The Out Motorsports Road Rally Taught Me the Importance of Queer Camaraderie
The Hot Girl Summer Road Rally took place on June 11 and saw some 30 cars and 50 or so attendees.
I had a lot of thoughts racing through my mind when Jake Thiewes sent me a text, and later an email, asking if I wanted to join his Hot Girl Summer road rally near the DC, Maryland, Virginia (DMV) area. At first, I wasn’t sure If I would go; I was about to head to my first media preview drive event for the 2023 Honda HR-V, and I didn’t know if the scheduling would work out between the new events. But the world lately has been scary, and I knew I had to make time for Thiewes. And probably for myself, too.
Thiewes is one of the founders and main contributors of Out Motorsports, a queer-friendly collective focused on making car content that doesn’t shy away from its relationship to queerness. “Chevy’s supporting this event, and you could drive a new Bolt if you wanted to,” he said.
[June is Pride Month and The Drive is celebrating it by highlighting queer people who have incontrovertibly helped shape the automotive landscape we live in. This year especially, with so much stress on our collective shoulders, it feels crucial to remind everyone—and ourselves—that we have the right to be proud of who we are.]
In a vicious news cycle for queer people and existing in a city with a shifting gayborhood, I found myself wrapping my mind around why it was so important for me to support queer people. Ultimately, I did go to the rally. I’m very glad I did.
For the uninitiated, Out Motorsports is a one-part online blog, one part Youtube channel, and a huge heaping of social club linking queer folks and cars. The brainchild of Thiewes and Tyler Longmire, the group sees the majority of the two writing and editing articles and videos revolving around car reviews, motorsport, and culture stuff, like Thiewes’ BMW E36 325iS race car. There’s a smattering of other articles from young, up-and-coming writers, or maybe a familiar face or two you might have seen elsewhere, but the strongest pull Thiewes and Longmire’s group has is the construction of community.
This community had me resurrect a rusty Daewoo Lanos with a slipping transmission and filled my head with the idea that an unloved shitbox from a dead brand stood a chance against cars like the Ford Focus SVT, or hell, even an Eagle Vision. It was a sort of Top Gear meets 24 Hours of Lemons, with a splash of Carly Rae Jepsen in the mix, just to queer things up a little.
Previously, most of the Out Motorsports events have been track-oriented, but track driving is hard and can be very expensive, even after the group’s efforts to lower the cost of entry barriers. The track events will still continue, but for those who aren’t interested in track time, the Out Motorsports road rallies also exist as a low-stakes way to get your car enthusiasm fix and hang around queer folks in one fell swoop.
The Hot Girl Summer Road Rally was the organization’s first road rally of 2022: an all-day event that involved a 90-ish-mile tromp through an area about 40 minutes away from DC. The rally started about 30 miles east of DC in Warrenton, Virginia, snaked through the Shenandoah Valley, and ended in the small town of Front Royal, Virginia. It was an easy drive, mostly focused on enjoying the rural Virginia scenery and meeting new people. There weren’t any challenges or many stops along the route, but that was okay. The focus was on the camaraderie and enthusiasm among fellow queer auto enthusiasts. The cheeky name is a direct reference to rap favorite Megan Thee Stallion because we gays love us some Meg.
Compared to a pricey and intimidating track event, a road rally is pretty damn easy. All anyone has to do is show up with a running car and be queer. Anybody can show up and be queer, right?
Things Immutable, Now Under Attack
“It’s not hard to show up and be gay, right?” I said to myself, thinking over the invitation Thiewes sent me. In my own eyes, I was rocketing to being a gay veteran of sorts. I have been out of the closet for nearly a decade, and in a lot of ways, things are so much better now than they were in 2013. I have felt the tides shift from queer people being a homophobic punchline in the late 2000s to the President embracing marriage equality. So it was easy to forget that just because things had gotten better, they don't always stay better.
I couldn’t shake the sinking feeling that things weren’t quite okay in the gay world. All of a sudden, from seemingly nowhere, people were claiming drag queens were “groomers.” Transgender bathroom bills and transition bills became a hot topic again. Court cases like Roe v Wade—things I thought were immutable—found themselves under attack. Would marriage equality be next? Is it just a matter of time before things go back to the way they were?
I pondered all of this but figured I was in a pretty safe and very gay city. People know Columbus, Ohio, as a sort of Mini Chicago, a space where all the kids from rural Ohio and Indiana come to “make it” in the big city. Things aren’t so bad here, right? On some level, I had deluded myself into thinking that the homophobia and transphobia I had seen on social media or watched on the news had a pretty low risk of affecting me where I lived. I was in a gay-friendly bubble, I had grown accustomed to being able to be out of the closet and be myself without too much fuss from the public.
But about a week after Thiewes sent me the invitation, I met some friends in the middle of the gayborhood, walking down the street to see some of our drag performers perform. I looked pretty damn gay, complete with three-inch inseam short shorts, a mesh crop top, knee-high socks, and a pair of leather boots. I looked so gay, but hell, I am gay, so there’s that. It was nothing I hadn’t worn before.
“Go home, faggot,” I heard over the sound of a pushrod Chrysler V6 engine with no exhaust. Before I could make sense of the slur, a force of tiny rocks hit my back, my face, and fell in my shoes. I looked up, as a red Dodge Grand Caravan sped off. It was just gravel.
I tried to laugh it off. “Ha, yeah if I had to drive Dodge Grand Caravan, I supposed I’d be homophobic, too,” I posted, and later deleted, on social media. Really, I was fucking shook. Here I was, in the gayest city in a 300-mile radius, in the middle of the well-known gayborhood, getting hazed and heckled by strangers. “It’s just gravel,” I told myself. “It didn’t hurt you, you’re okay.”
I wasn’t okay.
Was the gayborhood even all that gay anymore? Fifteen years ago, dozens of LGBTQ bars, coffee shops, and bookstores had given way to expensive apartments and bistros with expensive food. They crowded out all of the gay spaces and left only two. Some would call it progress, that LGBTQ acceptance has progressed so much that there’s no need for any dedicated spaces anymore. But do the patrons of those overpriced bistros and gastropubs really understand what it’s like to be heckled and hazed in a space where you’re supposed to feel safe? Do they really and truly understand what it’s like to have their safe spaces unceremoniously replaced with a cultureless, drab void that has intentionally made it uncomfortable to be outwardly queer?
I thought about the encounter for a little while. I understood what Thiewes and Longmire were trying to do, the community and safe space they were trying to build. Maybe on its face, the thought is silly, the idea that a random scuffle with a homophobe in a beat-up Chrysler van would trigger such a deep line of thought, but it did.
When that gravel hit my face, it felt like a sort of cosmic reminder from the universe that said “things still aren’t okay.” Processing that experience in a space that had started to reveal itself as one that was no longer for people like me felt like a mini paradigm shift. Supporting the ones who endeavor to create spaces for queer people, even ones who do silly things like talk about cars, became paramount.
Then and there, I knew I had to go. “Yeah sis, I’m coming,” I texted Thiewes, probably two cocktails deep in the middle of a combination drag show and male revue.
I didn’t care that charging infrastructure woes had turned a six-hour drive into an 11-hour drive. The drive in the Bolt EUV became almost dutiful. I was on a mission to support other queer people, and dammit, I was going to make it.
And it was worth it.
About 30 cars, spread across 50 or so attendees, showed up on the rainy, unseasonably cold Saturday morning of June 11. Chevrolet loaned us three Bolts and a C8 Corvette, but arguably those were the least interesting cars there when placed next to ones like a restored Ford Model A or Alfa Romeo 4C.
The organizers placed me in the first of four run groups, alongside the C8 Corvette, a Lexus LC500, the Model A, a BMW E34 535i, a Porsche 944, and probably the hardest driving Subaru Forester outside of the World Rally Championship. Thiewes himself led the group in another Bolt EUV.
The trip was leisurely but spirited. We drove more than 95 miles across the Shenandoah Valley, through rolling hills, farmland, and forests. The scenery was nice, but I think the camaraderie was what stood out in my mind.
Here was a group of people like me, who knew and liked driving and cars as much as I did. I don’t know how to adequately describe the intense sense of power and freedom of being who you are with no reservations. It’s that same sweet feeling I felt back in 2013 when I came out and left everyone behind to embrace my own true self. Being here and doing this was a juxtaposition, flying directly in the face of the ideas I was told about gay men.
On the drive, I thought about the things my parents, siblings, and old friends told me. I thought about my 15-year-old self, nose deep in the MotorTrend and Autoweek forums, convinced that cars would make me un-gay.
My family thought so, too. “You’re not gay, you’re into cars,” said my older brother as he tried to assure me that, in fact, being gay was completely antithetical to car enthusiasm. My brother’s reassuring conversation was a “solution” that he and my family came up with after attempting to lovingly “readjust” my behavior. To them, I was too frilly, my voice had too much lilt, I had too much of a bounce in my step, and I moved my hands too much when I talked. I didn’t like sports, I wasn’t a very physically active kid, and I needed something that could suck the gay right out of my soul. Cars, should do that, right? To my brother and the rest of my family, cars just aren’t compatible with being gay. And for a long time, I believed it, too.
But cars couldn’t filter out my gayness. Eventually, I would learn that you can be very queer and like cars. That’s how I met my friends when I snuck into a gay bar with a friend's ID and heard a group of gays debating the merits of the then-new Acura ILX. That’s the whole point of Out Motorsports. The group is just as bawdy and knowledgeable as any of the “straight” greats. It’s a group where we can dish shit on a diesel BMW’s DEF system, but also give tips on where to eat and stay at Fire Island in New York or Provincetown in Massachusetts.
I don’t know if there’s much I can do to turn the tides away from what feels like an erosion of LGBTQ rights. In a lot of sorts, campaigning on Twitter feels futile, and it is frustrating how little our elected officials seem to care. It’s a sad plight, but experiences like the Out Motorsports Hot Girl Summer Rally remind me why we have to fight. People and experiences matter, the good times and power of being able to be open are things worth cherishing. Experiencing moments of joy among queer people is valuable. Supporting queerness in the face of those who don’t want us to exist will always be important, no matter what form or group it takes.
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