Last year, I wrote a piece for Pride about why there are no gay racers in the higher echelons of motorsport. In January, Danny Watts found the article and emailed me, asking to come out on the blog, but it was eventually decided that we would create a content glitterbomb and do it in style (in Autosport and Daily Sports Car and Huff Post and Gay Times, among others). This plunged me into the world of queer gearheads, and there are now about twenty members in the Queer Gearheads group.
For this Pride, we decided to feature members who were out and willing to be visible for the younger LGBT+ folk in the audience who may have otherwise felt like motorsport wasn’t for them because there was no chance of meeting people like them in the sport/industry. We didn’t have any lesbian or trans folk – not for lack of trying – but we did have gay and bi folk, and tried our best to get some international spread (UK, USA, South Africa, and France).
The inclusion of Chris, our featured bisexual, was intentional for two reasons – bisexuals were instrumental in the creation of Pride as a protest march, and they’re often skipped over in discussion of LGBT+ issues. Bi erasure – the official term for leaving bisexuals out of the cultural narrative – is so strong in some circles that I’ve had an internet argument with a dude-bro who was convinced that the B in 'LGBT' stood for Bronies (men who’re into My Little Pony) not Bisexual.
I intentionally asked questions in the Pride interview series that would uncover issues within the community, and bring them into the realm of public discussion. This was not for clickbait fodder; this was because there is no other forum for discussing queer topics within motorsport, and therefore no way of including the LGBT+ or allied fanbase in the discourse. In the responses, there were a few themes, which I’ll expand on in the rest of this article.
Money, Money, Money
The strongest theme in the ‘issues we struggle with’ question was a lack of finance. Drivers and journalists alike have found it hard to find funding to get their careers going. While this is normal for journalists and drivers the world over, the problem seems to have been exacerbated for out queer people.
Being a polarizing public figure has its costs, and a lot of the more established US brands don’t want to lose customers from the Red-voting South by sponsoring a gay racer. British brands have no similar excuse, because over half the population supports same-sex marriage and most people from the UK responded positively to Watts’ coming out story when it hit the press. However, the reticence from sponsors and other entities continues. So if you’re reading this, you care about marginalised groups getting a chance in motorsport, and you have a company or brand of your own, please be in touch and we can put you in touch with some wonderful people who’re looking for financial support in exchange for brand promotion.
Being Taken Seriously
It would seem that the accusation levelled at fangirls (pejorative term used intentionally) of ‘You only support him because he’s pretty!’ is applied to gay men too. Anyone who claims that motorsport is a meritocracy need only look as far as female and LGBT+ journalists for proof to the contrary. Out queer people are lumped into the category of ‘too femme to like sports’ along with women.
Prof Michael Kimmel, a sociologist and distinguished professor of gender and masculinities, pointed out in his article about Jason Collins’ coming out that heterosexuality was a key part of the American concept of masculinity. It would seem that this belief extends to Europe and Africa as well. This idea that gay men are less masculine than straight men is out-dated and oppressive.
In Prof Kimmel’s email sig, ‘masculinities’ is pluralised. There are as many shades of ‘masculine’ as there are men. By way of example, some straight cis-men are total bosses at painting fingernails because their little girls wanted pretty nails, while some gay guys and trans men don’t know the first thing about women’s makeup techniques because they have no reason to care. The premise of Grayson Perry’s book ‘The Descent of Man’ is an invitation for men to question the norms of ‘masculinity’ handed down to us, and have fun with how you as an individual want to express your masculinity.
The perception that femininity is weakness – when in reality women, and gay and efeminate men need to work that much harder just to be seen as equal – is out-dated and needs to go. There are people who fit neatly into Pink or Blue, and that’s valid for them. There are also people who are shades of Purple, and that’s valid too. Being Pink or Blue or Purple doesn’t accurately predict whether someone will love a Pink, Blue, or Purple person. The shade of our gender expression, or who we love also don’t accurately predict strength or weakness, courage or cowardice. If anything, the ones who struggle more for legitimacy are stronger and more courageous, because they buck the trend.
A while back, a motorsport entity was worried that, if they made a point of inviting gay people, they’d have crowds of people in assless chaps scarring the children at the event. Every queer person I spoke to – both participating in the series, and others – about this snorted in derision at the thought that people would show up to a family event with their butt cheeks hanging out. The entity was fine with people showing up with Pride flags, but nudity was a concern. From the responses in the interview series, it’s generally understood by the LGBT+ community that kink wear is only appropriate outside the bedroom at Pride (or, one would assume, a play party, but we didn’t get into that). But even then, it makes some queer people uncomfortable, and the nudity is a major factor in their not attending Pride events.
It’s important to remember on this point that Pride started as a protest. It was a protest against the human rights abuses directed at the LGBT+ community, which continue to this day in many parts of the world, despite our ability to go to Pride in nothing but pink hotpants or assless chaps. It has become a party, and while there is a lot of progress to celebrate, there is still work to be done.
People at the first Pride in South Africa (in Johannesburg, in 1994) wore paper bags over their heads for fear of being fired or made homeless for their sexual identity. This was not unusual for early Pride functions, because of the oppression that faced the community in the eighties and nineties. The emaciated bodies of thousands of America gay men were left unclaimed in mortuaries during the height of the AIDS crisis, because their families refused to be associated with them. It was left to their friends, and sometimes big-hearted strangers, to make burial arrangements. Added to that, precious few clerics in the States would officiate the funerals of those gay AIDS victims, meaning that often Jewish gay men were buried by Christian preachers. (The theological literature doesn’t deal with other countries, but anecdotal evidence would suggest that some clerics continue to refuse to bury LGBT+ people.) The slogan, ‘We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it,’ that has been chanted at every Pride and LGBT+ protest I’ve ever been to started a battle cry, a call to rally together and be seen as fully self-actualised humans worthy of basic human dignity.
And this struggle to be seen as fully self-actualised humans worthy of basic human dignity is embodied in this incident with the motorsport entity. The LGBT+ community wasn’t invited to the party in case they acted just a bit too gay. They may be afraid of offending people by enforcing a ‘please be fully dressed’ request. But the assumption that the LGBT+ community will show up in assless chaps is discriminatory before we get to their response to that assumption. Not that they’re terrible people and we should spam them with hate; nobody needs that. But Thierry mentioned that something the straight community could do for us is to have open lines of communication between motorsport event organizers and queer people, which would have by-passed the whole situation in the first place.
What Straight People Can Do
If you’re reading this and you’re straight and not sure what to take from it, the good news is you’re most welcome as an ally. You don’t have to be queer to buy tickets to races in which LGBT+ people are competing. You don’t need to be gay to wear the merch you bought from their websites, or buy products from the companies who sponsor them. You don’t need to be LGBT+ to leverage your company’s marketing budget to sponsor a queer racer (Charlie Martin, a former Woman of the Week, needs £60,000 to race next year http://www.motorsportsisterhood.org/blog/woman-of-the-week-charlie-martin; Evan Darling needs about the same amount if not a bit more in US dollars, and is looking for first-time motorsport sponsors; you don’t need to look far to find someone who’ll take your money and make great videos about your company).
You can also call in homophobic comments when you hear/see them, regardless of whether you’re gay, straight, or somewhere in between. If you’re one of the ones making the homophobic and transphobic jokes on your friends’ facebook walls, with love, please cease and desist because it’s actually pretty mean and makes queer people feel very unwelcome. I don’t call in every comment I see on social media. I pick my battles – only people I know, or people who my friends are struggling to find words to call in – because there are simply too many to call in all of them and the exhaustion is real y’all! But the point remains that it carries far more weight when a straight person says ‘hey, not cool,’ than when a queer person says it.
For straight people in positions of power in motorsport, remember that with great power comes great responsibility. You can choose to hire a talented queer driver for your team, or host a tie-in event that makes LGBT+ people feel actively included. If you’re worried about something like people showing up half-naked and scarring the children, chat to the people you’re working with about creative strategies around the problems you’ve foreseen. Slow progress is still progress, and baby steps made consistently will take us to a more equal world.
Equality is everyone’s job. If we approached every situation aware of people’s intersecting identities and privileges/disadvantages, we would be more willing to give the more disadvantaged members of our community a leg up. Not a segregated series special for LGBT+ people to be a freakshow side-project. Never segregation. Just the boost that is within your power as a wing-buddy/ally. Look for those seemingly insignificant opportunities to amplify signals for the queer people you know/know of; call your friends in on their discriminatory behaviour; be open to change when someone calls you in on behaviour that’s been bugging them. Feminism is very ordinary magic, and it’s often made up of an encouraging word given here, and a little bit of knowledge shared there. Everyone can do that.
In case you missed any, the interviews are linked here in order of publishing:
Matthys Strydom, G, South Africa
Evan Darling, G, USA
Chris Stevens, B, UK
Thierry Courtois, G, France