If we could find a way
To get inside
Each other’s mind,
If you could see you
Through my eyes
Instead of your ego
I believe you’d be
Surprised to see
That you’ve been blind.
– Joe South
Joe South wrote a song called, “Walk a mile in my shoes” and it was recorded by Elvis Presley in 1970. The point of the song is to consider another person’s point of view because you can’t truly understand their experience.
Tony (not his real name) can give you two views regarding gender diversity in the trucking industry. His alter ego, Tina, is a professional driver and owner-operator. I met him at a truck show and was interested in his perspective. He shared his story with me to provide our readers a different view from a ‘female’ driver perspective.
If you looked at Tony you would think he resembles a middle-aged computer programmer, which is his former profession. He started driving in 1994 and has been over the road since 1998. He’s married and has five grown children and is Tony when he’s not in his truck.
Why would Tony change into Tina when he goes to work? It all started when he decided to conserve fuel and began driving under the speed limit. He started getting harassed by other drivers on the CB. They’d make comments about the ‘old man’ behind the wheel. He noticed that they didn’t seem to give female drivers the same scrutiny, so he thought he’d test his theory and he purchased a wig!
Suddenly, no one said a word about his speed as they believed he was a female driver. If he left the wig on when he went into a truck stop, everyone just assumed he was a hippy with long hair. Tony decided to add to the ruse and started dressing in women’s clothing because he was aware of the disrespectful stares he received when people saw him as a hippie. This didn’t really change things much, so he figured he needed to look more the part of Tina, so he took it further and wore long sleeves and high necklines until he decided to shave his body hair and added shapewear and prosthetics to be more realistic.
By this time, Tina was his persona when he was in the truck and making deliveries. Tina was treated differently than Tony and most everyone seemed more helpful and were overall nicer to her. Tony explains this by saying folks are just more polite and tolerant of questions Tina had to ask. They are also much more likely to strike up a conversation with Tina than they were with Tony. Some people wondered if Tina was transgender, but others accepted her explanation that she had taken hormones for a while, which made her voice lower and face more masculine.
When asked for an ID at shippers or for law enforcement, Tina shows Tony’s CDL and explains the temporary gender change. When on the job and is not being asked for an ID, she is sometimes asked about her gender but always insists she is a woman. Tony admitted, “My objective is to pass as a cisgender* female.” Tina says that near as she can tell, the appearance and persona projected is complete and other than her two ‘tells’, she is accepted as female. Spending extra time on her appearance and voice completes the picture.
When asked about the response from Tony’s family, he said his wife (who is aware of his ploy) is married to Tony, and Tina only appears when he leaves home and enters the truck. In fact, many of her customers have never met Tony and just accept Tina as she makes her deliveries. “I’m in an occupation where once I get in the truck and leave the yard, no one knows who I am,” he said.
In Tony’s experience, he feels “there is a definitive, half-step nicer approach” when it comes to how female drivers are treated. “As women, you don’t see this” he added. “I can’t define it, but it’s a different level of respect”. He feels that because women have been treated this way for most of their lives, they don’t see this as ‘better’ but just ‘normal’”. He also believes that the fact that female drivers are still in the minority could be part of the reason for the difference in the treatment of women in this industry.
Tony has no plans to physically change his gender and he is happily married to his wife of nearly thirty years. His children are aware of his work transformation. One of his sons is in the process of changing from a male to female as a transgender, and Tony is fine with the decision and supports him.
When asked about the future, Tony said he will continue to be Tina until he retires. He lives by the adage to ‘Be Nice’. Although, from his perspective, he feels that women are ‘expected’ to be nicer, he has always lived by that motto, and it’s served him well as a professional driver.
Joe South was right when he wrote, “I believe you’d be surprised to see that you’ve been blind”. None of us can truly understand another person’s perspective until we’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Tina’s shoes are different than Tony’s and her insight into how female drivers are received in this industry is her own, but one worth sharing.
* cisgender is a person whose gender identity corresponds with the sex registered for them at birth.
Women In Trucking Association, Inc. is a nonprofit association established to encourage the employment of women in the trucking industry, promote their accomplishments and minimize obstacles faced by women working in the trucking industry. Membership is not limited to women, as 17 percent of its members are men who support the mission. Women In Trucking is supported by its members and the generosity of Gold Level Partners: Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, Daimler Trucks North America, BMO Transportation Finance, Great Dane, J.B. Hunt Transport, Ryder System, Inc., U.S. Xpress, and Walmart. Follow WIT on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. For more information, visit http://www.womenintrucking.org
Ellen Voie founded the Women In Trucking Association in March of 2007, and currently serves as the nonprofit organization’s President/CEO.