Tobi Hill-Meyer

What's left to come out as...

Filed By Tobi Hill-Meyer | October 11, 2008 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Coming Out Day, sex work, silence

I've come out as so many things over the years. Bisexual, queer, trans, kinky, poly -- not to mention the odd identity shifts through a dozen different related identities. Sometimes I'm left feeling as if there's nothing left to come out as. But the reality is there is one more thing. Something that I've been quietly discussing in certain places, but too afraid to discuss openly, in a google-able forum such as this. But today that changes.

Today, I'm going to talk about sex work.

Yes, I have done sex work. I even got pulled into the sex worker contingent of the SF dyke march when I still wasn't sure if I counted as a "real" sex worker. But don't bother asking, I'm going to remain tight-lipped about what kinds of sex work, as that's a level of detail that will have to wait for another coming out day. There are still a few people who I'd really rather not have access to that information (such as my boss or my parents).

Somewhere along the line, I picked up several friends and a few lovers who worked in the sex industry. In retrospect, it feels almost inevitable while I was traversing communities of young trans women who often deal with chronic unemployment due to discrimination. Through those in my life, I learned the tricks of the trade: safety protocol, communication, resources, and contacts.

I'm not going to talk about the when, why, and how I got into doing it myself. Suffice it to say that money was one of the issues. What I do want to talk about is how I felt a desperate need to be silent about my experiences afterward. The obvious issue of police harassment aside, I felt like anything that I could say might have harmful consequences.

If I talked about the parts of my work that were painful, I feared I would be perpetuating the myth that sex workers are only victims without any agency. If I talked about the parts I enjoyed, I feared I would be silencing those who don't enjoy their work. If I talked about being a trans sex worker, I feared I'd perpetuate the stereotype that all trans women are sex workers. And if I talked about the role sex work plays in my activism and activist priorities, I was afraid that all the non-profit and political organizations I worked with would shrink away from me in fear of being associated such a politically unsavory population.

That last one was one of the biggest motivators to break that pattern and actually start talking about this issue. When I take stock of the LGBT issues that are impacting my community, I see police harassment, prisoner rights, decriminalization, health care access, and punitive laws that unduly pile punishment after punishment onto "unsavory" survival crimes such as sex work, at the top of my agenda. Yet the LGBT rights organizations around me are barely even aware of those as LGBT issues.

It feels like I'm always asking for more. My local org gets domestic partnerships, and I want them to be for all people regardless of gender. We get marriage for same-sex couples in a couple of states, and I want marriage for all people- regardless of gender or number of partners. And now, on the tail of just finally achieving some major victories, after finally getting some recognition as a legitimate and respectable minority, I want us to take fight for sex worker rights.

I guess I'm just following in the footsteps of great activists who voiciferously spoke out against injustice and oppression in all aspects of their lives, but I'm not staying in this closet any longer.

And when I come to the table- when I plan actions, legislative strategies, or phone bank- I'll be coming as a package deal.

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Thank you, that was a wonderful COMING OUT day piece.I am a physician. I have always felt that sex work should be decriminalized. That, of course, is part of the reason it is 'closeted'. I am glad you seemed to have been safely mentored in your work.
Thank you for sharing.

Thanks for sharing this, Tobi. Sex work issues too often gets little or no attention- which helps no one. thanks for speaking out.

Yes. I'm really glad to see this post. Thank you.

You know, my first reaction was, Damn, there she goes, going to perpetuate the stereotype that All transwomen have been hookers at sometime in their lives.

But then I thought, you know, so what. I already knew that a majority of people are idiots anyway and just want to believe anything bad about those who are different than them. They do not look at those of us who are exceptions to their fondly held prejudices. They do not look at the rank hypocricy of their discriminating against us by denying us jobs, then pointing their fingers when we are forced into doing the very things they accuse us of doing in order to survive.

Yep, we definitely have a sick society.

*claps* Bravo, Tobi! This is awesome! I'm proud of you for coming out like this!

sex work is more than prostitution.

doing it for survival is not shameful, its surviving.

transwomen -- doctors, lawyers, scientists, highly competent professionals -- are often faced with the choice of doing it.

Sorry -- screw the damn stereotype. When you have to eat, buy clothes, find housing, pay 100 bucks a month for medicine (or double that if you don't have a prescription you have to pay a doctor for), therapy session at 100 bucks a shot, and then more on top of that just to be yourself, well...

... that sex work sounds mighty tempting.

Especially after 1200 applications all being denied because you're just too damn trans for them.

working in a strip club is sex work. Topless bars are sex work. Pole dancing is sex work.

Lap dances. Private parties. etc etc.

They hire you, all you gotta do is be passable and willing.

And it pays pretty damn well.

So to anyone who thinks the stereotype is bad, well, get over it.

When you do sex work willingly -- not as survival -- you make just as much money. You can celebrate something denied to you.

think of it as your own personal pride parade, and the joke is on everyone else.

There's nothing wrong with sex work. And nothing to be ashamed of if you do.

Hi Diss.

I've never done sex work. But I can easily imagine having to do it. There's no difference between me and anyone who does.

And yes, I'm a conservative, neo-con, straight-laced prig. But I'm also human, and have seen far too much. I've seen young girls chucked out on the streets, unemployable, and who have to do sex work to survive.

If prigs and straight-laced conservatives like me don't want that to happen, maybe we should provide an alternative, hmmm?

I've seen those who didn't survive too. It breaks my heart.

Absolutely we should provide an alternative.

And I'm working on that, too :)

We spend a lot of time and effort explaining why ENDA is so important in the US. We may even it get it next year.

Even then, it'll still take time.

Me, I saw that need a long while ago. And so I'm working on creating alternatives. I'm working on creating businesses and places of employment and residence for transfolk that will deal with the situation regardless of the outcome of ENDA.

We are a minority population. We need Community organizations that help us. So I've got thee going and I'm working on getting them funded so I can go out, buy an apartment complex, and open a business.

And then I'll be doing it.

Thanks for sharing.

And, this is something that we should be talking about.

Thanks for sharing that, and I hope things remain smooth for you. I was outted elsewhere on that recently, and know that it can get ugly sometimes.

I can especially relate to the "If I talked about the parts of..." paragraph. That's so true -- it's hard to communicate a full, encompassing view of the subject without someone turning it into something overly positive or overly negative.

Angela Brightfeather | October 12, 2008 1:05 AM


I really enjoyed what you wrote and it is true, Sex work needs to be talked aobut more.

For as long as I have been in the TG community, I have never been involved with it myself and I know it is something that I shoud learn more about, if it leads to helping other Trans people.

I have been in a lot of groups in my time and even started a few along the way. I hae known members of thsoe groups that have done sex work, mostly out of th eneed to pay the rent and buy food. But I find that most people are very tight lipped about it and seem not to want ot discuss it very much with others who they percieve as not having done it.

Thanks again for making it a topic that exposes interest and needs to be talked about more.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | October 12, 2008 11:15 AM

survival crimes such as sex work, at the top of my agenda. Yet the LGBT rights organizations around me are barely even aware of those as LGBT issues.

Tobi, do you see this as one more way LGBT organizations marginalize the edges of our community in their efforts to convince the "mainstream" that gays and lesbians "are just like them"?

Excellent post! And thank you for sharing. You have absolutely no reason to stay silent or feel ashamed, although I fully understand that not everyone (your employers, for example) would necessarily agree.

This is an excellent, insightful, and brave post, sweetheart!

Also, I'm also writing about sex work for my Coming Out post. Stay tuned!

"I've come out as so many things over the years. Bisexual, queer, trans, kinky, poly -- not to mention the odd identity shifts through a dozen different related identities. Sometimes I'm left feeling as if there's nothing left to come out as."

You make it sound like a competition, Tobi. I don't think it matters how many identities anyone has, or how they've shifted. It should only matter that you're happy with yourself, whatever the number.

Thank you for sharing this.