Notoriety Brings Purpose and Passion for Retired Trucker
Once in a while you meet someone unexpected, someone with the power to surprise you simply by virtue of having lived an ordinary life in an extraordinary way. Patti Spangler is such a person.
I first met Patti in November at San Francisco’s Transgender Film Festival. Although I had no advance knowledge about any of the short films in the program I was attending, I was aware that Patti, a subject of one of the films, was in attendance.
Still, I wasn’t prepared for the delight I felt when watching Trucker Patti, a truly original short documentary about Patti, a now retired, openly transgender and intersex long-haul trucker. It was the surprise gem of the entire festival for me, and I couldn’t wait to talk to Patti more about her life.
Patti, how did this film come about?
About ten years ago, during my time on the road, I started calling in to shows on Sirius/XM OutQ satellite radio. I always used the name Trucker Patti when I called in. When you’re out on the road, you get lonely. Because I spent a lot of time in the truck, I listened to all of the OutQ shows, so after a period of time, regular listeners got to
know who I was. In 2011, the Derek and Romaine show, a favorite of mine, put on a Caribbean cruise for listeners. On the cruise, I met Beau J. Genot, the filmmaker. Beau was interested in LGBT people in trucking because there are a lot of truck drivers that listen to the Derek and Romaine show. His idea was to explore this theme, and to start with the only transgender truck driver on the cruise, and that was me! In the summer of 2013, I picked Beau up in Southern California and he came out on the truck with me for 10 days. We made a run to North Dakota and then back to Southern California. He brought cameras with him, set them up in the truck, and began to ask me some questions. When it comes to talking, I can be like the energizer bunny. You just wind me up and let me go.
How has the reception been so far to the film and where has it played publicly thus far?
The film premiered at Outfest this summer and we sold out two screenings. The screening you attended at the SF festival also sold out. The film has been submitted to several other festivals and we are hoping it will be accepted at those as well. Readers interested in future screenings can check my blog for details.
Having been such a private person for so many years, what is it like for you to now become a film star?
When the film premiered at Outfest, I wasn’t prepared for what a huge festival it is. I also hadn’t known how many people were listening to the shows that I called into, and already knew who I was. My little brush with fame was very positive and people, on the whole, were lovely to me. I decided sharing my story to bring about trans awareness and understanding would be the best thing I could do with my newfound notoriety. It has now become my passion. However, I finally understood a little bit more about why celebrities talk about losing their privacy.
You are now retired, but what was life like on the road as a transgender woman trucker?
I got into trucking many years ago, back when I was married to my first husband.
The plan was to team drive for five years banking one of our salaries and then start some sort of business together. I went to truck driving school first, but after school, my then-husband
decided he no longer wanted to be married. He also told me that this was not a job that I could do on my own. That made me more determined to do it by myself! Before trucking, I had been a legal secretary for several years up to this point and I was tired of dealing with people.
There was always, in the back of my mind, the possibility that my secret might come out. So this job gave me a chance to not have to be around so many people, thereby decreasing the possibility that someone would figure out my secret.
Would you recommend trucking as a profession to others?
I would recommend that anybody thinking of taking up this profession to research it first. Understand that you will be away from home a lot and ask yourself if that is something you can deal with. My favorite thing about being a long haul truck driver was being able to see this amazing country of ours. My job was different every single day I was out there. Some days were
mundane and some days were extremely challenging. But for me, being able to see the scenery, and talk to people in different parts of the country, was something I really enjoyed. And as a trans woman, I would always recommend being safe. You have to use your common sense when
deciding whether to share your story with other people.
Over the years, have people often been surprised at your choice of profession?
Yes, people have always been surprised when I told them I was a long haul truck driver. It actually had nothing to do with me being trans, however, because nobody knew that. The surprise was actually because I presented as feminine, intelligent, and well groomed. For whatever reason, people tend to have in their minds that a woman driving a truck might appear more like a masculine lesbian than any other type of woman. The reality is that truck driving is like every other profession: there are all kinds of different people, of all different genders,
presenting as feminine and masculine and everything in between.
Ultimately, what message do you hope your story and your film convey?
Up until about 2007, I was living in stealth mode as a transgender woman. I have learned that I now absolutely do not recommend stealth mode for anyone, since living for so many years with a secret took a huge toll on me. I also hope that the film helps others understand to let people be who they are. Parents, allow your children to be who they are. Trans people are the least known, least understood, and the most vulnerable people in the LGBTQ community. With understanding and awareness, I am hoping that this will change.