In January of 2017, I got an email via the website contact form from a racing driver named Danny Watts. At first, I thought he was joking about being gay and wanting to come out. The gossip I’d heard about him and his womanising habits cast doubt on that, until I realised that going to the opposite extreme was a good cover for being gay in a sport where hegemonic masculinity* rules. We agreed that I’d coordinate a press storm to get the story out there, and in return I’d have access to his social media data. Danny’s story broke on 20th February, in a handful of media outlets, including Autosport, Daily Sports Car and Gay Times.
* Hegemonic masculinity: an idealised norm for manhood that we’ve accepted as self-evident and police in the men in our lives (we also enforce hegemonic femininity, but another story, another time). This ideal man is strong, fearless (actually, emotionless, except for happy, fine, and angry), successful, confidently (hetero)sexual, etc. He’s also usually white, usually rich, and usually a dyed-in-the-wool capitalist. Think pretty much any character played by a Hemsworth, with the notable exception being Chris’ role in Ghostbusters, in which he was the comic foil to the women principals.
I caught up with Danny on the anniversary of his coming out story breaking to find out how his life had changed in the past year. I wanted to know if being out was as freeing as he’d thought it would be.
BS What were you expecting from coming out?
DW I was fully prepared for some abuse and haters, but actually everyone was very cool indeed! I didn’t want to drip feed my situation and wanted to get it all out there in one big hit so I wasn’t asked the same questions over and over at race tracks when coaching. It’s not really a story, and nobody cares, which is great. I can get on with what I enjoy the most, which is mentoring and coaching.
BS You don’t think it was a bit disproportionate that people were using all caps and multiple emotional punctuation marks when they said “who cares?!” and “this isn’t news!” In your mind, is people making the story a non-issue a way to minimise the discussion of LGBT people in motorsport?
DW Fuck, that’s a hard question!
BS I know, I’ve been pondering and reading around it since I started scraping Twitter’s response to your story, and reading around it for a year, and I still don’t have an answer.
DW I suppose Winter Olympics is a good example. There are quite a few openly gay and lesbian people, and the audience has no issue whatsoever. I ghess times have changed and it’s much more acceptable to be LGBT these days without anyone batting an eyelid.
BS do you think your stress levels are lower, higher, or no different now than before you came out? Did it help you to relax, knowing that everyone knew and you wouldn’t be blindsided by being outed accidentally?
DW It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I was scared to death when the announcement was done. Just the worry and thoughts of what people would think about me. Since coming out of the closet I have had lots of messages from people in and out of motorsport, and it’s nice to know that there are other queer sportspeople. Most of the other gay athletes in motorsport choose to stay behind closed doors. I don’t think my stress levels have changed much. I’m the same. I still do the same job and coach for drivers all over.
BS Do you think people have treated you differently now than before you came out?
DW I haven’t noticed a change in the way people treat me. Most have been great and nothing’s changed. A few have been a bit awkward, but you expect that to some extent.
BS What do you think governing bodies (series organisers, etc.) can do to make their areas of motorsport more friendly to queer folk?
DW I’m not sure. For them, being straight is normal, so they don’t really understand what we go through. I don’t think they really think much about us, to be honest. They’ve got other stuff going on.
BS Do you think there’s hope that the sport will be more open in the future?
DW I always live in hope that all sports become more accepting and open, including motorsport. Rainbow Laces and Stonewall are pioneers, as well as the EGLSF. If you look at football as an example, it’s no longer allowed to shout homophobic stuff at matches, but, as always, there’s more we can do.
BS What steps do you see other sports taking that could benefit us?
DW Being more open, approachable, and supportive, really. I hid who I was for many years, and there are lots of other sportspeople in the same situation who are hiding their real selves. Having a person or a group to talk to will help others coming out.
BS Overall, do you think coming out has changed your life? If so, how?
DW Coming out hasn’t really changed anything. My professional life is the same in terms of coaching and mentoring drivers. I’ve met some great people in the LGBT activism sector, who have been into the scene a lot longer than me. It’s been good to mix with them as racing has taken up so much of my time.
Here's a little-known PSA from Evan Darling, who came out early on in his racing career, talking about his work on and off the track.