Commentary: Coming Out Behind The Wheel

2010 Ford Fusion 3
Waving a flag – 2010 Ford Fusion during 2009 Twin Cities Pride weekend. Photo by Randy Stern

Today is National Coming Out Day. This is a day that even us who have been out for years can take the time to inspire those who are not open about their own sexual orientation.

As they always say: "It takes one to know one."

My story is simple: I always have to do a double coming out to people who do not know me. The process goes as follows: "Yes, I am a member of the automotive media and, oh by the way, I am also a gay man." There are times when I have to flip the script – such as events that are mostly attended by the LGBT community. It's a regular thing for me to do.

What I found by doing so were two things. When I'm around my own community, I found a huge interest in the automobile, travel and transportation options. The idea that LGBT folks have more disposable income is well known by the industries associated with these topics. Some of my LGBT brothers and sisters may argue otherwise.

Deep down inside, we love talking about cars, trucks, that idiot on the bus or train and where to go on their vacation. Once I mention that I am a member of the automotive media, the fun really begins. Trust me, some very interesting conversations ensue at several events – from both sober and inebriated people.

There is a third element that I should also discuss: The subculture I live in. In gay/bisexual male society, there are subdivisions based on attraction and other unique common traits. Since 1995, I have been a part of the Bear community – populated by gentlemen (and others) who (for the most part) exude a masculine air through (mainly) physical features distinguishing themselves from mainstream homosexual males.

I could explain further the whole "Bear thing," but I'd rather move onward. It is safe to say that for the best part there is an agreement as to what Bears are supposed to be, not everyone agrees on it as a whole. In short, either you're a big, buff fella with manly traits or a chubby fella with similar telltale features.

I will admit that over the years, the Bear quotient has been less important in my life than the automotive media part. It's not that I have issues with said community of gay/bi men. Nor can I attribute it to some form of fatigue from my 16 years of involvement in the Bear culture. Don't get me wrong, I love my Bear brothers – especially the ones here in the Twin Cities. But, there were moments when I had to dig deep down inside to find that Minnesota Nice…

What does this all have to do with the automobile? A lot! If it weren't for the Bear community, my inroads into this industry would not have caught fire like it has over the years. It was my work with an online magazine out of Chicago, Midwest Ursine, which gave me my first experience in the automotive media business. Living in Madison, I was able to attend the Chicago Auto Show to get a full picture as to what was going on in the industry.

Years later, I have been meeting my goals and lining up future plans. However, I began to ask myself about my approach towards bridging readers to this site and my work. I even questioned whether the Bear community should be a primary demographic for my material. In the end, I decided that V&R is for everyone – no matter who you are. As long as everyone understands that I also have some of this material available on another regional lifestyle publication.

This ideal reflects where I am at in my writing. Part of the impetus for devoting all of my writing efforts into automotive and other transportation-related subject matter has been the wider acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in these industries compared to the sports realm I used to enjoy writing in. No matter how many people put their lives on the line amongst sports people, there will always be a screaming homophobe in the stands wanting someone else's head…or mine. There may way fewer of those people in the automotive and transportation industries that I am aware of.

Perhaps the most important thing to state on this day is my hope that I would be able to pass this experience down to someone who can elevate this onto the next level. Considering what the LGBT community has gone through over the past year after the media's incredible coverage of the rash of suicides by young gay males, I could only offer myself as a resource – someone to talk to. We cannot live in fear, sadness, frustration, and anger because of the power we gave to those who prevent us from moving forward in society.

There's a life of joy ahead. For me, it is the amazing feeling when my right foot finds the sweetest spot in an engine. It is the gentle thrust of a Cadillac CTS-V with 556 horses smoothly blasting off. It is the aural affirmation of a vehicle attacking the curves and rewarding the driver with perfect balance and poise. It is delivering quality work to you based on some amazing experiences getting to the final product.

That is what National Coming Out Day is all about – sharing the joy of life's great rewards. Perhaps inspiring someone to follow my footsteps your pursuit of happiness as out, proud and free as you can be.

Oh, by the way, here is my complete coming out story. I hope you are sitting down…

The coming out process for me was a protracted effort. I had to wait for the right moment and the right place to do it. Once I did, I hit the ground running and was able to do more since coming out than I did beforehand.

The wish I had was the opportunity to explore my sexual orientation further when I was younger. It seemed that when I was a teenager that every time I wanted to come out, I knew I would not be accepted by everyone. I was not prepared for the "classic coming out story" that ended in total estrangement from my family, so I kept myself in the closet and held on to a fragile heterosexuality.

To put in perspective the timeframe I was living in, I was a high school senior during the first year of the AIDS Crisis. To come out at that time, I would fear a quick death from the disease. There was no real information about AIDS in the early 1980's because no one knew how and why it was transmitted and how quickly it would spread among gay males. Instead, I lived a life of abstinence in the face of my straight friend's promiscuous lives.

In 1987, I left Reseda and all of my childhood friends behind for a life in the Bay Area. Before I moved to San Rafael, I would visit San Francisco a lot. I knew about the Castro, Polk Street and the clout the gay community had in that city. Harvey Milk was a savior in my eyes as he was the first gay man I was aware of who led our people forward in the political realm. With that knowledge, I knew that by coming out in the Bay Area, I would do so further away from my family and hometown.

Little did I know how much I learned in the process of my coming out. I was amazed at how big the gay scene in Southern California was. It seemed that all of the sudden, my rearview mirror was full of the things I missed. In Reseda, just a mile from the house I grew up in, was a gay bar. They had youth groups in Hollywood at the Center LA at the time I was a teenager. Yet, no one had this information available for me. Though I was aware that there were gay student groups at Pierce College and Cal State Northridge, I was afraid of being associated with them in fear of retaliation and disassociation by everyone I knew. I felt as I missed a golden opportunity to come out at a younger age.

In 1992, I was a year away from graduating at Cal State Hayward when I was informed of the death of my mother. I came out to my brother a couple of months earlier, but I was advised it would not be a smart thing to come out to her. From that point, I had nothing to lose. I used the occasion of my college graduation to come out to my friends. I only had one friend who subsequently freaked out about this. Sadly, he is no longer a friend and I have no knowledge of his current whereabouts.

In subsequent years, I held true to my own development as a gay man through my activism, organizing, and involvement in the literary arts (and, further, a member of the automotive media). With everything I accomplished, my brother and the remaining friends from school are still in the loop in my meanderings. I know that Matthew reads this blog sometimes and knows how much I appreciate him doing so.

There is still a feeling of envy for those who come out in their teenage years. They have so much access to information so early in their lives. In contrast to 24 years ago, they are better informed on HIV/AIDS issues and are fully aware of the challenges our community is going through today. However, I know that I will be called upon to be a beacon for those who are identifying themselves not only as gay but of an overweight gay man who is curious about the Bear culture and finding a way to maintain their interests that are not stereotypically part of a gay male culture.

In fact, we all need to be beacons. As a diverse community, we can guide those looking for an opportunity to come out to say "it is OK to be gay and embrace your interests and lifestyle." As a diverse people, we will find common ground to share our lives and build community in pursuit of equality with the general populace.

But, first, all we need to do is to simply come out.

…or, be an ally, a friend, or a beacon to someone who is in the process of coming out. I'm one…there you go!

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