For Pride Month 2019, Uber Freight is honoring the many trucking industry professionals who identify as LGBTQIA+.
Ellie O’Daire came out as transgender long before she was a truck driver, while she was still living in her college dorm at UNC Charlotte. “I socially transitioned first,” she recalled, “and have been living as myself ever since.”
This newfound personal fulfillment, however, didn’t translate into her working life. After a series of jobs in fast food and security that she didn’t love, she found a career behind the wheel. Playing trucking video games first exposed her to the industry, and she’s been driving professionally for 3 years.
Although Ellie feels at home in her cab and on the road, being a transgender truck driver does come with challenges. She told us about some of those struggles, as well as her triumphs. She also shared her hopes for the future of the industry, not just for the LGBTQIA+ community, but for everyone.
How did you get into trucking?
I was playing a trucking video game (American Truck Simulator and Euro Truck Simulator 2) on my computer, and I couldn’t figure out how weigh stations worked. I searched online and found a video by Youtuber Allie Knight, who drove for Jim Palmer Trucking. I wound up talking to her online and thought, “I could do this for a living.” I started talking to recruiters, and a month later I was headed out to Montana.
I’m an independent contractor now, meaning I lease my truck from the company and get paid a percentage of the revenue versus a rate per mile. I go all over the lower 48, but I tend to shy away from the East Coast (too many cities between Boston and DC). Although, I do love hauling cherries from Oregon to Vermont to the Ben & Jerry’s factory. I haul cherries in for Cherry Garcia, and I haul Chunky Monkey out.
What does trucking offer those in the LGBTQIA+ community?
I’m very much a loner of sorts, so I don’t have a lot of close attachments to people. The truck offers solitude, so it’s great if that’s what you’re looking for. The privacy is nice, especially for trans folks. For people who reside with people to whom they aren’t out as trans (or people that know but aren’t supportive), the truck is a safe place for them to explore their gender identity without the risk of a relative or roommate barging in.
While driving down an interstate highway a thousand miles from home certainly feels like being out in public, nobody you pass is going to judge your appearance in any way that you or anyone you know will ever hear about. For people that are still in the closet, the truck can be a much bigger closet (with a great view) and help them build the confidence (and bank account) they need to pursue their transition goals.
What challenges have you faced as an LGBTQIA+ truck driver?
There’s definitely discrimination, and not just from truck drivers. Some of the most harrowing experiences I’ve had have been with families in the bathrooms at a truck or rest stop. When a six-foot trans person walks out of the stall in the women’s restroom in front of a mom and her small children . . . people seem to be bolder and more bigoted these days.
The alone time can also wear on me sometimes, and I can get into a bit of a funk. I get into a depressive feedback loop if I don’t take regular time off. It’s definitely important to keep on top of your mental health. I drive for four to eight weeks and then take a few days off, but I also take some single days here or there. That actually seems to do a lot to keep my spirits up, and I’m really enjoying that.
How do you stay safe on the road?
I try to avoid the really busy truck stops, and I’ve found a large number (particularly Flying J) that have secret extra bathrooms behind the trucker’s lounge. Certain rest stops also have gender-neutral bathrooms. I like to stop at those because I never get bothered. I’ve also learned which restaurants have good truck parking, and I learned very early on not to walk in between trailers.
What resources do you turn to for community or help as a truck driver?
I’m involved in a few driving groups online. I also have a lot of friends from the company that owns the trailer I pull (Prime), and we’re in touch a lot. They have a big online presence, and one of the moderators of that group is a transwoman, so she helps keep that space from getting toxic. I’ve also got family in places like Denver and Oklahoma City, so I can stop and visit people on the road.
What’s your hope for the future of the trucking industry?
I’m really happy with the direction that it’s going in terms of new safety features in the trucks. The next generation Cascadia will have optional, basic, auto-driving features. My truck has some stripped-down versions right now. If I’m in cruise control, I’ve got radar that helps the truck keep pace with traffic.
I am worried that driver training isn’t keeping up with new technology. A lot of older drivers are afraid of the new tech, and new trucks are only as safe as the human drivers on the road with them. I worry the industry will fight against it, but it’s obvious that there will be a spot for human drivers for a long time. You’ve got to position yourself to be in the right spot as the industry changes.
What would you like to see for the LGBTQIA+ community in trucking?
I’d love to see the industry move towards supporting LGBT drivers with their benefits, such as active partner benefits for people who aren’t married. Companies need to get to a point where they’re recognizing trans drivers by their chosen name, even if it might not be their legal name. It’s really important. I’d also love to see more widely-implemented, supportive healthcare. It’s not always easy to find a doctor who will give you hormones, especially on the road. If the trucking industry makes sure their insurance covers things like that, they’d pull in a lot more drivers.
The views expressed in this post are solely those of the individual being featured. Experiences may vary.