Transgender* Sex Workers
Also see - Police Abuse of Prostitutes: On The Streets
A report by Christine Beatty, excerpted from The San Francisco Task Force on Prostitution, Interim Report 1994
Prostitutes have a difficult occupation. They face social stigma, violence and abuse. Some of this abuse and violence comes from the police, as well as the johns (customers). Transgendered women constitute a significant minority population within the general population of prostitutes, especially street workers. They are often subject to even more violence and abuse from the johns and the police due to the social stigma attached to being transgendered in a patriarchal society.
In our culture transgendered people face numerous obstacles to employment, housing, health care and schooling, because of societal prejudice against them. Doctors, operate on the brain, heart, or any other organ, and people do not blink an eye, but if one operates on the genitals people suddenly become very upset. Transgendered people bear the brunt of society's homophobia, even though many identify as heterosexual. Indeed, it could be said that homophobia is really transphobia, the sphere of the stereotype, the limp wrist, "feminine" male. Because of the social factors, many transgendered women turn to prostitution and other types of sex work to survive,
San Francisco has a reputation for tolerance and respect for diversity. As a result of this, transgendered people come here in the hopes of making a better life for themselves, in the hopes of finding success in life. They come here from every state in the union, in fact from virtually every corner of the globe, but particularly from Latin America, Asia and the Caribbean. Many of these people come from developing nations where women are treated very poorly and transgendered women are treated even worse. They are escaping war, torture and death squads and grinding, desperate poverty. They arrive here in anticipation of making a decent life for themselves, just as immigrants of past centuries and the founding fathers of the U.S.. Unfortunately they discover almost as much violence and lack of opportunity here, as from where they came, thus forcing them to continue working as prostitutes because they don't have other options.
Many people complain about street prostitution in the Tenderloin. While their complaints about noise and traffic and social environment are legitimate, this is not a problem can be solved by targeting a group of people. The problems are multi-faceted. Transgendered people make up a significant portion of the street workers because of the aforementioned social factors until an alternative to working the streets is given.
Unfortunately what is often overlooked in this debate is the fact that these most of these transgendered women are neighborhood residents themselves. They contribute to the neighborhood by patronizing local merchants, paying taxes and sometimes holding other jobs as well. Thus they contribute significantly to the welfare of the neighborhood. Scapegoating these women is both unfair and unproductive. It only alienates neighbors from one another. Instead of targeting these people for harassment, concerned neighbors would do better to try to create dialogue. This is the only true solution.
Many transgendered women come from background of parental abuse, particularly sexual abuse. They were forced out of their parent's home in early adolescence as soon as their bodies began to masculinize from puberty. Transgendered children who get kicked out of their homes, like other children in the same predicament, must resort to one or more of three basic means of survival: prostitution, theft or drug dealing.
In this writer's opinion, prostitution and other sex work is harmless in and of itself, at worst. At best it is fun and exciting and creative. It has been called the "the world's oldest profession." In many ancient sex positive societies, sex work was considered an important, valid and even noble occupation. So called "temple prostitutes" served important function and transgendered people, no less so. It is in our sexist, sex negative, puritanical society that sex work is denigrated along with transgenderality (sic). if our society wants to eradicate it, then it must give an alternative and that must include transgendered folks. They will still not eradicate it, because some transgendered people like non-transgendered people, truly enjoy it and will chose to practice it no matter what.
What we need is the opportunity to do some other kind of work, to be able to make a choice. it is this ability to make a choice that is denied the transgendered community. Until then transgendered folk will continue to constitute a significant portion of the prostitute/sex worker population.
*Transgender means someone who exhibits cross gender behavior, feelings and identity.
Beatty, Christine , Misery Loves Company, copyright Amazon Press, San Francisco 1993.
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