Joseph Michel Carrier, Jr., was born in Miami, Florida. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1945, but was still in boot camp when World War II ended, and was discharged early. After earning a BA in Geography from the University of Miami in 1950, he was recalled by the Marines for fourteen months and completed his tour as a sergeant. In 1952, he received an MA in Economics from Purdue University.
The following year Carrier traveled on a Fulbright Scholarship to India, where he researched the economic effects of energy resource distribution in the northeastern region of the country. In 1954, he taught geography at the University of Miami. He then relocated to California where, after a brief stint at North American Aviation, he joined the Rand Corporation, for whom he worked from 1956 to 1968 as a research analyst on various projects.
In 1968, upon returning to the United States after performing field research as a counterinsurgency specialist in Vietnam, Carrier was told of his pending dismissal for "economic reasons." In fact, his fellow employees in Saigon had reported a suspected homosexual affair with a Vietnamese Air Force officer to his superior in the Santa Monica office. At the time Rand considered homosexuals a security risk and subject to dismissal; however Carrier negotiated his departure from the company without admitting to the affair.
His resignation provided Carrier the opportunity to return to school to study anthropology. Professor Duane Metzger of the University of California at Irvine was open to the concept of a graduate student researching male homosexuality, but advised Carrier to avoid mentioning homosexuality when applying to the graduate program. The UC Irvine program allowed one off-campus expert to serve on graduate advisory committees.
Carrier sought out Evelyn Hooker, a UCLA professor and research authority on homosexuality. At Metzger's suggestion Carrier focused on homosexual behaviors in Mexico. He obtained a National Institute of Health two-year pre-doctoral fellowship and from the autumn of 1969 to the spring of 1971, conducted research in Guadalajara, observing and interviewing urban Mexican mestizos men who had sex with men. This was the first doctoral-level anthropological field research focused on homosexual behaviors. He received his Ph.D. the following year.
With no prospects for a position in sex research, Carrier briefly served as a staff officer at the National Academy of Science, where he researched the effects of herbicides utilized by American military forces in South Vietnam. From 1973 to 1987, he worked part-time as an evaluator of experimental law enforcement programs in the state of California. The part-time nature of this work allowed Carrier to continue his research, and extend the scope of fieldwork into the Mexican states he passed through on his drive from California to Guadalajara.
The rise of the AIDS epidemic underscored the importance of Carrier's work, as his research on Mexican men who have sex with men provided public health officials with insights on this previously undocumented world. In the fall of 1987, Carrier joined the Orange County Health Agency AIDS Community Education Project (ACEP) to develop effective HIV/AIDS educational materials for the men of Mexican origin in Orange County. In a county biographical sketch published in 1991 he is described as the health agency's Chief Social Scientist. He retired in 1992. In his final year with ACEP, Carrier conducted an ethnographic study of the sexual behaviors of men of Vietnamese origin in Orange County. He continues to study men of Mexican and Vietnamese origins in order to develop a greater understanding of their sexual behaviors that will allow service providers to create and implement more effective HIV/AIDS educational programs.
In 1995, the culmination of more than twenty-five years of his research, De Los Otros: Intimacy and Homosexuality among Mexican Men was published. His papers are held at ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives.