Sunday, March 24, 2013

Defining who we are pt. lll: The Trans* sex worker and exploitation


Sabrina Samone, TMP, 3/24/2013


 I don’t like when someone asks me, “Who’s my hero in life?”  In Greek mythology a hero was at least a demi-god, so to me very few can stand that unblemished on a pedestal. I prefer, whom I look up to and one of the biggest was Gloria Steinem.  One of my favorite quotes of her is, “This is no simple reform. It really is a revolution.  Sex and race, because they are easy and visible differences have been the primary ways of organizing human beings into superior and inferior groups and into the cheap labor in which this system still depends.”

 If you are one of those trans-feminist that’s the first in line to cast the first stone at a trans-sex worker, you may want to stop here, because you will not agree with what I have to say but you are whom I refer to. I have debated about writing on this topic ever since a Trans face book friend who vehemently attacked Trans-women who choose to exploit themselves or unfortunately found themselves in the clutches of sex work, there is a difference between the two that I, for many reasons, feels needs to be addressed. In no way am I even going to attempt to defend sex work, but I do feel the need to address the demonization of trans-women by trans-women.

I’m extremely supportive of individual rights. I supported Jack Kevorkian advocacy for voluntary euthanasia; a patient’s active participation in taking the last step in their death. Who am I to tell you to suffer with the pain? Personally if I had the option to give birth I would never under any circumstance have an abortion, but who am I to deny your right to choose.  It’s the same to me, if you choose to be a porn actor or actress, or prostitute, who am I to tell you otherwise, as long as it is you, that’s made that decision.

There is a segment of Trans*, not just trans-women, that find themselves forced by society to be nothing more.  Thankfully this issue was brought up briefly on the Melissa-Harris Perry show with Trans* guest.  The one statement that was made that I’d like to high light was in reference to the new Arizona proposed bill of criminalizing trans* for using restrooms and other related facilities that does not match their birth certificate, yet in that state the process of changing the gender on your I.D. to match your presented identity is made to be a bureaucratic nightmare. Within that particular dilemma, which is found in many states but not all, you’ll find your trans-woman who’s been pushed sometimes to no other option than sex work.

Under those conditions in many places, trying to present your I.D. for work not matching your presentation will land your job application with a first class ticket to the garbage can, no matter how experienced you are in your field. Couple that with being new to transitioning, and not yet able to live stealth.  As I’ve witnessed extremely successful people fall from financial glory during the process. One person who now is a sex worker didn’t start out that way. She began her transition around 45 at the height of a successful marriage and career as owner of a major construction company. First she lost her marriage, next her children’s love and respect, then along with being cheated by partners, her company and yet still eventually, her home.  After down grading to a two bedroom apartment, during which time I met her as a neighbor, she continued to be ridiculed in public and not able to find work even at a fast food restaurant or I may ad as a bar back at a gay bar.  After a year of going through savings, she faced eviction and asked me could she be a roommate, at the time I had a roommate yet let her have my couch.  Pride would not let her stay long and she found her own way to pull herself up on her own feet. Yes, she became a sex worker.

 Now my issue is with those within the trans* community that refuse, maybe due to the fact that they haven’t suffered as such or known of anyone who has, and decide to criminalize and ostracize these women. They should be supported by the community, outreached to, networked hopefully into work and more education as I have had to be, but with no help or willingly helped from the “community”. Many therefore are not willing to be a part of the fight for equality and advocacy due to this lack of concern or ostracism from the community and we can’t afford to ignore numbers in our fight.

Yes there are many who just choose not to better themselves with education or work, that is not whom I refer. Many people cis and Trans choose to exploit themselves, and that’s something as old as time itself. But when others do it at the cost of the alienation of those affected, it’s a double slap sting that’s hard to recover. Think how hard it is as a Trans to meet new friends and companions who support you, then imagine due to a desperate mistake at a young age you are forever criminalized by your own community who seeks inclusion but not willing to ever extend it to someone who’s made mistakes. That must stop.  There are many people willing to exploit an averagely attractive, poor Trans-woman in a sexual way and she can be left scarred for life by another’s manipulation.

There are many outlets for online dating and the Trans community has our small share. I’ve done online dating sites and a fan of an even smaller few, but recently a site that advertises itself as a TS personal site to trans* actually advertises to those willing to meet someone trans as a TS booty call.  This sadly is way too common, exploiting the Trans community, specifically Trans-women.  Obviously this particular site knows it would offend a large portion of us, therefore they chose to mislead many trans-women who maybe lonely and seeking something other than the typical “perv” by appearing to be something more. There are many examples of cis-gender, heterosexual male owned sites that exploit trans-women. I don’t even want to help promote so I want even mention the full names, but Frankie’s is one that comes to mind that I know preys on young (but legal ‘maybe’) girls.  Many are contacted to pose nude or perform solo sexual acts for men to then download and watch.  They are paid pennies versus the thousands of dollars this owner would make off the use of a girls image for the lifetime of the site and it’s been around a long time.  There are girls who’ve admitted to me recently to accepting the small donations in the early 90’s and their image is still earning for the site.

Many trans-women have been victimized to these sites, add in the sometimes difficulty in finding work or continuing their education, they are locked in the world of the sex industry.  Some never make it back out of the woods, but regardless in or out they are no less or more our sisters that are fortunate enough never to have to endure such obstacle. Prime example of a trans-woman that has pulled herself out and why she is another I look up to is Toni Newman, author of I Rise: the transformation of Toni Newman. She successfully did it and I’d like to think all in the community supports her new work and not hold her past against her.

Sadly just as in cis gender society, women who are prostitutes are arrested and condemned while the exploiter goes untarnished, we punish the exploited and reward the exploiter.  As women in a male controlled society still, we should know better.  I’m so sick of women being blamed throughout society because she refuses to submit and be exploited by a man, e.g. Lilith becomes a demon because she refuses to be nothing less than Adam’s equal.  There’s a lot we as trans people can learn from feminist Gloria Steinem on exploitation of women by men but her quote, “The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn but to unlearn,” maybe the best example of how we should start.
 
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