An Open Letter to LGBTQ Car Enthusiasts
Updated: Aug 1, 2020
I legitimately tried to avoid writing about cars from anything but a general car enthusiast’s perspective. I want to hear and write stories about cars for people who enjoy them, because it is my first and foremost passion. But most car enthusiasts recognize that their favorite platforms are not developed in a vacuum - look at the Japanese muscle wars of the 90s leading to the development of some of the most beloved sports cars of all time, or the creation of the EPA and the oil crisis of the 70s reshaping what performance meant to an entire generation of Americans. Cars cannot exist without people to drive them, and the very design of our most favored or reviled vehicles reflects this.
More importantly, cars exist as a reflection of the culture they are born into. Radwood, the celebration of 80s and 90s cars and style, is a phenomenal example of this - the cars and culture, when put together, become more than the sum of their parts. The boxy designs and gridded, space-age tachometers are cool as their own phenomena, but when contextualized with the birth of modern computing and the bubble economy of Japan, they make sense in the grand scheme of humanity, and seeing how individual manufacturers decided to approach this on their own terms is its own fun.
And that brings me to the place where I write this article from. I have written once before about the intersection of identity and the car scene, and I have been told by many people that it resonated. I have always wanted to hear more queer voices in the car scene (and there are some fantastic writers out there already who inspired me, @dsgolson, @cdavies, and more among them), but I don’t really hear what I think needs to be said. And yet here I am - I am a trans femme car writer, and trying to be more visible by the day - not because I want to, but because I need to, to be authentic to myself and be able to sleep at night.
I truly need to write this. I am not trying to step into the role of spokesperson for the queer car community, but I want to write this to tell every single LGBT+ person currently scared of taking their pride and joy to a car show, or debating if they’ll be able to get support when their new project they’re eyeing inevitably breaks, that the community is - at its core - good.
For the vast majority of readers here who are cishet (that is to say, identify as the gender they were born as and heterosexual) and reading this - the car community only becomes a better place the more people participate. I can truly say from the bottom of my heart that I do not actually want to write this article. I wish it was an unspoken truth that people can feel like they can have a hobby and be their actual selves, but from experience, it is not. There are people who want to make us feel unwelcome, and I’m writing this because I think most of you - the majority of the population, and the majority of the car community - don’t actually want that.
I reach out here to my community specifically to try and relay a message of hope that we can indeed exist in these spaces. We just want to be a part of it in the same way everyone else is. Existence is currently fraught for us: “Safe spaces” have become a ridiculously memed-upon topic, yet leaving the house while visibly queer, and avoiding verbal or physical abuse for it is something that many of us have to consider for our own actual safety. The government in the United States treats us as a separate, lower, segment of humanity as a matter of general policy. We all know it, and it continues to embolden the terrible people to speak more loudly.
I don’t need to tell you that it will inevitably suck in some facets. There is a local muscle car show that features the models I grew up idolizing, and the owners are the people I grew up fearing. There is still absolutely a good old boy’s club element to car enthusiasm. After all, a car club where everyone acts like boomers is a 20,000 member strong Facebook group, and the speech patterns and arguments parodied will be recognizable to anyone that’s ever spoken to certain members of the older generation. There is a palpable fear of anyone even slightly differing from the normal demographics from their cliques.
But there are definitely groups that exist outside of that realm that are welcoming and open. We all have the same love of old cars at the core, and when you get past the blue lines flag folks and the “like it or leave” types, you find a plethora of accepting and fascinating enthusiasts. In my experience, the more esoteric spaces for enthusiasm are those that welcome us, whether it’s the forgotten bubble cars of the 80s at Radwood, or the smog-choked cars of Malaise Motors. Even without that though, I’ve found great local meets where I feel welcome. I roll up in an 80s shitbox with an “H” on the hood and that is the sole criterion for camaraderie. It doesn’t matter that I’m very different from the other owners, what matters is that we all preserved our own little piece of automotive history and we are proud of it.
And with that in mind, I encourage you, as someone who has been scared just as all of us have, to go out, meet some great people, and enjoy your hobby. You’ll encounter closed minded people as we do in all facets of life, but you will find so many great people you never dreamed you could find, because car enthusiasm is ultimately one of the best hobbies to exist. We just love our cars and we want to share them. It unites us more than a handful could ever hope to divide us.