We’ve asked authors of books that are going to be reviewed in the upcoming edition of the Oral History Review to answer 5 questions about why we should read them. In our latest installment of the series, Anne Balay discusses her book Semi Queer: Inside the World of Gay, Trans, and Black Truck Drivers
Michael David Franklin’s review of Semi Queer: Inside the World of Gay, Trans, and Black Truck Drivers is available online.
What’s it about and why does it matter?
Semi Queer places oral histories of gay, trans, and black truckers within historical and labor contexts. Too often, queer theory and blue-collar work are seen as separate, or even opposed spheres. This work reveals how they overlap, not only in the particular, funny, tragic, real stories of the book’s sixty-six narrators but also in how these lives challenge how both queerness and work are imagined.
How does oral history contribute to your book?
The book quotes extensively from my oral histories. Rather than presenting one narrator’s account and then commenting on it, I bring together related threads from all the stories and weave them together. Trucking follows a predictable pattern, and I organized the book to replicate that pattern, giving readers a feel for life out on the road. Sometimes particular stories contradict or push back against other people’s oral histories, and these conversations deepen the book’s analysis.
What do you like about using oral history as a methodology?
Truckers spend loads of time alone thinking, so if given a chance to talk, they are fascinating. I love listening to people’s stories, and asking questions that turn storytelling into a transformative experience for them, as well as for me. The best moments are when we are all surprised by the accounts and the conclusions that emerge.
I want my narrators to be in the archive, and to be represented in queer history. And I want them to be part of my life and integral to my thinking process. Oral History is what makes that possible.
Why will fellow oral historians be interested in your book?
Semi Queer will interest oral historians both methodologically and thematically. My narrators remain anonymous for their own safety, and by fragmenting their narratives into thematic conversations, Semi Queer also challenges the “heroic individual” tendency of oral history, replacing it with a queerer chronology, and a collective vision.
What is the one thing that you most want readers to remember about the book?
Writing this book taught me that truckers and other working-class folks live sexuality and gender through their work. The motion and geographic circulation of the job enable them to inhabit their bodies in fluid and fun ways. Lesbians brag about tornados they survived or unusually challenging loading docks they hit the first time. Intersex truckers connect the truck’s propulsion to their sense of home not as a place but as a process. Therefore, I want readers to think about jobs and sexualities not as separate, but as interlocking and generative.