Gay Truckers: The Men, The Myth, The Medical Reality
Despite the fact that he lives in a log home high up in the Selkirk Rocky Mountains of Washington, had driven truck for seventeen years, and does justice to a rancher’s belt buckle with the looks and bearing of an extra in Joe Gage’s porn classic, Kansas City Trucking Co., Timothy Anderson warns me at the beginning of our conversation not to portray gay truckers “as free roaming sexual cowboys or disease carrying pariahs.” He is a man with a serious and honorable message.
Anderson knows the realities of gay trucker life beneath its eroticized skin. He describes his trucking years without sensationalizing or fetishizing the profession.
“I’ve done log hauling, refrigerated and dry freight. I’ve hauled trains, doubles and triples, sometimes over 1,000 feet long. Both my father and grandfather were stick haulers, meaning they carried logs. My uncle was a gypo, which is trucker lingo for a renegade independent who spends a lot of time trying to avoid the DOT. I dropped out of college in Alaska to get my intrastate permit when I was 20, and my chauffeur’s license allowing me to do interstate hauling when I was 21. That license was replaced by the CDL, commercial driver’s license, which I still have. I returned to college and got my degree through the creative writing program at Seattle Pacific University where I was the first openly gay graduate of that program. As a trucker, I was never in the closet. I was always out to my family, but the first time I was interviewed about being a gay trucker, they gave me a fake name because they were worried I’d get beat up.”
In a profession that most assume to be extremely homophobic, from the NRA swatch on the top of a driver’s cap down to the busty mudflap girl over the back tires, Anderson explains how gay truckers meet. Is there any truth to the rumor that blue running board lights or a purple cab light signify that a trucker is gay?
“That whole colored light stuff is just urban myth. The CB radio had a secret lingo that truckers used when they talked about sex, but being out on CB was always dangerous because conservative Christian activists could call a gay trucker’s company and get him fired. There is a great gay resort in Oklahoma City called The Habana Inn that is popular with gay truckers and ranchers. It was a place where I could get out of the truck, get out of the machismo of the trucker culture and meet like-minded men. The iPhone and all the phone hook-up apps have entirely changed the way gay truckers meet and communicate. The idea of the cruisy truckstop is a thing of the past.”
Anderson says that there are no accurate statistics about the number of gay truckers because they are an obviously transient demographic, and because very often they are closeted and living a straight life at home. There are truckers whose gay sex lives are active only when they are on the road. Anderson says that truckers joke about the “500 mile rule” which says that once a trucker is 500 miles away from home, anything goes, but he is quick to add that most truckers are monogamous. He admits, “Trucking affords three things: access to sex, anonymity and no accountability for how you structure your time, all of which make it attractive to closeted men.”
Anderson knows much about the sex lives of truckers through his association with the Spokane Regional Health District and its production of a 2007 study, Trucker Health Project, which clearly identified serious problems in trucker health, education, and HIV care, outreach, treatment and prevention. When asked specifically about the sex lives of gay truckers, Anderson expresses some irritation, saying, “There is stigmatization of gay truckers as sexual nomads. You walk this weird line. Sexuality is part of trucking, like it’s part of everything, but this ‘Last of the American cowboys’ thing is dehumanizing to truckers. It is not a free-wheeling adventurous, romantic life. It has some serious problems involving health and medical care.
“I am very frustrated with the lack of funding for the Health To Go initiative that would provide crucially needed mobile clinics for the more than a million truckers who are on the road at any given time. Did you know that if you drive truck, you have a 15 percent reduction in life expectancy? Even the minority of truckers with medical insurance are often not covered when they are out of state. There are huge problems with obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes related to the sedentary nature of the work. There are huge problems with Hepatitis C and HIV. There is a critical need for truckers to have access to anonymous HIV testing, outreach and treatment when they are on the road. Our country does much better at offering medical care for migrant workers than for truckers, despite the fact that there are 3.2 million registered commercial drivers in the USA alone. I have lost hundreds of truckers and dispatchers to AIDS.”
For more information about Health To Go, read the report Trucker Health Project at http://www.srhd.org/documents/PublicHealthData/TruckerHealthReport.pdf