I was 37 years old when I put my first bumper sticker on my car.
I’d always had a car. When I turned 16, my mother gave me her silver 1980 Pontiac Phoenix and said, “Now you can drive yourself wherever you need to go -- but you also have to take your sister anywhere she needs to go.” Fair enough.
But unlike a lot of 16-year-olds, I didn’t do anything to make the car outwardly appear to be “mine.”
I blame it on my career choice.
Yes, at 16, I’d chosen a career. I technically chose it at 11, when my love of movies and writing intersected and I decided I was going to be a film critic when I grew up. Which meant journalist. Which meant — I knew even then — I could not have anything on my car that told the world what I liked or supported.
At least, that was my teenage interpretation of objectivity.
So while I watched my friends cover their cars in stickers touting their allegiances to teams and brands galore, my car remained purposefully bare.
In retrospect, the fact that I equated journalistic objectivity with an unwillingness to announce to the world that I was a Spartan fan seems a bit extreme. Still, this interpretation was the one that stuck with me over the years.
I did, in fact, become a film critic (although that was never my one and only job title — Lansing wasn’t a big enough market). I spent the entirety of my professional journalism career firmly ensconced in the features department. While I never had to cover one political event, I kept my car bumper sticker-free.
In my final year at the newspaper, I decided it was high time to come out: I would let the world know of my devotion to Biggby Coffee. I took a deep breath and smoothed the sticker onto the bumper of my purple Chevy Impala.
The world did not end.
Once I left the newspaper, my car gradually picked up adornments. A “Donate Life” window cling. A “Peace, Love, Michigan” sticker. An “MSU Alumni Association member” decal. With each colorful addition, I felt like I exhaled into being more myself in my car.
It wasn’t until last fall that I added a sticker that was truly the most “me,” yet had me looking over my shoulder for a month after I stuck it on.
It read: “Legalize Love.” The “o” in “love” is Barack Obama’s logo. The stickers (and T-shirts and buttons and wristbands) were made during the 2012 presidential campaign by an LGBT group of Obama supporters. I couldn’t tell which was stressing me out more: That I had outed myself as a Democrat or that I’d just plain old outed myself on my car.
I’d been out for years. And if you knew me, you could probably guess my political affiliation. But putting those two words on my car made me feel vulnerable because I was no longer in complete control of who knew these things about me. I spent four weeks expecting to arrive at my car to find its tires slashed or door keyed or some awful note on my windshield.
About two weeks after I added the “Legalize Love” sticker, I returned to my car in a parking lot and saw a piece of paper fluttering under my windshield wiper. “Oh, no,” I thought, as my stomach sunk. “It really happened.” I was so disappointed. My steps slowed as I approached my car. I slid the piece of torn notebook paper from under the blade. It said:
“Hello!” :) <3
Now, I’m proud to drive around with my car proclaiming my identity. I’ve watched as multiple generations of a family eased up behind me at a stoplight and had a conversation about the sticker (I’m a good lip reader). People wave and smile at me.
It might be because of the “Legalize Love” bumper sticker. It could also be because I’m a Spartan fan. They might know someone who’s an organ recipient. Or it just could be my incredibly cute, “lime squeeze”-colored Ford Fiesta. Whatever it may be, I’m OK with it.