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 1908 debut of Ford's mass-produced Model T, the automobile has been associated with a particular configuration of hegemonic masculinity. Such persistent representations-in traditional historical accounts, industry rhetoric, and popular culture-assume only those who are straight, White, and male are truly capable of understanding and appreciating the automobile. This examination of gay car culture-as practiced through participation in the Lambda Car Club International- suggests otherwise. Calling on Lambda club websites, Facebook®pages, and videos, as well as survey responses from eleven Lambda members, this investigation provides insight into the meaning gay drivers ascribe to the automobile, uncovers the valuable connections to the past automobiles make possible, and explores the role of cars in creating community among gay drivers. Perhaps more importantly, this inquiry provides an alternative construction of masculinity, one with the potential to disrupt and displace the current hegemonic model that permeates American car culture.

Keywords: automobile, hegemonic masculinity, hybrid masculinities, gay identity, American car culture

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. …

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