Being a trans hooker is hard work these days. Not only do you have to navigate a potentially dangerous work environment, try to stay out of the criminal justice system, possibly deal with being HIV+, often live precariously without immigration status in the country you work in, worry about violence and harassment from other sex workers, and deal with a society that puts so much stigma onto your profession that you might not be able to get stable housing, you also have to hear just about every non-sex working trans person alternately use your existence as a political pawn in their campaigns for middle-class privileges (often called “rights”) and condemn you for either being a victim or making the movement look bad. As I said, it’s hard work.
Here are some of the dumbass things you’re probably going to hear regularly when you enter non-sex working trans spaces, especially trans activist spaces (and these activists will, of course, lament the lack of involvement from sex workers in their efforts).
Sex work is perfectly fine as a choice, but we need to talk about how survival sex work and “trafficking” are hurting our community!
What they’re actually saying here is that sex work is fine if you have an MA in Women’s Studies and work in queer feminist porn (which they can happily jerk off to without feeling like bad feminists). These same people usually have only a tenuous grasp on the concept of trafficking, probably don’t have any sex workers in their close circle of friends (unless they have the aforementioned MA in Women’s Studies). They are quick to become angry if you suggest that coercive sex work is actually rare, statistically, or that you chose street sex work because it made sense for your life at the time.
All sex work is survival sex work, in exactly the same way that I could describe all jobs at McDonald’s as survival food service jobs.
I wish the media would stop making it look like we’re all hookers!
I actually hear this as: you sex workers are making the rest of us look bad! How will my parents/grandmother/best friend/dog ever accept me if they think that I’m a HOOKER?
Let’s be real for a minute. Media representations focusing on a single stereotype suck for every oppressed or underrepresented group. That’s totally fair. What’s not fair is when the rest of the community backlashes against this by trying to distance themselves entirely from those represented by the stereotype. At the end of the day, I don’t care if the fact that I and a lot of my friends are or were sex workers makes your grandmother uncomfortable. What I care about is the fact that sex work is still illegal in so many countries, leading to more violence, stigma, and murders of trans and cis sex workers, yet there’s been little effort by mainstream trans (or queer) organizations to help sex worker organizations fight for their rights. Nevermind that our entire movement in North America was founded by sex workers. Do the names Silvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson mean anything to you?
Trans Day of Remembrance is about the murders of transgender people simply for being transgender.
This happens a lot. I try to come from a place of compassion when responding to this, but my first thought is usually “You must be new here.” Trans activists will be more than willing to “fight for your rights” as long as you’re dead and they can list you on their TDOR list. Most of the organizations that hold TDOR events, especially those on college campuses (organized by the army of Aydyns), won’t mention that you were a sex worker. They won’t mention that you were murdered while doing sex work. They won’t mention sex work when they speak at the event about how hard it is to be a white, male, queer, trans University student. Won’t somebody please think of how hard that is for them?!
I am often the only person in the room at trans organizing events who has sex work experience. I know that I am there because I hold a position within the community that is seen as important and because I’m a former sex worker, rather than a current sex worker. The trans men in the room (who inevitably make up 90% of those in attendance) will often ask me, together or in private, how they can make the space more accessible to trans women and to trans sex workers. And I think about the things that they say about sex work, the way that they treat having their cis femme girlfriends in the room as being “inclusive of women’s perspectives,” and the fact that almost all of them either have degrees or are students. And I just smile say “I really don’t know.”