Lindsay Butt breaks into a grin when she talks about the recreational vehicles (RVs) she repairs for a living. “I can do everything south of the engine,” she says proudly. “Everything that’s in an RV, I can repair!”
Servicing intricate machinery is nothing new for the 27-year-old dyke. She’s been taking apart the family VCR since she was nine.
Last year, she made history when she became the first woman in BC to graduate from the RV Service Technician program at Okanagan University College.
Now she works on everything from RV propane systems, to welding, to plumbing, to metal work, to indoor/outdoor carpentry, to brakes and bearings. She’s even been known to sew couch buttons and fix curtains at O’Connor RV Centre in Chilliwack, where she’s been working since she graduated.
While still in school, Butt came out to a few guys in her class. “Most of them were cool with it. They didn’t care,” she recalls, adding that “if they can’t figure it out by the way I am, then they don’t need to know.”
“This is how I am,” she continues. “Like it or go away. I don’t like hiding. I don’t expect them to hide who they are.”
Back in her hometown of Vernon, Butt struggled with her own sexuality when, at age 23, her mother asked her if she was gay. “I said no, because I just didn’t know then.”
Six months later, when she had finally dealt with it, she told her mother she’s a lesbian.
Today, Butt is out at work. A year-and-a-half into her job at O’Connor RV Centre, she says she encounters very little homophobia in the workplace. Most of her co-workers and customers are supportive, she says.
Though there is that old office joke, she muses.
It started the day she was stuffed into an RV cupboard that was two sizes too small, drilling holes to run wires.
One of her colleagues asked, “Hey, where’s Lindsay?”
“I’m in the closet,” was her muffled reply.
Butt says she’s fine with all the friendly jousting that goes on at work. “If you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?” she asks.
As for being a woman in a male-dominated environment, the 5’4″ Butt says she pulls her own weight. “The gym helps,” she notes, remembering the time she helped one of her colleagues swing an air conditioning unit up a scaffolding and onto the top of an RV to install it.
“He had trouble keeping up,” she confides.
Still, Butt cautions other young women going into non-traditional jobs that they may still need to assert themselves. But that shouldn’t stop them, she says. “If you want it-do it.”
When she first arrived at O’Connor RV Centre, Butt says “there were a couple of guys who thought they had to help me out with everything. They were trying to help the ‘lady’ out. I finally told them to stop helping-I can do this!”
These days, “all the guys are willing to help me and to have me help them,” she says.
As for They’re also generally accepting. “Especially the older women,” she says. “They think it’s great!”
Sometimes she feels resistance from 35-to-50-year-old men, though. “She’s going to work on my unit?” Butt says they sometimes ask.
“Lots of times when I roll out from under a vehicle they just think I’m a young boy anyway,” she notes.
Her father, however, is “tickled pink” by her new career. He’s a mechanic, too. Butt went home to Vernon on Labour Day to help him install a hitch and skylight in his brand new trailer.
“He thinks it’s great,” Butt says, adding that her father had a clear hand in helping her develop her interest in mechanics. “I wasn’t allowed a driver’s licence until I could do basic maintenance on a car,” she says.
Butt still remembers the day she found out about the RV repair program at Okanagan University College. She had been wondering what to do with her life when her mother came home with a pamphlet from the school. Soon afterwards she said goodbye to her cleaning job. The service tech course changed her life.
“I don’t have a job anymore, I have a career,” she says proudly. “And my mother knows I actually have a future now.”