Morgan M Page sometimes wishes she could reach back and hug her 12-year-old self: a lost and confused drug-addicted trans sex worker on the streets of Hamilton.
Page, 24, now leads trans programming at Toronto’s 519 Church St Community Centre, including the annual Trans Day of Remembrance on Nov 18. The event commemorates trans people who have been murdered.
“If you look at the list of names that we read on Trans Day of Remembrance, almost all of them are trans sex workers of colour,” Page points out.
According to numbers released by the Trans Murder Monitoring project in 2010, there have been more than 420 reported murders of trans people internationally since 2008, which means a trans person is killed every three days.
“A key factor in all those murders is whether or not they were sex workers,” she says. “The discrimination and stigma faced by sex workers is likely a major contributing factor towards the murder of trans people. That’s why we should push for the decriminalization of sex work in Canada and other countries.”
Page worked as a sex worker, on and off, between the ages of 12 and 18.
When she first started, she says, she saw dollar signs and an easy way to pay for the party drugs she was taking. She didn’t yet publicly identify as trans. “I lived in a glass closet,” she says now.
“I was underage. Street sex work tends to be much more dangerous . . . It was quite a scary experience.
“I was pretty frightened most of the time that I was doing it . . . I was worried there would be violence, worried about my sexual health and whether my parents or friends would find out. It was an anxiety-causing experience. But I just kept going back and doing it. Money and excitement.”
Page was lucky. She experienced minimal violence from her clients. “There were a lot of pushy clients and grabby clients, who probably wouldn’t have taken no for an answer if I said no.”
Page says many street-based sex workers are moving off the streets and onto the internet, except for trans sex workers, who, for the most part, have stayed on the streets.
There are several reasons for this, Page says, including poverty, addiction, HIV status, isolation and homelessness. There is also a sense of family, she says. “Trans sex workers are more likely to find community on the streets or in clubs, like street mothers. That’s powerful and helpful, like an informal support network.”
Page says that as a teenager, she identified as gender-queer before coming out as trans at 16.
“At some point through the transition process I dropped the drugs I was addicted to,” she says. “As a result I didn’t have any motivation to continue in sex work. For me, sex work was a way to get money for drugs and validation.”
That validation is intoxicating, she says. “Especially for trans women: we find our validation in doing sex work, which is not necessarily true for other sex workers. People who interpreted me as trans were valuing me in a sexual way, valuing me at all.”
Page remembers being viciously bullied in school. She eventually dropped out. “So, it was powerful to have people want you around.”
Page’s mother died when she was 18, at which point a friend’s mother started taking care of her and got her involved in sex-worker activism in Hamilton.
Page arrived in Toronto in 2007 with an eighth-grade education. Then, in 2008, she helped organize protests to fight the Homewood-Maitland Safety Association, which was attempting to push trans sex workers out of their neighbourhood in downtown Toronto.
Page says she is actively following the ongoing debate around the Homewood stroll.
In 2010, she launched T-GUAVA (Trans Girls and Guys United Against Violent Assault), a series of workshops for trans youth about intimate partner abuse.
Not long after the 2008 protests on Homewood St, Page landed a youth placement at The 519, which eventually led to her current job.
In June, Page won the award for Outstanding Contribution to Community Empowerment at the LGBT Youth Line awards.
She is looking forward to this year’s Trans Day of Remembrance. The 519 will honour trans people who have been murdered around the world, and their names will be read aloud at the solemn event.
The Toronto event will also feature speeches and performances by several members of the trans community, such as dancers Ill Nana. “This is the only event all year that centres directly around trans people. Most queer events ignore us, and as a result, ignore the violence that continues to marginalize trans people, especially trans sex workers.”
Page is thankful for Toronto’s trans services, like those provided at The 519, but she reminds that the situation is very different outside Toronto.
“We have to do more to help trans youth in rural areas because there’s nothing right now . . . Coming out in Hamilton sucked, so bad. We have to reach out to youth.”
Trans Day of Remembrance was started to commemorate the life of Rita Hester, an African-American trans woman murdered in 1998. It is celebrated in Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver and other cities across Canada and the US.
Trans Day of Remembrance events, vigils and services across Canada:
Fri, Nov 18, 7-9pm
519 Church St Community Centre
For more information, email Page at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mon, Nov 28, 6:30-8:30pm
William Doo Auditorium, 45 Willcocks St
Sun, Nov 20, 7pm
Skydragon Centre, 27 King William St
Page is speaking at the event. Email her at email@example.com
Fri, Nov 18-Sun, Nov 20
Flag-raising at Ottawa Police Headquarters: Nov 18, 6pm
Political meet and greet at the City Hall council lounge: Nov 19, 2-4pm
All-ages dance celebration at the Legion, 330 Kent St: 10pm-2am
Trans Vigil at the human rights monument (corner of Elgin and Lissar streets): 7-8pm
For more information, email Page at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tues, Nov 15, 7:30-9:30pm
Event includes a trans film screening
AIDS Committee of Guelph
Guelph Medical Place 2, Unit 15, 89 Dawson Rd
Fri, Nov 18, 7pm: Screening of Two-Spirits at University of Winnipeg, Rm 2M70
Sun, Nov 20, 3-5pm: Trans Day of Remembrance vigil
Crossways in Common, 222 Furby St
For more information, see the Facebook group
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Sun, Nov 20, 7-9pm; doors open at 6:30pm
Veith House, 3115 Veith St
For more information, email email@example.com
Sackville, New Brunswick
Sat, Nov 19, 7pm
Mount Allison University Chapel, 15 Salem St
For more information, email Amelia at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sun, Nov 20, 1:30-4:30pm
The Old Y 223, 12th Avenue SW
For a full list of International Trans Day of Remembrance events, click here.