct that didn’t fit in with my assigned gender at birth. I spent so long closeted and scared about what people would think; trans people almost give that up when they come out. That’s punk, because it’s like, “fuck you, I don’t care what I look like, and even if I do, I’m not going to let you dictate me”, and so in that respect yeah, I do take influence from the punk scene.

 

Skateboarding shares so many values that are similar to the punk scene, the non-conformity and anti-corporatism. Which is crazy because, how can something so punk be so rejecting of people that fit outside of the binary? Have you encountered much discrimination in the scene because of your identity?

Luckily, within my local scene, everyone has been really accepting. I had some people use slurs when I first came out. Transitioning can be a steady process of pushing the boat out a little more; sometimes wearing something a little more revealing can be scary because the public might judge that. This can result in backtracking a bit, but that’s where the “fuck you” attitude comes in. Skating simultaneously holds the most and least accepting people. However, the majority has been great in terms of acceptance; it’s our ethos.

 

Mia missions to the Midlands for an Andrecht revert at Bournbrook DIY. Photo: Rob.


Which is why it’s such a shock when people aren’t accepting. People talk about an accepting community, but still try to pick who they want to accept.

For sure. It’s a shame because I don’t ever want to tell someone what to think, and a couple of people I know just devolved into a more right-wing mentality, sharing anti-trans things. I’ve reached out to people and said, “look, I’m not trying to sway your opinion, but this is factually incorrect. I know you don’t hate me, but this is harmful”. I’ve tried so many times to be the reasonable, rational person in that dynamic. I always try to open a discussion and reach a middle ground, where they could think, “maybe a trans person on my street isn’t the worst thing”, but after a certain point, I realised that I can’t work with certain people and must move on from them. Each time I try to educate people, it’s like I’m coming out again and again; it becomes a script of justifying my own existence.

 

And nobody should have to justify their own existence. But when people are so unwilling to have empathy, how do you work with that?

Exactly. I waited a while to tell my family, because I was so exhausted from all the processes of coming out in the first place. But, you know, you’ve got to treat it with love, as much as you can. There are some people you can open a door to, whereas others will never change. It’s an unfortunate reality. But none of this means you shouldn’t come out. The more people that are there to support you, the better.

 

That was amazing, Mia. Do you have any final words, anything you want to add?

Thank you to Rob, you guys, Kingy (Steven King), Russ (Longmire), Jasper, Rob, all the North Wales scene. Yannick. My family, my mum and dad, my brother, and my partner. Especially my partner, she’s been amazing and the most supportive; I wouldn’t be able to do all this without her. And my cats (laughs).

 

Follow Mia - @miarbrts

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