Chris Stevens started a blog called Grand Prix Review at the age of fourteen, under the guidance of a political journalist who was a friend of the family. He cut his teeth writing race reports about Formula One, which got him noticed within the F1 Twitter crowd. This led to him being noticed by independent motorsport websites, and he began writing about F1 for Inside Line Media. While at Inside Line, he started podcasting and covering Formula E. He is now writing for Formula Spy, and podcasts on Downforce Radio, doing the Missed Apex (F1), and eRadio (Formula E) shows, and hosting Lean Angle (motorbike racing). He is also in the Autosport Academy.
Bridget Schuil: At what point in your career did you come out to friends and family, and are you officially ‘out’ in motorsport?
Chris Stevens: I sort of came out when I was seventeen to a very small group of friends, which very quickly became the whole school. That’s school for you! I was in the sixth form at the time. I didn’t come out to my family for another couple of years.
I was sat in my room one day, and it was kind of eating away at me. So I stormed downstairs – my mum was watching television – and I said, ‘Mum, I’m bisexual.’ And she said, ‘Okay,’ and I left the room. That’s about as good as it gets regarding parental reactions, as far as I’m concerned. I phoned my sister the same night to come out to her, and she came out to me as well. So it went doubly well, I think.
In motorsport, I’m not necessarily out. I think there are people who work in motorsport who are aware that I’m bi. I haven’t, like, announced it; I’m not advertising it, but I’m not hiding it either. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t define me. It doesn’t really need to have a place in my career, but at the same time – and I think this is a harsh truth of the world we still live in – I’m only twenty years old, and being very publicly out could come back to bite me. It can burn a few bridges.
I’m not saying I’ve had that direct experience in motorsport, because I haven’t and I’m very fortunate to not have come across that. Everyone’s been very lovely. But it’s not something I would want to take the risk on. So I’m not walking around shouting about it, but I’m not hiding it either.
BS So what have been your biggest struggles in your motorsport career?
CS The biggest thing has been finance. 100% finances! When I first started out, I was eighteen years old. I went to Formula E pre-season testing (for season two) about a week after I picked up my A Level results. I was working for a website that didn’t earn any money, so I couldn’t be paid for it. Everything that I did for journalism was funded by a part-time job that I have, and I’m still using that to fund my career, essentially.
It was that way for about eighteen months before I joined the Autosport Academy this January. They pay for the stuff I do for them – the work that goes in the mags, when I go to the 750 Motor Club races, which I’m the correspondent for this year. They’ll pay me for that. I’ve picked up a freelance job in PR that pays me, as well. But all the international stuff – my work for Formula Spy – I’m not being paid for.
So it has been a bit of a struggle. If I can get to the point where I can just do journalism and get paid to concentrate on motorsport, that’ll be a big moment in my career. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m getting there.
BS Have you experienced discrimination, or overheard homophobic comments and jokes? Conversely, are you ‘out’ enough for people to thank you for being visible?
CS I haven’t had so much experience of that in motorsport, and I’ve certainly never had any online hate. I’m really grateful for that, because there are a lot of people who do get that, and it’s really unfortunate. I’ve had some discrimination just in general, around town, but nothing overly dramatic. I don’t want to make it seem like I’ve got it bad, because really it’s been an odd comment here and there, which doesn’t upset me at all.
When Danny Watts came out, I did write a big thing about it on my Facebook and Twitter, because obviously there were people who didn’t quite see the point in him coming out, why the story was picked up by Autosport in the first place. I wrote a big thing about it – ‘Well, here’s the reason; that’s why he’s done it!’ – and I got a lot of positivity off of that. But in general day-to-day interactions, I’m not enough of a public LGBT+ figure to receive either good or bad comments from the wider community.
BS I’m glad you haven’t experienced the hate, but the gratitude stories I’ve heard have been really heart-warming. I hope as your career progresses you get to experience some of the community’s positive intention.
CS I hope so as well! I’d love to…even if I can influence one person, to help them achieve their goals, that’d be great. I’d like to think I’m not just being an influence to LGBT+ people. I hope I’m being an influence to other young people, sort of fifteen, sixteen years old, who think they can’t get into motorsport journalism because everyone in the Formula 1 paddock is forty or fifty years old. I mean, I’ve done that. I was nineteen when I first went to Barcelona for pre-season testing, and by far the youngest person there. So I hope I’m not just being an influence in one way, but in lots of different aspects. I hope that I can inspire people to think that they can achieve more.
BS So what do you say to people who said that Danny’s coming out story wasn’t news?
CS I think people who said it wasn’t news were looking at it from a very literal point of view. They’re saying, ‘What does it matter? It doesn’t make any difference to his driving,’ which is absolutely 100% correct. They’re not wrong on that.
But the reason it’s so important for LGBT+ people to get media exposure is for young people who are too afraid to be who they are. And this is something that Danny said – he worked in the high adrenaline, testosterone-filled, high octane world of motorsport. It is about as stereotypically masculine as it gets. This is a community that, really, is still very closed off to women. Advances are being made in that regard, but ninety-eight percent of people visible in motorsport are still men. I think even fewer people are openly LGBT+.
So if you’re a young queer person who wants a career in motorsport, there’s your new hero, your new icon. It’s a sign that there’s a path, that they can do this thing. It’s a sign that they’re safe and can be who they are no matter what they want to do as a career.
BS Would you still say that even in the context of some people thinking that Danny was trending because he’d had a fatal accident?
CS I think it says a lot more about the people reading it than it does about the people publishing it. That’s quite a leap to make, isn’t it? ‘Oh, someone’s trending; they must have died.’ That is quite the leap.
I know Danny isn’t someone who gets regular media coverage. LMP2 isn’t the most talked-about category, especially by the big generalist publications like Autosport. Most coverage focuses on the bigger picture. Not many people read about LMP2.
BS (Speaking as a long-standing Bruno Senna fan…) Mainstream coverage of WEC pretty much only focuses on the sharp end of LMP1.
CS Exactly. Thing is, the statistics speak for themselves, you know. Those guys go faster, so they get more coverage. LMP2 isn’t regularly in the news, but it is quite a leap to see someone’s name trending and assume the worst.
BS Especially since Twitter now puts those handy little subtitles under the trends these days...
CS Yeah, exactly. There's no reason to jump to conclusions and overreact.
BS There was an incident recently where a motorsport-LGBT+ tie-in was planned for an event, but the motorsport organisers postponed it because they were concerned that people would show up in assless chaps like they do at Pride parades. Do you think that’s an unfounded worry and a bit oppressive, or do we as the LGBT+ community need to shape up a bit?
CS I don’t think we need to shape up at all, so long as people aren’t being completely inappropriate at what is a family event. You know, Pride is…is…is Pride. It’s about being who you are and expressing yourself in the most wonderful and dynamic ways and I absolutely love that. But you wouldn’t go to a family event dressed in your Pride clothes, because that’s just wildly inappropriate. It’s got nothing to do with people being queer; it’s down to the way they dress as humans. Assless chaps are an inappropriate thing to be wearing.
That said, I do think that the viewpoint expressed by those event organisers is based on a media-created, stereotypical image of LGBT+ people. I think motorsport people should have the faith that LGBT+ people would not turn up in that kind of dress.
BS When Danny came out, there was talk about starting an official FIA organisation – in the same vein as initiatives like Arsenal FC’s Gay Gooners fan club – to represent LGBT+ interests in motorsport. Given the political orientation of motorsport governing bodies and their silence on his coming out, do you think it would be better to have an official initiative – that will probably be run by straight people – or a group organically formed and run by queer people?
CS I don’t want an LGBT+ fan group. That’s just separating us from the herd. I can see the benefit of an official organisation, because they can represent interests at a policy level. I’m maybe sceptical. I’m not sure what such an entity can bring to the table if they’re all straight.
Even just a space where LGBT+ people can come together and get things off their chest that have been bugging them, or talk about any experiences that they’ve had, then I think that’s a good thing. But in terms of the bigger picture, I don’t think such an organisation would have a massive impact in the way the world works.
BS It would have little impact even if it was run by queer people?
CS It would definitely help. But it depends what the LGBT+ community wants out of motorsport. I can’t speak for all LGBT+ people, of course, but if your average LGBT+ fan just wants to go to an event and enjoy it, then there’s nothing stopping them. I’ve never come across any issues with gay-bashing fans. I can definitely see the appeal in getting queer people together as a support system to bring up issues. But other than simply raising awareness of LGBT+ people in motorsport and making it less of an ‘odd’ scenario, I don’t think we have too many issues, to be honest.
BS What do you think motorsport entities – teams, series organisers, governing bodies – can do to be more supportive of the LGBT+ community?
CS Well, what was really great to see in the V8 supercars was there was the rainbow car, wasn’t there? it was great to see? I think more stuff like that. Find some LGBT+ sponsors – companies owned and run by queer people, brands that are popular in the LGBT+ community like Netflix, brands that have been vocally supportive of LGBT+ issues like P&G and Adidas. Things we can identify with. I think that’s very important.
What I don’t want to see is an LGBT+ dedicated fan group, because I think that’s separating people unnecessarily. I want to be able to talk to any motorsport fan. I don’t feel like they need to be an LGBT+ fan.
Make LGBT+ people feel safe, comfortable, and welcome – not making homophobic jokes and slurs at events or on social media, use queer-friendly branding and sponsorship – and they’ll find their way into motorsport on their own. You know, it needs to become less of a taboo. I think the media has a big part in that as well. I’m not just talking about in motorsport, things like Danny Watts getting news coverage for coming out. I’m talking about the media in general as well, because the images of LGBT+ people that are shown on television and movies at the moment…it’s getting better, but it’s not brilliant.
(I had a rant about Netflix cancelling Sense8 here, since that’s the most accurate and positive portrayal of queer and trans characters I’ve seen on TV thus far. Chris has never watched Sense8, and is clearly missing out on a key piece of LGBT+ pop culture. Netflix need to renew Sense8. Write to Netflix and tell them this, if you care about positive portrayals of LGBT+ characters in the media.)
BS What can individuals – fans, people who work in motorsport – do to be more supportive of LGBT+ community in motorsport?
CS I think just be kind people. There’s not really a lot to making LGBT+ people feel comfortable in the world we live in, but it makes such a massive difference when people make the effort. Doesn’t it? I know that homophobic language can be thrown around very casually. If people would nip that in the bud, it’d be a really great start. And just not see our being queer as such a big deal.
In terms of the big picture, we have a lot of progress still to make, but for the individual, my sexuality does not define me. People shouldn’t define me by it either. But in general, just keep being great, awesome, amazing people to all of your friends and the people you meet, regardless of whether they’re LGBT+ or not.