Hello, It’s Me (And I Will Never “Like Cars”)

16-year-old James is on record saying “I can’t imagine wanting to spend money on cars beyond their use for transportation – that is so dumb.”

A year later, 17-year-old James knew that he didn’t like cars. This was during a particularly difficult time in my life. At 17, I was not out, to anyone. My deeply-held secret was mine alone – quite a burden, albeit one shared by many LGBT youth.

Shortly after turning 17, along came a silver, 2001 VW Jetta GLX VR6 5-speed. It was the only Mom-approved German-with-a-stick that was allowed in the house. The at-the-time E36 BMW 328i was deemed “too expensive” despite being close in cost on the used market.  

Some things began to change. For starters, the seemingly less-than-traditionally-masculine Jetta made some interesting sounds. For those in the know, the 12 valves of fury liked to sing the song of their people from about 5500 rpm to redline (at which point the intake track runners were well into their power mode, due to a trick two stage intake runner setup). 2.8 liters and 174 hp felt like a ton of power. Then somewhere along the way I learned to heel-toe downshift and practiced heel-toe in every braking “event.”

I began to notice that the more I did “car things” the more my parents perceived me to be “normal” and straight. Hanging out with the guys at a car meet? Must be straight. Taking the cars out to wash and detail by hand. Must be straight. Car control clinic? Must be straight.

Fast forward to 19-year-old James, and there I was, with my father, buying an E46 M3 from Sterling BMW in Newport Beach, CA. 2004, 26k on the clock, the proper pedal configuration, Jet Black on black.

Then something really interesting happened. In 2012 – a fellow swimmer (on a LGBT swim team) told me about a Facebook group based in San Francisco that was composed almost entirely of LGBT automotive enthusiasts. After lurking for a few years, I finally posted a picture of my S54 engine semi-dismantled, as a friend was helping me with a valve adjustment, TCT replacement, and VANOS overhaul, and several great people (Haiii Jeff, haiii Tim) reached out and completely changed my life.

Fast-forward to 28-year-old James: Autocross? You bet. Car control clinics? Yes please! BMWCCA Golden Gate Chapter meetups? Present. Brake-pad-rotor-swaps and track-prep parties complete with five kinds of cheese, two kinds of cured meat, and a magnum of rosé… oh guuuurl – There are literally pictures of me torquing lug nuts in navy blue Ralph Lauren pumps… somewhere on Facebook.

Here we are, 10+ years later, with a complete obsession that was spawned in an attempt to hide from the fear of being “me.”

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