VANCOUVER ISLAND, B.C. - Gay lifestyle issues are almost never intelligently discussed in the trucking community.While many professional and management workers have crossed that threshold - artists, r...
TOUGH ROW TO HOE: Being a trucker is a tough way to make a living, but the life of a gay trucker is almost impossible.
VANCOUVER ISLAND, B.C. – Gay lifestyle issues are almost never intelligently discussed in the trucking community.
While many professional and management workers have crossed that threshold – artists, real estate agents, actors, lawyers, singers, teachers, politicians, and even clergy, have long ago stepped out of the closet – the same is not true for the trades and the laboring classes.
Blue collar workers, in general, and truckers specifically, are antsy about declaring their sexual orientation, if it may be different from that of their colleagues.
“How many gay truckers do you know?” asks Tim Anderson on the phone from his home in northeast Washington State.
“I’m not sure I do,” I stutter to reply.
“You probably know many,” he says. “When I started trucking in ’86/87, I thought I was the only one. Now, I know hundreds of drivers out there. There have been times that there were five or six of us running down the road and nobody would know the difference, except we’re on a different (radio) channel.”
This makes sense to me.
Why wouldn’t there be the same proportion of gay drivers as there is in any other profession? (One in every nine or 10 depending on who you talk to.)
Stereotypically, truckers are not subtle when it comes to discussing sexuality. Some can get downright ugly when talk turns to “gay truckers” on the CB radio – from mindless tittering and discomforting rhetoric, to particularly violent abreactions flavored with homoerotic subtext.
“It’s a very hidden segment of trucking … and it’s probably better that it stays that way,” says Anderson. But you’d never know it by his Web site: www.highmountainranch.com.
In a series of posted trucking stories, he’s unabashed about his love of trucks, rodeos and his sexual orientation.
“We had no idea what kind of response we’d get, but it was overwhelming. It was over a year before I got my first death threat,” he says, nonchalantly.
Besides attending a Lutheran Christian College, Anderson has put in his time on the road, running “salad” with a partner between Arizona, California and Edmonton, Alta. for 16 years. But trucking can put a strain on even a close relationship.
“It is hard to feel romantic when your better half is covered in diesel fuel, because you, his trusted partner, just lost a cross-over line in an Iowa blizzard,” he points out. Anderson remembers working for a Canadian a few years back.
“He thought we were perfect for the job, all the right experience,” explains the trucker. “His wife figured out we were gay before he did, but he told us straight out that he might not hire us because of that.”
While the situation wasn’t handled as well as it may have been, Anderson remains surprisingly understanding.
“At least he dealt with it straight up, unlike most people,” he says. “As it turned out, we became his number one produce-hauling team.”
After running across Anderson’s Web site by accident searching for trucking stories, it occurred to me that there must be a huge number of truckers whose voices are never heard – or at least a chorus of well-hidden voices.
Anderson talks of gay truckers conversing with each other in a “language within a language.”
To find out more about this subculture I began looking for the average Canadian gay trucker, if there is such a thing. Eventually, I began an e-mail correspondence with Joe, not his real name by the way, from Vancouver Island.
Joe might be considered a typical trucker. After running long distance for years, he now does local contract work on Canada’s left coast and gets home nearly every night.
While I could try to explain the life he lives, I think it’s best to let him speak for himself (and perhaps many other drivers, too). Below is a composite of a number of letters Joe sent me and while it isn’t representative of any one e-mail, it accurately expresses his overall sentiment:
A little bit about myself? I am gay and I am a trucker, but first and foremost, I am me.
People think all gay men are what you see on television or read in the paper; they’re so wrong.
Not all of us are flamboyant, raging queens. I’m very rural and live a very quiet life by choice.
I do not hide my sexual identity nor do I flaunt it. Because of this it can be difficult to meet others that enjoy a similar lifestyle. If you were ever to meet me, the last question on your mind would be, ‘Is he gay?’
We are your plumbers, carpenters, roofers, mill workers, loggers, fishermen, firemen, and yes, truck drivers.
I prefer people get to know me before they know my sexual identity – that they like me because of who I am.
I don’t socialize much with fellow employees for the fact most men are afraid to be seen with a gay man (someone might think they’re queer, too). Or they worry you might be trying to pick them up. (Give it a break – straight men just screw with your head.)
You don’t go to company parties because they don’t accept your partner, or you’re afraid of being fired, harassed, or given the worst job the company has to offer.
I’m the widower of a same sex couple. It’s very strange losing a partner you’ve been with for many years and in the end you’re only recognized as a ‘friend’ or ‘significant other.’ Even your own government turns the other way hoping same sex marriages will go away.
Sorry, sometimes I can get very bitter about the whole thing. It’s called “Why me?”
I work, pay taxes, vote, don’t hurt anyone or thing, camp, hike, drink beer, smoke, just your average Canadian – but I’m gay.
(I hate that word.)
I’m not saying I am the best worker out there, but I’ve never been fired and I’ve always been told there would be a job waiting for me if I decided to return. Striving to do the best was a way of being accepted without being criticized. Getting respect was my way of showing that gay people are just like them (those hard working regular folk).
As more rural men come out, the image is changing, slowly. As more and more people find out that their brother, best friend, sports buddy, and the more masculine men in their life are actually gay, the more acceptance I personally feel from my co-workers, and the less I have to prove myself.
What would I say to a young person looking to trucking as a career?
I would advise them to look very deep inside. Because it’s lonely living in a tin can. The hours are long, the pay is low and being away from home makes it almost impossible to have a relationship.
What would I tell a young gay man starting out as trucker?
Just be you. The issue of being gay should be the last thing on your mind. (But obviously it won’t be.) Be the best and safest driver you can, and try to ignore the uneducated masses. But there is a certain thrill to driving a big rig, all chained up, middle of the night, crawling through some mountain pass … So cold it’s not snowing, but just dropping ice. And as you head down a six-mile hill, fully loaded, turn up the music, light a cig and hope for the best – what a rush.
It’s the beauty in the headlights. That’s why I drive.