Queer Beyond London is delighted to highlight exciting research and projects exploring queer local histories that will be featured in our upcoming Queer Localities international conference from 30 November – 1 December 2017.
Based on oral histories I performed on 64 LGBT and minority truck drivers in the United States, this paper explores how constant movement enables a certain sexual and social freedom for truckers. Increasingly, truckers are women, queer and trans folks, and racial and religious minorities. At the same time, truckers are doing their jobs within a tightening web of federal and company regulations. How queer and trans truckers use the independence and motion the job provides to escape some of the social constraints placed on them by an often hostile world is one focus of this presentation. Another is how culture responds by trying to fix them in place legally, since it can’t geographically. Placing this research in a larger conversation about how place relates to LGBT identity seems productive. Truckers are constantly moving, and my narrators see that motion as a way to escape sexual and gender rules and workplace oppression. At the same time, it denies them community that might provide protection and some sense of safety.
Truck drivers work 11-14 hour days, driving enormous machines in all weather, over mountain passes, through crowded cities, on ice, at night, alone. They have more courage, and more modesty, than you can begin to imagine. At the same time, they are allowed very little control over the circumstances of their own heroism. Their hours, routes, loads, stops, and sleep are all rigidly controlled by a dense network of laws, company policies, and regulatory technologies. Many truckers experience trucking as a source of joy, freedom, and self-reliance – possibly the only source available to them. For the socio-economically disempowered, driving a big rig confers power and a sense of importance. For queer and trans workers who find cold comfort in their home communities, escape to the open road provides acceptance and employment, at least for some.
One narrator told me,
I see a lot of trans women out here. I think a lot of trans women choose this career because it’s a place where we can work – we’re by ourselves, no one’s going to harass us while we’re in the truck. When I worked in the printing plant I was being harassed. I couldn’t go to work a single day without being harassed. I had my tires sliced, I had nails put under my tires, I had hate messages put up. When I’m in the truck I don’t have to deal with that. The fact that people hate me cuz I’m trans, well then they’ll hate me but say hello to my truck.
There still isn’t enough research about nonmetropolitan queer life, or about working-class queers. In this paper, I think about how constant motion from the periphery to the center and back, all over the surface of the country, shapes the experience of sexual and gender identity. And respectively how gender and sexual variation shape how we understand movement and circulation generally.
Anne Balay teaches at Haverford College, where she is the coordinator of Gender and Sexuality Studies. Her first book, Steel Closets: Voices of Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Steelworkers, was published in 2014. Balay has worked as a car mechanic and an over-the-road trucker. Her next book, due out in 2018, is an ethnography of gay, trans, and black truckers, and describes the contemporary experience of these working-class queers.
Queer Localities: a two-day international conference
Birkbeck, University of London
30 November – 1 December 2017
Free and open to all, but please REGISTER your place here