DECEMBER 17, 2014 by JJ VINCENT
Writers from new anthology Blue, Too: Writing By (for or about) Working-Class Queers share why they chose to participate in such a personal project.
Writing to, for, from, and about queer folk is often very personal, and Blue, Too is no exception. These are the faces most people don’t think of as part of the queer world: blue collar, working class people with concerns that you won’t see on Queer Eye TV.
Here, a few of the participants tell us why they decided to participate and what it meant to them:
My piece “Hooters Tooters and the Big Dog” (HTBD) was also included in the first anthology “Everything I Have Is Blue” and although the trucking industry has changed, many of the perspectives regarding how truckers approach gender, sexism, homophobia and society’s assumptions about which “bodies” are “qualified and capable” of doing this sort of work are just as surprisingly timely now as when the piece was originally written. Technology may have changed but the basics of the movement of freight haven’t.
In trucking, everyone gets paid the same– regardless of gender– one of the few semi-skilled professions where this is true. Yet trucking is still a very dangerous, unhealthy and underpaid profession. Women make up between 5-10% of drivers with participation skewed by region– more solo women drivers in the west, fewer in the deep south–and many women run as teams–either as part of a husband/wife operation or two women running together.
Geographer Valerie Keathley, in her PHD dissertation “Life on the Big Slab” (2014), has gone to great lengths to document the presence of LGBTQ drivers as well as the contributions women make to the industry. Yet especially among women and LGBTQ drivers, a tension is at play in which drivers attempt to “conduct themselves as professionals” and counter the hyper sexuality/cowboy/sex worker reputation drivers face from both within and outside the workplace.
As a gay driver, I continually dealt with this demeaning mythology and while not celibate during my 17 years in the industry, I certainly had neither the time, access, or desire to try to meet those hypersexual expectations generated by some elements within the gay community–and yet sex/ sexual expression, especially in the context of trucking, is always part of the modern trucking workplace dynamic. “Being a professional” is a sort of backlash against this constant sexual undercurrent that the “anonymous, transient” nature of trucking tends to enable.
Because HTBD is based on actual events it provided the freedom to explore these expectations, pull back the curtain on actual life on the highway and explore gender, sexuality, and the culture of trucking.
As a driver, I enjoyed unfiltered, raw access to this nomadic, sometimes free wheeling culture and because of the assumptions the industry makes (with its hyper masculinity expectations)–it gave me free reign to play upon convention and explore those assumptions.
First and foremost I hope that Blue Too will inspire readers to rethink what they assume about working class, rural, and blue collar identity. The hyper sexual mythology is ever present–especially in the fetish treatment truckers, cowboys, and other working class workers confront. It isn’t that these workers are celibate but rather that their sexual expression happens within a specific context and it often occurs as reflection of empowerment and playfulness rather than the themes of degradation/uber masculinity and gender affirmations most would assume. Our experiences are complex and our work space is a complicated terrain that is hardly accuratel reflected in gay pop culture.
I also hope Blue Too will affirm the humanity of this segment of society rather than contributing to the objectification and marginalizing that I’d say working class themed porn focuses on. Working class workers are both demeaned and objectified– and I once had a gay shipping company manager affirm this when he offered in surprise how impressed he was in my ability to hold a conversation and my grasp of world events. Talk about insulting.
Indeed, Blue Too makes a good stab at countering the immense weight and expectations that just the definition of “being working class” contributes to skewed and polarizing feelings of alienation. This is especially pronounced with sexual orientation in regards to perceptions of what defines masculinity. My job is not a part of, nor a reflection of, nor a litmus test of any aspect of my sexual orientation/ masculinity/sexual desire.
Finally I suppose one factor in writing my particular story was to portray how these expectations are also always in play between straight and gay truckers, male and female, and married verses single. Blue Too counters these assumptions by revealing in each submission we are first and foremost human and we interact with a broad cross section of society. Blue Too counters this myth of working class writers as being less intelligent, less educated, and confined by our perceived stagnating identity. We might be economically exploited, challenged by classist expectations and exist far outside the gay mainstream, but we still have very human things to say.
“Hooters Tooters and the Big Dog” challenges many stereotypes and extends far beyond my particular gay sexuality and gender. I love trucking specifically because of its nomadic and complicated identities, the constant interaction with diverse demographics and especially my love of the West. I am not a city guy and I embraced the wide-open spaces, interaction with a still mostly intact environment, and this sense that I could create any identity and possibility I wished through the empowerment of mobility, self definition, and social intercourse with all the populations found via a drive-by-life.
Wendell [Ricketts, Editor] chose to reprint “My Special Friend” from the first edition, and I’m honored. This is probably my favorite of my short stories, the one, I think that is least clinical and that has the most “heart.” I submitted my story for the first edition because I was confident that I would be one of few writers taking on a quieter tone that emphasized the boundaries between white and blue collars, urban and rural values, and the intersection between shame and love. As it turned out, I pretty much stood alone in the first edition in that regard.
Since I was raised in a small town on those very boundaries I mention above, I hope that urban cynics don’t think that all small towns run rampant with small minds. My story was written in the late 1990s (Wendell spent a long time finding a publisher for the first edition) and times have changed. Hate isn’t gone, but hope and love exist in the smallest of towns. My birthplace (Astoria, OR), now has a drag show occasionally, and I’m told that the hottest night of the year is the “gay” street dance that attracts a large gay and gay-friendly crowd. For a town of 10,000 people that’s an impressive achievement. “My Special Friend” is actually set in a different part of rural Oregon, but I believe that values are shifting nearly everywhere.
My series (The Dickens Junction mysteries) is also set in a rural community (Astoria, OR, again) and represents to me the slightly exaggerated reality that I’d like to believe we will see in my lifetime—gay and straight people living together in community without special regard to their differences, but in honor of their similarities and the greater ties that bind us together as human beings.
Because I was in the original Blue, Wendell [Ricketts, Editor] wanted to put me in this one, also. Once Wendell heard that I was writing my autobiography on the internet for three friends, he said he wanted to use that autobiography. He’s a brilliant editor & he edited it brilliantly. I call it “Autobiography” but he may change that to something else.
People are deprived by the media of knowledge of the realities of working-class life, it horrors & very occasional triumphs. The working-class I was born into in 1935 in Malden, Massachusetts, may no longer exist, at least in the form it existed in then in New England. Therefore it’s history. There’s no way for anyone in the present generation to know about that history unless writers like myself document it for them. I hope readers will take that documentary with them & learn from it.
I don’t know the title Wendell has given to my “Autobiography” but I call it “Autobiography.” I wrote it because I have such powerful memories of the life I endured in that social class as I was growing up as a gay child. I’m really writing out of the pain of it, the bullying, the ostracism, the violence. I have no choice: I have to write this out of myself. I am 79 years old. If I don’t write it, who will?