December 16, 2010 – 5:50pm
This article is part of a series published by RH Reality Check in partnership with the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) to commemorate the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, December 17th, 2010. It is excerpted from Research For Sex Work 12, published 17 December 2010 by the NSWP, an organization that upholds the voice of sex workers globally and connects regional networks advocating for the rights of female, male, and transgender sex workers. Download the full journal, with eight more articles about sex work and violence, for free at nswp.org. See all articles in this series here.
Andrea is in her early twenties. She comes from a poor family in the provinces of a Southeast Asian country. Unlike most women, she has a male birth certificate. She is a transgender woman.
Andrea has felt female as long as she can remember, and began living a female life as soon as she could. For this she was insulted by neighbours, teased by teachers and classmates at school, beaten up and raped by a bunch of young boys one night, and eventually beaten and disowned by her father. She dropped out of school, left home and migrated to the city, to stay with an older transwoman from her home town who, it turned out, was a transgender sex worker working the streets. Andrea didn’t much like the idea of sex work, but without education or connections was unable to get a job. Being ‘trans’ worked against her. No one wanted to employ her, even as a waitress or shop assistant. She turned to the ‘entertainment’ sector. Unable to get a job as a bar dancer or hostess, and barred from nightclubs and discos (all because she is trans), she too began to work on the streets. She has done it for five years, earning money for food and lodging, and a little extra for hormones and new silicon injections for her hips and breasts.
Andrea’s story is one of many thousands of transwomen worldwide (especially those like Andrea who are rural, less educated and socially isolated) who turn to sex work, not as the most attractive of a range of job options, but as the sole viable option for survival. Doubly stigmatised as transsexuals and as sex workers, pushed into street work, they become victims of abuse and violence perpetrated by bystanders, customers, their own ‘sisters,’ and (sadly) even by those who should be protecting them – the police.
As Andrea soon found out, competition on the streets is tough. There are too many trans sex workers and too few customers. Increasingly, her competitors are younger and more attractive. There have been fights over customers. Bystanders often abuse her verbally. Customers sometimes refuse to pay, angrily claiming they did not know she is trans. She has been beaten a few times. She knows others have been murdered. Nowadays, in order to avoid violence, she makes clear to every man who approaches her that she is transgender, even if that loses her customers.