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TransActive: The Prostitution Proposition

| Mar 8, 2010
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It’s no big secret I worked as a pre-op TS prostitute during my first transition in 1985 and 1986, a fact I raise to illustrate what bigotry and discrimination can do. Every month or so a fellow transwoman, usually one in her mid-twenties or younger, learns I had been a prostitute back then, and then asks how she can break into that profession herself. On social networking sites, especially MySpace, I’m seeing more and more younger transwoman  either working as a prostitute or aspiring to that profession. I was thinking about writing a blog on this very topic to post on my own MySpace profile and then I realized it would make a great column. And perhaps somewhere down the road I might post it on my profile as well, as a public service to my sisters. So here we go. . .

The first thing I have to say is that in every US state but Nevada prostitution is illegal. Not only is consensually renting out your body for sexual purposes a crime, it’s also against the law to encourage, aid, abet or assist anyone in committing a crime, so do not look to this article as a how-to or as a green light to engage in prostitution. Personally I regard all laws that try to legislate “morality” to be a violation of our Goddess-given right to make adult choices that do not directly harm others — if anyone argues that prostitution hurts the johns’ wives I’d ask why adultery isn’t then illegal — but that’s the difference between ideals and the current laws. The latter usually wins out until they are changed. So please don’t look to this article as encouragement or an instruction manual!

First, a bit of personal history of my career in prostitution for those who haven’t read the mini-biography on my website. I was nearly halfway through my four year computer science degree plan when I transitioned in summer of 1985. Aside from the ridicule and hatred I experienced everywhere — even on campus — the part time housecleaning job I’d held for four months was taken from me when I told my supervisor I was going to live full time as a woman. And all of this was in “liberal, tolerant” San Francisco. Unwilling to return to living part time as a man and with all of my TS friends in the Tenderloin — my only role models back then — more than adequately supporting themselves as prostitutes, I chose to do the same rather than detransition. Eventually hard drugs took over, partly to buffer my dismay at “what am I, an honors student, turning tricks for?”, but mostly to shut out the malevolent voices calling me “freak” and “faggot” wherever I turned. Two months later I stopped turning tricks and then detransitioned.

In these twenty-five years a hell of a lot has changed. With all of the community building the trans community has done, both online and in real life, the political allies we’ve made and protections we’ve gotten passed, and a society that is so much more accepting than it was in my early days, a transwoman rarely ever needs to turn tricks to survive. True, a T-girl who possesses a good education, professional training and/or job experience — a resume — will have a much easier time of finding well-paying work than one who’s younger and more inexperienced, but at least the landscape is much friendlier to us these days.

Now… all that said, there are two more variables in the equation that may figure into the practical aspect of whether or not to become a prostitute. Probably the biggest factor, and this applies almost no matter how much you make, is the medical cost of transition. I don’t need to repeat the cost of SRS, FFS, BAS, hormones and so on, because we all know we’re talking a huge chunk of change, most of it not even partially covered by most health insurance plans. I’ve met a few girls who’ve paid for their SRS exclusively by turning tricks but then suffered financially afterward because one their big selling point (a penis) was gone, and they were able to earn only a fraction of their prior income. And if you find yourself a prematurely retired sexworker with no other marketable job skills it bodes ill for a promising future.

The other factor is one that a huge number of other people are experiencing right now and that is a decrepit economy and a discouraging job market. Combine youth, lack of higher education or vocational training, resume-worthy experience, no other means of income, the high cost of transition and a poor economy, prostitution may seem like a reasonable answer to all of the questions. And if you’re reasonably feminine, under thirty — or look under thirty — and arguably sexy, sexwork could be irresistible if you have the mental and emotional strength to cope with it.

Again speaking from my own perspective, I have no regrets about my time spent in the “Sisterhood of the Towel.” It gave me life experience, taught me empathy, forced me to acquire emotional toughness and survival skills, got me over my lifelong shyness, paid my bills, brought me excitement and occasional friendship and it even helped my self-image. This last benefit may well have helped me limp along in my transition longer than if I’d been forced to deal with the negativity of the outside world with nothing positive to counter it. On the street I usually heard epithets from strangers but to my clients I was sexy, a beautiful goddess they fawned over and gave money to. It was reliable positive reinforcement that fed my starving ego at the time. It was also a power trip, because I held the power of sexual pleasure over my customers, about the only power I held.

Then there were the other intangible benefits of the job. Being shy I was forced to overcome my self-consciousness or I would have starved turning tricks. Compelled to interact with a wide variety of strangers, most of them motivated either by horniness or loneliness or both, I gained insight into some of the complexities of human nature and a compassion for some of the most primitive and misunderstood human instincts. Aside from a few exceptions I liked most of my customers — or at least I did not dislike them — as a prostitute. I did not always understand their sexual needs, but I did my best to accommodate them without judgment. As a result I became more tolerant and accepting, a more mature person.

However, there is often a flip side to every positive and prostitution brought its share of those as well. While I liked most of my johns, there were a handful of utter creeps whose contempt for women (or at least transgender women) or whose deceptive ways made me wary of all men for the longest time. I’d always been more on the lesbian side of the scale from the beginning, but the lingering baggage from my prostitution days — a post-sexwork contempt for men that lasted half a decade — made me bitterly cynical.

Prostitution can also negatively affect people’s regard for you as well as your own self-image. Most people look down on prostitutes, even the guys who frequent them. It’s a highly stigmatizing profession, and considering we are already largely stigmatized just by being transsexual woman, being a transgender sexworker can be a double-whammy. And, as I found out in the 1980s, when you’re not fully secure in yourself then other people’s opinion of you can go a long way toward shaping your own. The tendency can then be to withdraw into the world of sexwork and separate from the mainstream of society, possibly creating a cycle of isolation from the world. I can attest just how lonely that can be, and how the emotional band-aid of substance abuse became irresistible.

Then there are three very practical potential downsides of prostitution: arrest, disease and violence. While most police Vice operations usually prioritize the low-hanging fruit of streetwalkers — they’re the easiest to catch and convict and the most visible, thus their arrest looks good to police superiors, politicians and voters — those who escort, either taking incalls from clients who come to them or doing outcalls to clients, are still subject to sting-style operations, especially if they do outcalls to hotels and motels. While the first arrest or two will likely end up a misdemeanor and possibly not involve jail time, it will still end up on your record, and repeated arrests could be punished more seriously. And a criminal record could have unknown impact on your life down the road.

While a prostitute is generally no more at risk for STDs (sexually transmitted disease) than any other prolifically sexually active person, and in general prostitutes tend to be more educated and careful about protecting themselves from STDs than amateurs, it is the sheer number of contacts that increases the risk. Condoms do break or can be worn incorrectly, which again brings up the equation of increased encounters equals higher risk. Still, disease is less of a risk than random violence or other crime.

Because of the illegal nature of prostitution both the prostitute and client are at a greater risk of victimhood because the very illegality of prostitution makes it less likely a victim will report a crime to law enforcement, including assault or robbery. Peace officers can be unsympathetic to a prostitute who is beaten up by her john and only a little more compassionate to a trick who gets rolled or otherwise ripped off by a hooker. Given that a prostitute is generally more vulnerable, the risk is more often hers. Finally, given the powerful feelings that the transgender issue can bring up in a man whether or not he’s aware his sex partner is trans — and the potential for the police to not care if some “trannie” gets beaten or murdered — it adds a greater potential risk of violence.

At this point I now must admit that back when I was twenty-seven, broke, rebellious toward the whole straight world for rejecting me, and absolutely determined to live fulltime as a woman regardless the cost, even if somebody had laid out all of these pro cons and cons that I have here, I can’t say for certain I would have made a different choice and, in fact, I probably would have maintained I had no choice. . . except perhaps for the choice to indeterminately delay my choice. And when you’re young and your patience is thin and you cannot stand to live in the wrong gender for one more day, that may not seem like much of a choice. It certainly didn’t to me.

The important thing, though, in making any weighty decision is to have as many relevant facts in hand as possible. While I hadn’t anyone who laid out all of this information for me back in 1985, much of it — particularly the threats of arrest, disease and violence that were possible — I had already figured out on my own, yet desperation made me forged ahead anyway. So with all the facts presented here, you Dear Reader are in a better position to make an informed decision for yourself or to pass along this information to someone who may be wrestling with this very decision. I reiterate, I have no regrets about my relatively short career as a prostitute, but then it may be that I was blessed or “lucky” or had a guardian angel that kept me from harm’s way.

For all of these reasons I would never advocate one way or another for a person to become involved in what I euphemistically call “full-contact sexwork” nor would I advocate for or against it on a generalized basis either. I would never presume to make such recommendations for another adult capable of making such decisions for herself. You now have the information. Weigh it for yourself. Search your heart. And then make up your mind.

Christine Beatty is a transsexual author and journalist, a longtime activist and musician. Formerly from San Francisco, where she co-founded the rock group Glamazon in 1994, she now resides in Los Angeles. Her personal web page is at www.glamazon.net.


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Category: Transgender Body & Soul, Transgender Opinion

Christine_Beatty

About the Author ()

Christine Beatty is a familiar name to TGForum readers. In 2010 she wrote the TransActive column here, and she was featured in the Perpetual Change column back in 2001 as part of the rock duo Glamazon. Along with her musical endeavors, she is also a TG activist, an author and a poet. She has recently published "Misery Loves Company" and has had articles appear in such publications as Chrysalis Quarterly, Transgender Tapestry, Spectator, and TransSisters.

Comments (2)

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  1. says:

    Around the same time Christine is describing I visited San Francisco and a club called the Black Rose. Despite it being the middle of the afternoon this sweet girl from the east did not lack for male attention. I had not intended to ‘turn tricks’ and had rarely done so before that date. But what the heck . . . when in Rome .. . . I still remember my two ‘dates’ – an Asian American computer guy from Silicon Valley an a young sailor who had a thing for lingerie. They didn’t pay me very much and didn’t get much for what they paid but in hindsight I was very lucky. My dates did not want unsafe sex any more than I did. They were not part of a sting operation and they were very respectful of me, not abusive at all.
    However the experience was just that – an experience. I’m so thankful that my life path did not take me down the road Christine had to travel. They say what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Christine displays strength from her experience. I fear I would have suffered the other fate.

  2. ronnierho ronnierho says:

    More great writing on a topic that is often swept under the rug.

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