A Few Words From an LGBTQ Trucker…

Kira Wertz
Aug 9 · 19 min read

On August 6th 2019 Overdrive Magazine covered the proliferation and acceptance of LGBTQ truck drivers; as a truck driver myself, this is a topic that’s very near and dear to my heart. I was beyond delighted to see my friend Kristin Durh staring back at me from the cover, but it wasn’t long before her visibility caused the haters to come out of the woodwork. So let’s talk about that. Some of what I’ll cover here will be remedial for my usual followers, but I’m hoping it’s new and relevant information for those who refuse to see us as anything beyond deviants, sinners, and stereotypes.


My friend Kristin Durh on the cover of Overdrive

It’s actually because of my job that I often have time to contemplate the multitude of issues that the Transgender community faces. Most of the inspiration for this blog are usually born from behind the wheel of my tractor trailer. This is one of many reasons why I love trucking; it gives me a lot of time to think.

First, let me tell you how I became a trucker…

I grew up in rural Northwest Pennsylvania where my first home was directly adjacent to a (now defunct) family run business called Tussey Mountain Log Homes. The business consisted of a mill on a residential property. They manufactured log homes which utilized notched timber such that a home could be constructed in the manner of Lincoln Logs. Because of my home’s proximity to this business, I got a lot of exposure to heavy equipment; logging rigs and forklifts were often within line-of-sight from my house. And it wasn’t uncommon for my brother and I to hang out and ride BMX bikes with the owners kids on that property. I think it was this moment that I became fascinated by big rigs.

Getting a CDL was one of those things I always knew would be a good thing to have. In lieu of more mainstream but less secure employment, a CDL holder with a clean record can pretty much get a job any day of the week. Unfortunately I moved away from the aforementioned business at a very young age, and never really had an opportunity to get the necessary behind-the-wheel education that many legacy truckers got by means of mutual acquaintance. Knowing actual truckers — especially owner operators — who might teach me the ins-and-outs of trucking, simply wasn’t an option for me.

In my early 20’s I’d considered going to trucking school, but the cost — just as it is today — was excessive. The school I contacted suggested that a carrier would shoulder the expense of the training if I signed on with them. It felt too much like indentured servitude, and I had a lot of apprehensions that the rookie would be treated like crap. Any trucker reading this, actually knows that would definitely be the case.

I stowed my ambitions to drive for more than a decade. Within that time, I had gotten married, and never even bothered to tell my wife that truck driving was an interest to me. So it came as a shock to her when I opted to cash out a small 401K so I could go to trucking school in 2013. I know, this is the part where all truckers laugh and say something deriding; now more than ever, I understand this condescending attitude toward those who went to a trucking school. Simply put, what a person learns in trucking school is only there for the purposes of pleasing a test administrator; after that, the knowledge should be mostly thrown out. Real truckers don’t drive the way DOT would like; I’ve come to realize it’s actually less safe to do so.

Dang I wore that beard good.

At the time I’d gotten my CDL I had been working in a warehouse for a fairly large masonry and ready-mix company called Dolese Bros. The work was exhausting, so I’d opted to solicit my new license to the management in the hopes of getting more time behind the wheel. It wasn’t long before I was tapped to drive their flatbeds hauling concrete block and other materials out to job sites.

For a time this served its purpose, but I’d become aware that in spite of the fact that they paid their drivers equally regardless of tenure, I was actually not being compensated in kind. While I assumed it was because I was about as green as Kermit the Frog, the actual reason was never disclosed to me. Instead of trying to haggle for equal pay, I took my CDL shopping. It wasn’t long before I was offered a gig hauling propane cylinders for a national company. What sealed the deal for me was that there was a brand new truck with my name on it. How many newbies ever get handed the keys to a brand new rig?

This company was beyond good to me. Before long they lost the only other cylinder exchange driver they had, and I was running all the district’s routes by myself. These were days when I was easily putting in my 14 hours, and occasionally a 16-hour short-haul exemption here and there. Those hours might serve an OTR driver just fine, but I was on and off the rig 20–40 times a day; manually loading and unloading hundreds of cylinders over the course of each day. I was burning out; my supervisor saw it happening, and went above and beyond to increase my wage. This is a hard job to staff simply because of the manual labor involved; he knew I was good at it, and did everything he could in incentivise staying. But I still needed a change; in more ways than even he could imagine.

Behind the scenes, in my personal life I had come to terms with feelings of identity that lingered from those years living next to Tussey Mountain Log Homes. I’d always felt I should have been female, even then, at 6 years old; I knew it!

So I outed myself to my wife in late August 2016, I was 39 years old. Around that same time I had accepted a job for a food distribution company called Ben E. Keith. In the two weeks leading up to my exit from the propane company, I started making subtle changes. I was letting my hair grow, and I had started painting my nails.

My supervisor had once taken note of my nails and quipped “that’s an interesting color.”
I responded “Yeah, I’m making a few changes.”
“Nothing too major I hope.” — he said.
My response was honest, but deflecting, “Not this week.” I would leave the company without telling anyone I was transitioning.

As I began orientation at Ben E. Keith I quickly fixated on anything which would indicate I’d be safe to transition there; I didn’t find it. The company is Texas based, and no protections for Trans individuals exist there or in Oklahoma, where I would be working. This very quickly lead into a period of anger; why did I leave an employer that loved me only to risk being discriminated against? It wasn’t long before I was looking for an exit strategy.

My previous employer told me that if my new job didn’t work out, that they’d gladly take me back. So I sent a inquiring text message to my old supervisor about possibly returning. His response was very positive, he even offered a pay increase upon return. I was ecstatic. But I responded that I’d need to meet with him first, so we setup a meeting.

This picture isn’t exactly how I presented that day, but it’s pretty close.

This account is excerpted from a piece I wrote on Linkin called Work and Suffocation.

I walked into the office, wearing my first wig and some women’s clothes. I believe I skipped makeup so as not to come off too “over-the-top.” No one said anything, it was like they’d always known me to present like this. I was a tad shocked, but at this moment I technically had nothing to lose, so I just went with it.

My reason to ripping this proverbial band-aid off was to spare myself the inevitable possibility of being discriminated against. Oklahoma is not one of the states which offers any form of protection from employment with regard to Gender Identity. So I figured it was wise to present female before my technical re-hiring so that the option to discriminate could be exercised without causing me harm later. To be fair, I’d always had a great repore with this supervisor, and I didn’t expect to be rejected, I was just preparing for the worst while hoping for the best.

I recall taking a seat in my supervisor’s office and getting it out right away. I think my opening statement probably went something like, “I’ll gladly come back to work, but first you’ve got to know I’m Transgender and I will be transitioning.” He got up suddenly and shut the door. We talked about what it would entail; what I want to be called, how I want to be addressed (pronouns), surgeries, document changes, and fears of political ostracization.

I admittedly offered this information on my own, he didn’t pry it from me; that’s just how comfortable I am with this man. By the time the meeting was over, the job was still offered to me. Within a couple of weeks the background check formalities had been satisfied and I returned to the company as what I imagine is the first Transgender cylinder-exchange delivery driver (probably the first at any propane company).

The workload upon my return was still heavy, one of the other (newer) drivers had caused enough repeated truck and property damage that I was back to working by myself for a while. But I still endeavored to prove myself; as Kira I bested my previous delivery stats by nearly 200 tanks delivered in a single day. While I technically didn’t have anything to prove, it felt like I needed to show the world that my being Transgender did not have any negative impact on my ability to do the job. This, of course, is the very crux of the current Transgender military ban; the idea that being Transgender is a detriment and an infirmity — It’s not!

These were trying times for me. As if the stress of feeling comfortable with my new presentation wasn’t enough; political debate seemingly emerged within that same frame of time that would make my life more difficult. It wasn’t long before I had my first restroom incident. In early January of 2017 an over-zealous manager at a Pilot Truck Stop attempted to throw me out of the restroom. His questioning was publically dehumanizing, he openly asked about my birth gender; as if he had a right to know. That incident would haunt me for months.

How I often presented at work during that period of my transition (early 2017).

Too concerned for whether I could safely urinate in the restroom I identified with, I opted to do what I’m sure many long-haul truckers do; find a place on the side of the road. This of course created its own additional dysphoria, but also safety issues. Presenting female, but publically standing to pee risked outing me in remote areas where a hate crime would likely go ignored by law enforcement. As it stands, law enforcement doesn’t have the best track record of seeking equal justice when crimes are levied against LGBTQ community. I was possibly even risking my life just to avoid another restroom conflict.

Beyond the matter of public exposure I had begun suffering with post-traumatic stress after the restroom incident. I was having significant trouble sleeping; often woken by nightmares of that vary day. At the time, it was not uncommon for me to begin a shift in the dark and early AM hours. The PTSD severely limited my ability to get much more than 1–2 hours of sleep, and it wasn’t until I began falling asleep while driving that I realized the depth of this problem. When you snap your head up and realize you’re barreling toward a guardrail at 60 mph, it has a way of grounding you in your current reality. I knew then that I couldn’t let these fears rule me.

As it turns out, Pilot has inclusive hiring policies that recognize gender identity as a protected classification. Having realized that, I reached out to their corporate office and requested their official policy regarding Transgender individual’s ability to use restrooms at their locations. Here is the EXACT response I got which came from their own legal department.

Our policy for all customers and employees is that the transgender individual should use the restroom for the gender that they identify with/feel comfortable with. If the transgender person does not feel comfortable using one of the public restrooms, our employee should offer for that person to use the restrooms in one of our private shower rooms.

During the course of my communication with Pilot, I did disclose exactly which store I experienced this problem in. I did not know if — or how — they addressed it, but I never had a problem using their facilities going forward. By mere happenstance a former employee from that Pilot found me online. When I told her of the problem I’d had — which occurred before she starting working there — she was shocked. But she had also informed me that supposedly the manager had been previously called up to corporate for training on this issue. I suspect that was a direct result of me reporting the incident.

Only one other time did anyone try to eject me from a restroom (at a Love’s). Their nonsensical reason was that I was wearing men’s boots. Of course, by this point in the exchange I was washing my hands. As I stood up more straight, and faced this person, it must have become apparent by my makeup and breasts that they were mistaken. An apology was given, and I was left alone. Nowadays I go into that stop all the time and have extremely positive exchanges with the staff. They know I’m trans, and they don’t care; which is as it should be.

But being a Trans Trucker has a lot less to do with restrooms, and a lot more to do with understanding. The Overdrive article I cited in the beginning of this blog is a great example of the lack of understanding and outright bigotry that can and does exist within this profession. A trip to the comment section will show just how hateful some truckers can be.

The prevailing issue here seems to be our visibility. It seems as though being openly LGBTQ makes some people think we are publicly “out” because we are seeking some kind of special recognition. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Many of these comments ignore the fact that in half the country it’s completely legal to deny employment to a Trans employee simply for being Transgender; so to have an industry that doesn’t judge us is kind of a huge deal. We also now have a presidential administration that is rabidly trying to erase us in an obvious yet indirect fashion, the nuance of which I explained in a piece called “The Subtle Legalized Genocide of the Transgender Community.” I have no doubt that if this administration could make us physically disappear, they would have already begun the second Holocaust. It just looks less cruel and less obvious if they deny basic rights such that they apply further emotional distress to a community that already suffers from high rates of suicide. If we self destruct because they permitted multiple levels of discrimination, then they can subvert any accountability because they didn’t directly kill us.

So, it needs to be understood by the Overdrive readership that we are not seeking to be in anyone’s face for the soul purpose if waving our orientation or gender identity around. We are choosing to live openly because it becomes easier to marginalize a community that does not stand up and be counted.

The last time the Williams Institute estimated how many Americans identify as Transgender was in 2016; at the time their estimate came to approximately 1.4 million. This was twice that of their last survey of Transgender individuals. And I wholeheartedly expect that the next time the survey is performed it will double once again. Visibility begets visibility.

Unfortunately some people prefer that Transgender people continue to exist as stereotypes. When they see us performing legitimate day jobs, it forces them to humanize us. That’s problematic when you’ve spent a lifetime seeing this community as worthy of nothing more than being sex workers, and deserving murder victims.

The comments do something that’s seen repeated in the public narrative regarding any minority group; they subtly imply that those minorities will have all the rights as anyone else when they stop being public about their struggle; ultimately remaining subordinate to the majority. Unfortunately, that’s not how equality happens. The cause of marginalized individuals can not be won by having good-intentioned privileged people holding the center stage on their behalf. If we don’t stand up for our rights to be treated and seen as equals, then we are in dereliction of our communal obligation. The fact that we are standing up appears to be problematic for those commenting.

Those who said the most heinous things in response to Overdrive’s pro-LGBTQ piece effectivily made the same stance as those who oppose immigrants seeking a better life. That stance: Go back where you came from (the closet). Or more aptly; stop making me see your disparity because it means “I’ll have to change my own internal dialog about your validity.” The crux is that; such as racism and nationalism is often instilled in many people at a young age, so too is homophobia and transphobia. But just as we know that racism and nationalism leads to malicious acts such as, harassment, discrimination, assault, and even murder; so too does it cause these matters to occur to those who identify as LGBTQ.

This leads to more pertinent questions regarding the actual consequence of acceptance. What are the downsides of allowing equal rights to those who are in the LGBTQ community? There’s this preconceived notion that acceptance will lead to a proliferation to what these people would incorrectly call a “lifestyle.”

But this is simply not true.

As I said, I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, I had zero LGBTQ people in my social sphere, and there was no LGBTQ represention in the very limited media that I had access to. So, my own feelings about my identity were not born from exposure to LGBTQ concepts, they were innately within myself — I was born this way baby!

The reason these people think that accepting LGBTQ people will lead to more of them existing is because when closeted individuals see they won’t be derided for being different, they will stop hiding their truth. As I already said, visibility begets visibility; when those closeted people see us, you’ll see them. That didn’t make them LGBTQ, it just made them stop being afraid to be who they are; I dare say that’s how I got here.

As much as I dislike Caitlyn Jenner, I suspect that seeing her strength to come out so late in life may have been the very catalyst for me to leave my closet. Though one could also say that I was equally inspired by fearless youth like Jazz Jennings. Most of us understand our gender at a young age, but the negativity we witnessed regarding Transgender individuals only solidified our positions within our closet. Unfortunately, the deeper one disappears into that closet, the more self-destructive one becomes.

The fearless Trans youth of today can save themselves so much grief by living authentically as soon as they can. Not only does early transition stave off the negative aspects of a dysphoric natal puberty, and avoid some surgeries; it will also deter one’s tendency to rely on addictions later in life as a means to distract from their gender identity.

It’s really difficult to drive this concept home when people are opposed to even listening to the people who actually have to live this way. For the commenters on the article, I can see they are ambivalent to the suffering that their ignorance can create. That being said, it needs to be understood that for people who come out as Transgender so late in life, we have run out of options. We’ve gotten to a point in our lives where, we’ll either transition, or die trying. And so it speaks volumes for the strength of these individuals to turn and face the wind, and steel themselves to the intolerance they are sure to face.

It’s the fearless nature of these individuals that helped me realize that I didn’t want to live a life being terrified of anyone finding out who I was. Better to have the world see who I am, than to continue living a lie.

But I get the opposition; for as much as I lived in fear of accepting my identity, I know that they too live in fear. They’re terrified that if they see this community as anything other than ‘less-than,’ it will somehow rob them of some piece of their identity. That’s quite telling because hate should never be a part of anyone’s identity. So it’s often extremely troublesome when these same people who project this level of hate at the LGBTQ community often profess to be followers of Christ. The obvious problem being that Christ was 100% accepting of all outcasts and misfits, yet these individuals are not. They often resort to the ‘Fire and Brimstone’ of the Old Testament to deride the community while ignoring the fact that Christ was not prone to extol the virtues of that text.

By their logic I can’t be LGBTQ, yet they get to bend the Biblical (Old Testament) rules about eating Pork, Shellfish, or wearing blended fabrics. When the Bible is only trotted out for the intention of harming someone else, there’s a strong possibility that one has overlooked the prevailing message within the text; Love in the Highest.

There’s also this strange disconnect with one's ability to know who they are. The people telling me who I can’t be, would have zero tolerance for anyone telling them that they’re someone other than who they feel themselves to be. The kicker of this is that society is so mean-spirited toward the Trans community that I actually don’t want to be Trans; no one does. There is zero incentive for being this way, and the small bit of hate seen in those comments, only serves to drive that home.

That being said, I love being Trans. Now I know that sounds like a conflict, but it’s not. I love being Trans because being out has allowed me to finally feel free; I’m finally the best possible version of myself because I stopped being a person that I didn’t identify with. I can’t change the circumstance surrounding my in-utero development such that I could be Cisgender; so being Transgender is the only way to rectify this incongruence.

With that thought in mind, one must also wonder too, who would I be now if I’d simply been born female; would I even still love trucking? These are aspects of the human condition. If you change one detail from your life, how would it completely change who you eventually became. This is why I love being Trans, it’s one necessary aspect of my own journey. Everyone gets to a point in there life where they’ll realize that if they cut a negative aspect out of their past, it would completely alter who they are in the now. This moment is what’s important, and I’m fairly content with my life. Even though I have to defend my community’s existence against those who have no authority to deny it; I am content. Coming out was necessary to reach that level of contentment.

Is it easy — NO!

Is it fun — NO!

Is it necessary — ABSOLUTELY!

Truckers are a unique breed. For me they’ve always represented a part of America that I have romanticized. It’s their independent nature that feels cathartic for me. I’ve grown to love the road, the different things you see, the challenges you have to overcome, but also the great and varied people you encounter. For all the hate I see levied by truckers in this article, I have never seen it at the stops. It’s almost as though these hateful personas are just a handful of heartless souls who speak loudest in the place of least accountability. Because being that person at the Truck Stop could (and probably would) get turned against them very quickly, and very publicly.

Throwing tanks in 100 degree heat takes a toll.

Since I transitioned, my customers transitioned with me. None have ever diminished me for being me. If anything, I find they’re more open and kind to me. Perhaps it’s the apparent vulnerability that an openly Trans person projects, but I reckon it’s the truth, ownership, and acceptance of one's identity that is actually an endearing quality. So it saddens me that some Overdrive readers sought to say such hurtful things about people they clearly don’t even know.

It’s a lot more difficult to be so angry and hateful in person. Perhaps one day I actually will encounter some of these people a Truck Stop; maybe they’ll attack me, or maybe we can just talk. I know a lot of Transgender truckers, and I know that as truckers, we ought not let our differences be the thing that pushes us apart. We are all out there; jammin gears and living that “if you bought it, a trucker brought it” life. We can work past our differences when we acknowledge our similarities. It is my hope that — one day — the validity of the LGBTQ community does not need to be framed at all; that our place as equals makes our visibility a non-issue.

Until then, let’s all just complain about the 4-wheelers.

4–10?


Your respectful comments are always appreciated. 🤗

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THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR READING!

The Transition Transmission

The place to embrace the Triumphs and Tribulations of those who Transitioned and risked everything to live authentically.

Kira Wertz

Written by

Married, cat/dog momma, Transgender Truck Driver, public speaker, activist, LGBTQ advocate, and primary author at The Transition Transmission.

The Transition Transmission

The place to embrace the Triumphs and Tribulations of those who Transitioned and risked everything to live authentically.

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