Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

Out on the Highway: Cars, Community, and the Gay Driver

Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

Out on the Highway: Cars, Community, and the Gay Driver

Article excerpt

Since the first Model T rolled off Henry Ford's assembly line in 1908, the gas-powered automobile has been an important site for the production and performance of masculinity. While the automobile has undergone tremendous transformations over the past century, the subject most strongly associated with the American car has remained constant. Whether tinkering under the hood, driving the family car, cruising on an urban thoroughfare, or drag racing on a country road, the individual who emerges as the ideal, universal American driver is invariably White, male, and heterosexual. Such persistent representations of men and cars-in traditional auto histories, industry rhetoric, and popular culture-not only reinforce a particular configuration of hegemonic masculinity in American car culture, but also suggest that only those who are straight, White, and male are truly capable of understanding and appreciating the automobile.

Yet despite this ubiquitous characterization of the American driver, there are thousands of serious and knowledgeable auto enthusiasts who do not adhere to the stereotypical White-straight-male mold. This is evident not only in mainstream car culture, which has recently experienced an increase in women's participation, but also in the emergence of various automotive subcultures that cater to specific populations and automotive interests. The Latino lowrider culture in the southwestern United States, the import street racing culture in Asian-American communities, urban neighborhood car clubs composed of young African-American males, as well the young working-class men who identify as old school "rat rodders" represent just a few of the automotive subcultures that have diversified American car culture in interesting and important ways. Not only has American car culture expanded to include subcultures framed by ethnicity, race, and class identity, but has also witnessed the emergence of a car community that caters specifically to the gay and lesbian auto aficionado. Lambda Car Club International (LCCI), an organization which boasts over 2,200 U.S. members in 32 regional chapters, provides members of the LGBT community with the opportunity to participate in classic car shows and cruises, exchange automotive information, and socialize with like-minded individuals in safe and congenial spaces. Lambda's growing membership roster, as well as its increased presence on the Internet through regional club websites and Facebook® pages, suggests that the gay and lesbian auto enthusiast is not an anomaly, but rather is a significant participant in American car culture.

NONHEGEMONIC CAR CULTURES AND THE GAY AUTO ENTHUSIAST

While alternative car cultures have infiltrated mainstream car culture to some degree, inclusion has been dependent on the success of particular group strategies. Women who own classic muscle cars, for example, often reconfigure classic muscle car culture as a family activity in order to create a place for themselves-as traditional women-within it (Lezotte, 2013). Young Asian men, active in the import car racing scene, distance themselves from the "brutish" White working-class masculinity of American muscle car culture by reclaiming identities as "ricers"-a term often used pejoratively to hyperfeminize the Asian driver-to forge alternative masculinities (Best, 2006). Latinos call upon lowrider culture not only to instill masculinity in male participants, but to celebrate ethnic tradition, creativity, and community as well (Bright, 1998; Sandoval, 2003). And young African-American men-many who are former gang members-repurpose the castoffs of undesirable automotive models to create new identities for themselves and their community (Brown, 2010).

In a study of gay fraternities, Yeung, Stombler, and Wharton (2006) assert that in order to break into the historically heterosexual brotherhood, gay men adopt the hegemonic model of masculinity "on their own terms" (p. 5). Gay men enter mainstream car culture in a similar manner, as they draw upon various texts of heterosexual masculinity to create identities as gay car enthusiasts. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.