On Sept. 28, author Anne Balay presented a reading and discussion of her new book Semi Queer at Women and Children First, 5233 N. Clark St., as part of its nationwide launch. The reading also featured a round table discussion with several LGBTQI individuals who shared their stories of working in the trucking industry in the book. Semi Queer follows Balay's 2014 book Steel Closets, which focused on queer steel mill workers in Indiana.
Semi Queer, which focuses on first-person narratives and experiences of LGBTQI and African American Truckers, coincidentally came about as the industry saw an enormous increase in queer and African American drivers. Balay originally started writing the book with the intention of shattering stereotypes about both truckers and other working-class people as being politically conservative, anti-gay and anti-feminist ,and the assumption that the majority of queer people are economically prosperous. As she conducted the interviews and met more queer truckers, she found an entirely different perspective from what she expected.
Balay said that the industry has suddenly mushroomed in part because of financial incentives from trucking companies in recent years, and that the presence of queer and African American truckers has increased as well. In an earlier interview with Windy City Times," she said, "Any trucker space you go to, there's lesbians, there's gay men, there's trans people … they're everywhere and they're happy to talk about it. That's one of the reasons I wanted to write about it; it came as such a shock to me after my steel mill experience."
In Steel Closets, participants kept their identities hidden to avoid harassment and violence in the work place.
"The people who talked to me as I was writing [Semi Queer] were women, gay men and trans individuals. ( Straight ) Men wouldn't talk to me … They couldn't understand what I wanted."
On the subject of financial rewards, queer trucker Shelle Licht spoke about how she had to take her twins, who were two at the time, on her routes because as a single mother that was the only option. She added, "The check we got for welfare was five dollars short of the rent … So where was I supposed to get money for diapers or food? I knew where, I had to find a way to make it work."
When a "good neighbor" reported her situation to child-welfare authorities, an agent investigated and was dumbstruck when Lichti asked during her investigation, "If I were a man would we be having this conversation?"
A major focus of the discussion and the book was how things have improved for LGBTQI individuals in regard to visibility, acceptance and insurance. Balay said, "The culture in the trucking industry can be very dangerous, but the older truckers are retiring and younger people are coming in, and there's a lot of change going on."
Answering a question from the audience about social media trans trucker Keaira Finlay, Balay further noted, "It's a double-edged sword, but it helps an awful lot. With social media you're never alone … There's a lot of crap online, but there's also an awful lot of support out there as well."