Visibility Matters: How Out Motorsports Is Defining A Place For The LGBTQ+ Family In Racing

Photo: Out Motorsports

“I don’t think that being a car person is something that you can turn on and turn off, much like how you can’t do that with your gender, your sexual orientation, your race, or whatever,” Out Motorsports co-founder Jake Thiewes mused in a recent interview with Jalopnik. “So, how do you embrace both of those things and come to a world where both are able to be realized? We’ve been trying to help build that community for a certain subset of the population.”

Out Motorsports’ Goals

Out Motorsports began back in 2017 when friends and racing enthusiasts Jake Thiewes and Tyler Longmire looked at the culture around themselves and realized that, for as much as they loved the local community of racers they’d found, they were still hesitant about really opening up. As members of the LGBTQ+ community in a field traditionally dominated by cisgender straight men, it was tough to feel like the could fully open up without judgement.

“When was the last time you’ve been nervous walking down the street holding your wife’s hand?” Thiewes said, thinking about the way that many of his racing compatriots can unthinkingly be themselves at the track. “You say something like Cars and Coffee is welcoming, and it doesn’t matter who you are as long as you’re fast and into cars—but what if I want to bring my boyfriend to one of these events? Even if I don’t bring someone, if it comes up in conversation, do I say anything about my partner, or do I just ignore it?”

Thiewes raises a good point, and one that I think is crucial to talk about: non-traditional members of the racing community still have a hell of a lot of hills to climb before they’re able to feel wholly welcome.

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Photo: Out Motorsports

So, their site started as a way for two LGBTQ+ men to share their experiences in racing—the events they were going to, how they were working on their cars, the kind of things you’d expect from a standard car blog but with the addition of another layer of richness.

People were interested, though, and more and more folks started reaching out. They wanted to contribute articles to the site. Maybe they wanted to just offer the support of allyship. They wanted to know someone was experiencing motorsport the same way, that there was definitely a subset of the LGBTQ+ population that also really loved cars. They wanted Jake and Tyler to know that they’d found comfort knowing that their experience was valid.

Now, the site boasts an impressive array of regular contributors who write everything from car reviews to wrenching stories. In the pre-pandemic days, Out Motorsports hosted in-person autocross meetups just to get people out to the track. More recently, they’ve been hosting Zoom chats just to keep the community in touch.

The Different Ways We Experience The World

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Out Motorsports co-founder Jake Thiewes.
Photo: Out Motorsports

The intersection of personal identity and the car community is one that’s important for me in much the same way it’s important for Thiewes and Longmire. As a woman in this very male-dominated field, there’s a sense that I have to go above and beyond to prove myself as a racing fan. I have to think twice about things I say or do, knowing I’m going to be scrutinized for it in a way that my male counterpart might not.

Members of the LGBTQ+ community can have a similar struggle being taken seriously or treated equally when they show up to a car meet. As Thiewes notes, there are different levels of thought that play in: You have to weigh what you say based on your present audience, gauging what you can say or shouldn’t say on how the others will respond or how they might change the way they treat you.

“You want to be your authentic self around your track friends and everybody you see pretty regularly. You get to be close to them,” Longmire told me. “In a hobby or a passion that’s so important for us, being able to be your authentic self without having to worry about what people think of you or if you’ll be accepted or whether or not they’re judging you based on that. That’s the old myth: just show up and drive and nothing else is a big deal. But that’s not the case.”

Thiewes agrees, noting that people who want them to ‘keep it to cars’ are missing the point:

I still remember when I posted on my Facebook that I was doing this back in 2017, and one of the guys I raced with—who’s a very sweet guy and open-minded—he commented, like, why does it have to be gay racing, why can’t it just be racing? And several of my friends took him to task on that, and that’s still stuck with me all those years later. The comment that one of my friends left, he said, it doesn’t matter what you, the straight guy thinks. If some kid is struggling with his identity and sexuality and interest and passions, and he sees this and realizes he can be both of these things and doesn’t kill himself for it, then this has made a difference. That really resonated with me, and that’s been my motivator. If this helps even one person, I’ve done my job.

Basically, it comes down to the fact that your identity is the lens through which you experience the world. I would have had a massively different experience getting into racing if I’d been a man—or if I hadn’t found a wonderful group of female friends who were just as excited about racing as me.

The Science Of Visibility

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Photo: Out Motorsports

Sex, gender identity, and sexuality strongly influence how we experience the world—they provide socially-acceptable lists of activities we can participate in, people we can date, and ways we can exist in the world. Men’s studies scholar Michael Kimmel notes that these factors are some “of the central organizing principles around which social life revolves.” When we deviate from those acceptable norms—when a young girl plays with a toy car or a man chooses another man as his partner—we’re subject to criticism.

We’re humans. We like structure. It can be tough to reconcile something that defies what we’ve been raised to think. But our brains are also pliable, which means that we can learn how to break old habits. We just need extra reinforcement. It’s the kind of reinforcement learning we do when we stop smoking, or when we learn a grammar rule that contradicts something we learned in school (the Oxford comma, anyone?). The more we experience non-traditional communities—or the more we consciously use or delete an Oxford comma—the more accepting we become.

And that’s why visibility is so crucial. The more openly LGBTQ+ folk turn up to the track, the less likely the community will be to think twice about it. But we do need people to openly share themselves and their experiences in order to help build that tolerance.

“I am a cisgender white, 6’2” very masculine-looking person with a deep voice and a beard. I can defy some of the stereotypes in some ways,” Thiewes told me. “I feel sort of privileged in a certain way where, if I have the power to take this harassment and bigotry and twist it because I’m not the stereotype that some people think of, it would be a real shame if I sat on my couch and didn’t do it.”

That’s also the benefit of a strong community—you can rally around other people. There’s strength in numbers, and there’s comfort in knowing other people have had a similar experience to yourself.

Longmire admits that he struggled with his identity, even as he and Thiewes started Out Motorsports.

“I wasn’t anywhere near as comfortable with who I was then,” Longmire acknowledged. “I was very far from knowing ‘who I was.’ I hadn’t figured that out yet. Having [Out Motorsports] was a way to figure that out for myself and become more comfortable with myself because I’d be lying if I said when we first started this I was comfortable with who I was and with everyone in my local motorsports community knowing. This has helped me as much as I can imagine it would help anybody else by sharing this and being more authentic.”

Where We Go From Here

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Photo: Out Motorsports

“Me and Jake met in Philly the other day,” Longmire said as we ended our conversation. “We had a cruise, and it was one of the first times that we have been together since this all started when we both had press cars and were both going to the same event with the people who follow us. We sat down at dinner, and he asked, ‘Have you ever just sat back to look at all the people who’ve come to us and all the things that we’ve done just in the past two or three years?’

“And I hadn’t until that point. But it put everything into perspective. When we first started, just the fact that I was the uncomfortable one but now we’re the ones sharing our lives and helping other people, it’s come full circle.

“I hope that everybody who’s out there who’s afraid to go to the track or is afraid to be themselves in the community that they have a true passion for, that they find either us or somebody like us and is able to just be their authentic and true selves. I hope it keeps spiraling so that, eventually, we don’t even have to have this conversation.”

In terms of the ultimate goal, I have to say Longmire put it most succinctly: “I don’t want to just talk about the fact that we want to create an open environment and a welcoming community where you can be yourself. I want to create that. I want to be the organization that puts together all-inclusive track events and leads with that… Not only for LGBTQ+ family, but for allies and everybody. Just creating that safe space. Not just say that we’re welcoming. I want to have a place for them to go.”

Despite the fact that it only kicked off in 2017, Out Motorsports has grown exponentially, drawing both members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies to grow the organization. The site offers a membership option—$2 a month or $20 per year—which gives you access to things like their forum, monthly chats, and future in-person events when it’s safe to hold them. You’ll want to keep an eye on the things Thiewes and Longmire have coming through the pipeline: I have a feeling it’s going to be good.

I had the chance to chat with Jake Thiewes and Tyler Longmire for almost an hour, so there was only so much I could include in this story. If you want to read more, you can read my interview with Thiewes here and Longmire here.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.

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DISCUSSION

shanemorris
Shane Morris

Last year in Austin before the F1 race, my wife and I drove up to meet our fellow Jalops, and some of the writers for the site. We ended up hanging out and sharing a table with a two really cool young men, and about 30 minutes into our conversation, I realized they were an item.

Now, being around two gay men, I knew what I had to do. I started talking to them about Jesus, and I asked them why they felt like they needed to spit in the face of our Lord and Savior. I spoke in tongues, and I explained to them that God has very strict rules about homosexuality. Thankfully, after about an hour, I was able to convince them that their decision to be gay was against God’s will, and they became Christians, right at that moment.

... nah just kidding. That didn’t happen. We took shots of Irish Whiskey and talked about our love of cars, racing, wrenching and all things brown diesel wagon. Because when you love cars, that’s what you talk about.

Honestly, I’m glad they were gay, because I’d rather hang out with people who can recognize how handsome I am, along with complimenting my tasteful car modifications. That’s what they kept saying the entire night; “Wow Shane, you’re so handsome, and also your car is tastefully lowered. Shucks, I wish I were more like you, with straight teeth and a perfect 5 o clock shadow. Also, you have these perfectly toned and defined muscular arms. You’re basically perfect in every way.”

Okay, fine. They didn’t say that either. We were talking about the appetizers we ordered, and wondering if the wings were too hot. Gay men don’t just go around hitting on straight men all the time. They didn’t even mention how stylish I was. It’s like every gay stereotype fell flat, and they were just totally normal people who love cars and racing.