Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Are Trans Sex Workers Deserving of Liberation?

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | October 20, 2011 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Julia Roberts, Middle Class, pretty woman, sex workers

pretty-woman.jpgThis week, Morgan Page, Trans Community Services Coordinator at Toronto's 519 Centre, posted over at PrettyQueer.com on her concerns about how "just about every non-sex working trans person alternately use[s] your existence as a political pawn in their campaigns for middle-class privileges (often called "rights") and condemn[s] you for either being a victim or making the movement look bad." She talks about some of the problematic things she hears, such as "Sex work is perfectly fine as a choice, but we need to talk about how survival sex work and "trafficking" are hurting our community!" and "I wish the media would stop making it look like we're all hookers!" Take a look at her post to get her full perspective on these issues.

As a person with plenty of middle-class privileges who campaigns for that neo-liberal fantasy of "rights," I have often wondered about this. Do I stand in solidarity with trans sex workers and their right to dignity and protection in their chosen work? Or am I fighting for rights so that trans people won't have to engage in sex work when their educational and employment opportunities are enlarged?

I have a lot of complicated feelings about sex work. As a firmly middle-class person with middle-class values who grew up very religious, I intuitively feel that sex work is degrading. But when I think about why I have such a feeling, I cannot help but notice the contradiction: the "degradation" comes from the fact that it is unacceptable in "polite" (read: middle-class) society, but it continues as a trade because people with money (i.e., middle class men) continue to pay for it even as they publicly snub and shun those who engage in sex work. (The rich do not consort with prostitutes. They have mistresses. Is there a real difference there?)

This public/private contradiction is as old as human history, and there are stories about it in the Bible. The classic opera "La Traviata" tells the story, as does the popular movie "Pretty Woman." But even as we all root for Julia Roberts as Vivian in Pretty Woman, we look down on the trans prostitute as the lowest of the low. (I say "we," meaning society, in which we all participate, even if it is by our silence. Qui tacet consentit.)

We also portray trans prostitution as one of the negative effects of employment discrimination, implying that sex work is an evil to be remedied by law. Is prostitution evil? I do not think so; I think our hypocrisy is the source of that evil. And yet, I am not ready to embrace liberation of sex work as a cause. Is that because I do not believe in the liberation of sex workers? Is it because I do believe in the liberation of sex workers, but it's easier to argue for liberation for respectable middle-class people, without engaging that intractable age-old social hypocrisy?

But I remember a time when sex work seemed like an option, and I also remember when I was abandoned and more than willing to be bought as a mistress. I remember being handed $40 by a man in a bar, and being grateful to get it, and I remember flying to Paris to have dinner with my married paramour and retiring to a small hotel in Ile de la Cite. Who am I to look down on anyone?


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I was a sex worker.
I was bullied and emotionally abused as a child to the point where I thought myself worthless and incapable of doing anything besides sex work.
I am working class.
Working class jobs at even 150% of minimum wage do not pay enough to cover the rent, utilities, transportation, food and clothing.
It is the meanest level of living. Sex work allowed me time and a pittance more.
I had drug and alcohol abuse issues because I hated what I was doing.
The childhood abuse issues that encouraged me to think I was so worthless that I was only capable of doing sex work caused me to hate myself so much that substance abuse and sex work became a way of punishing myself.

ENDA will solve nothing as getting one of those McJobs is not the problem.

Sex workers who want out need counseling. They need meetings for substance abuse issues where they can also talk about escaping sex work, abuse etc. They do not need religion peddlers like most place that offer escape from sex work counseling.

They do not need harm reduction counseling although those staying in sex work may need that.

They need alternatives that are better than the place they are in doing sex work not worse.

They don't need Jesus, or any other skygod. They need reality and help in the here and now.

Many need schooling, job counseling.

They need people to be non-judgmental.

And I need to turn this one into a post, but after I've thought about it and Occupy is no longer taking up so much of my blog.

Personally, I think everyone, sex worker or otherwise, needs harm reduction counseling.

BTW. Trans sex workers need to stop thinking they are any different from non-trans sex workers. They have more in common with non-trans sex workers than they have in common with trans folks who aren't sex workers.

In my opinion it is hypocrisy to advocate for equal rights and at the same time support criminalizing prostitution.

The subtlety here (and unfortunately, nuance rarely makes a solid mainstream political case) is that I support sex work but I do not support prostitution as a no-other-options career. For example, I don't find anything wrong with LGBT youth of legal age engaging in prostitution if they choose to do it, but I DO have a problem with LGBT youth of a legal age (and illegal age) engaging in SURVIVAL prostitution: sex work because they have no other options. The same goes with trans individuals.

All professions are respectable, and I reject the prudish hypocrisy that it's worse to be a sex worker than to pay a sex worker, bad to be a sex worker, but okay to be a sex worker on camera, or bad to be a sex worker for cash, but fine to be a sex worker for shelter, food, and material goods. However, it's problematic when professions are taken up because an individual is forced to due to their lack of viable alternatives.

Trans individuals are not all taking up sex work because they believe in the liberation of sex work from the prudishness of outdated morality. Some are, and for them (and all other sex workers who freely choose the profession), sex work should at least be legal and therefore subject to more protections and safety regulations, free from legal prosecution and victimization.

But for those who aren't, therein lies the problem. YOu CAN use sex work as a negative indicator of QOL for trans people (or LGBT youth, or anyone else, frankly) IF you distinguish and emphasize that it's a negative indicator when most of the time, it is survival sex work and not a chosen career. And if it's survival, then the fact that it is also illegal everywhere but Nevada (or when it happens on camera), results in negative QOL impacts.

You could extrapolate this with any career you choose: being a construction worker isn't a bad career when it is a chosen career. A bit low paying, but if someone likes it and wants to do it, there's no problem. But it is highly problematic if a subset of people are forced to turn almost exclusively to low-paying construction work because they are being systematically denied access to educational and employment opportunities within their capabilities and being denied the benefits they desire from a different profession (ex. better hours, covered health care, higher wages, better interest, etc. etc.)

You wrote:

"Do I stand in solidarity with trans sex workers and their right to dignity and protection in their chosen work? Or am I fighting for rights so that trans people won't have to engage in sex work when their educational and employment opportunities are enlarged?"

I don't know why it can't be both. Sex work is multifaceted, and that's best seen by the diversity of options (street-level, escorting, porn, massage, stripping), and some are emotionally killing and others not so much. But I see the decision to engage in sex work as tending to be made either because of poverty or opportunity. Actually, both usually factor in, but it tends to be one or the other that provides the final push. And if that's poverty, then you're usually pushed to take more risks, be in situations where you have less control, etc. If you can control your destiny and keep more of your money, it can be almost like any other line of work (aside from laws and social attitudes causing safety issues). I wrote a 4-part series when Canada's anti-prostitution laws were overturned that got into motives, being trans and engaging in sex work (based on my own experiences), etc if you're interested in more detail (links on right column at DBM).

Suzan wrote:

"BTW. Trans sex workers need to stop thinking they are any different from non-trans sex workers. They have more in common with non-trans sex workers than they have in common with trans folks who aren't sex workers."

I kind of agree there, although there is a level of compounded discrimination and othering that both cissexual sex workers and other trans women don't experience.

Deena wrote:

"In my opinion it is hypocrisy to advocate for equal rights and at the same time support criminalizing prostitution."

There we go.

Oops, sorry Mercedes, I didn't see your post when I made mine. You of course made the same points much better. :)

My thoughts exactly. We should both support those who choose to be sex workers, and fight to ensure that no one is ever forced to become a sex worker.

I think I may be saying the same thing as luminum, but why does it have to be one or the other? Why can't you (or whoever) work for the liberation of sex workers (which to me means making it legal, and using police resources to address the violence against sex workers, and provide medical access to sex workers) and also work for the rights of trans ppl (equal opportunity for employment, housing, access to medical care, and so forth)?

You could even throw in a lot things like Suzan and luminum talk about to bridge the two, and to ameliorate things in the meantime (counseling, job training/placement, outreach from community centers, and so forth).

Fight for everyone's rights.
Give the indiviual an oppurtunity to make the choice 'sex worker' or 'mcjob' for themselves.

One way I sometimes think about it is this: in a perfect world, would there be sex work, or not? (assuming there is work in this world) For those who say "no," they regard it as fundamentally degrading, or wrong, or exploitative, etc., and imagine with important political (and economic, and sexual, and psychological) problems ameliorated, both supply and demand for it would disappear. Others say that in a perfect world, there might still be sex work, but it would look a lot different than this. So in the meanwhile, there's lots to do, regardless of whether you see it as a viable option to be transformed, or a social evil to be eliminated.

Morgan's blog (she's had several entries about this) makes some really important points... that trans women sex workers are still shamefully viewed as a 'dirty bi-product of oppression' by many in the trans community. That white sex-positive women who do sex work to pay their way through grad school are viewed as empowered and queer positive while sex worker trans women of color who give BJs in the back of a car are just viewed as a shameful, sad creatures. I also agree with her that the sex worker deaths on the lists of murdered trans women are, in some ways, exploited by the trans community (and absolutely by the cis-LGB community) when it comes time to fund raise and publicize our oppression. And I agree with you when you write "who am I to look down on anyone."

Where I hugely disagree with her is her repeated statements that there is no coercion involved in sex work, that sex slavery is somehow a myth (??!!) and that all sex work is equally "survival sex work." Somehow it's all from the viewpoint of "what happens to sex workers in Toronto" is wholly indicative of what happens to sex workers around the world. That's bs.

I also think much of what she writes creates a suggested similarity to "type 1" transsexuals (under 30, who supposedly all do sex work) and "type 2" transsexuals (who are older and totally disconnected from young trans sex workers). It starts smelling a lot like the old school Clarke Institute statements.

...white sex-positive women who do sex work to pay their way through grad school...

...sex worker trans women of color who give BJs in the back of a car...

...all sex work is equally "survival sex work."

I can't understand how she reconciles the first two things with her conclusion? (I left off the statement of societies view of the two different situations because that makes it makes the comparison even more extreme!) Putting yourself through college (or living a life with some luxuries, like the kind of girls who do men like Eliot Spitzer) seem far less desperate than young homeless ppl who sleep with someone just to have shelter for the night, and those women have far more options. I don't know how saying such things really helps trans sex workers or anyone else.

I also think much of what she writes creates a suggested similarity to "type 1" transsexuals (under 30, who supposedly all do sex work) and "type 2" transsexuals (who are older and totally disconnected from young trans sex workers). It starts smelling a lot like the old school Clarke Institute statements.

This is so true. It doesn't prove the thesis but it explains where the thesis comes from. The bias and speculation often comes from people who often prove insightful about these and other things. People shouldn't offer insights about other people's experiences where they couldn't possibly have insight.

Anyway, those who do have insight have articulated well, here, in spite of a tendency on the part of some to speculate.

I'm replying to my own comment because I think your reply, Morgan, is directed mostly to Ginasf. I read what you wrote. I'm not familiar with anything else you've written although I read one or two other things along with the post written by you that Dr. Weiss linked to. I didn't want to personally offend. I should have stayed out of this. I am sensitive about my age and personal situation. There is not only tension among young and old but early and "late lifers". As far as your own personal observations are concerned,or anyone's, I take them at face value unless or until I know differently. What Ginasf wrote, now, seems obviously not to apply to you but in certain instances it is very true that some people's attitudes carry, very closely, the kind of implications which she describes.

First off, I talk about Toronto because that's where I live. I can't talk about elsewhere because I'm not involved elsewhere. I'm talking about specific things happening in a specific place. I am not talking about everywhere and never said that I was.

And you write "I also think much of what she writes creates a suggested similarity to "type 1" transsexuals (under 30, who supposedly all do sex work) and "type 2" transsexuals (who are older and totally disconnected from young trans sex workers). It starts smelling a lot like the old school Clarke Institute statements."

When have I ever said anything even remotely like that? Most of the trans sex workers that I know are in their 30s and 40s, and I also know later-transitioning trans sex workers in their 50s and 60s. I actually only know a few young trans sex workers. Most of the trans youth that I know are not and have never been involved in sex work.

I have also never said that there is "no coercion" in sex work. The points that I've tried to make are that it's a lot more complicated than just saying it's all coerced, that a lot of people make their own choices based on the options available to them.

The only one of the things you're claiming that I've said that I actually do sort of say is that sex slavery is a myth more-or-less. While it does happen, the rare instances that it does are blown way out of proportion by the media and are related to a history of rhetoric that evolved out of white fears during emancipation.


So Morgan, are your claims about sex slavery being rare also only about Toronto— because that's not how you made it sound on another thread where you wrote about these issues.

I notice you didn't respond to my statement about your claim that "all sex work is survival sex work." Again, is this only in reference to Toronto? You honestly mean to say that a white-middle class cis-woman doing sex work to pay for higher education is survival in the same way a trans woman living in a favela in Brazil is?

I'm going to need to go through some of your earlier threads on these issues, but someone wrote that all trans women who've transitioned under the age of 30 have done sex work. I thought it was you but, if not, I'm still shocked that statement was made on one of your threads and no one reputed it. And yes, it TOTALLY sounds like a statement Ray Blanchard or J. Michael Bailey would make.

No one said all sex work is coerced, which would be an absurd statement. But to pretend that many of the trans women living in extreme poverty in Thailand and Brazil (the two countries which produce the vast majority of trans porn) do not face coercion is equally absurd. Again, are you talking about Toronto? If so, please clarify that on your posts.

"I'm going to need to go through some of your earlier threads on these issues, but someone wrote that all trans women who've transitioned under the age of 30 have done sex work."

I wasn't able to find that in the threads, so I want to retract that. I think it might have been Viviane Namaste who wrote it. I was reading some of her pieces at the same time I read those threads.

You retract the accusation but don't apologize for falsely accusing me and then comparing me to transphobic cis psychiatrists? I'm not willing to engage any further in this conversation. I have never felt so degraded and insulted by another trans person.


You mean like you repeatedly ragging on all trans people who aren't sex workers yet observe the TDOR? Like the way you dismiss that the TDOR has anything to do with transphobia? Like you ignoring all the people on the TDOR who didn't die while they were doing sex work or weren't sex workers? Like that kind of disrespect? If I sound as disrespectful as you did towards those people, then I certainly apologize.

I would never, ever say that about trans people under 30 all doing sex work. It makes absolutely no sense, so please stop saying that I said that. Blaming me for anything said by other people is really bizarre. And furthermore, what exactly is the point you're trying to make by comparing me to transphobic cis psychiatrists? I think that's one of the most degrading and insulting things any trans person has ever done to me.

My statement that "all sex work is survival sex work in exactly the same way that all jobs at McDonalds are survival food service jobs" is meant to point out that I find it absurd that people refer to it as "survival sex work." Working is about surviving, unless you're rich. It's about making money so that you can get the necessities for your life -- or that's been my experience, at least.


But, all jobs at McD's *aren't* survival service jobs. A lot are, maybe even most, but a lot aren't. Many of the ppl working there aren't going to go without their basic needs if they don't work there. That sort of leveling doesn't seem to me to be that helpful. It's kinda like comparing things to rape or the Holocaust when they are much less horrible, it just undermines your point.

I believe what Morgan is saying is that most jobs, to some point, represent an attempt to get by (even if it's not at the level of basic survival). If a sex worker is working to put herself through college, then sex work is her means of getting by as a student. Same would go if she worked at McDonald's for the same reason.

And you're the one who actually brought up the Holocaust *eyeroll*

"But, all jobs at McD's *aren't* survival service jobs."

That's the point. Not all jobs in the sex industry are survival jobs either.

I really liked this point that Morgan is making, but it seems to be getting repeatedly misinterpreted. The point I see in it is that it is EQUALLY VALID to refer to all McDonalds jobs as survival work as it is to all sex work as survival work.

It can be hard to convince someone that not all sex work is economically coerced (i.e. "survival work") if there mind is really set to it. This way you can say "fine, if you want to call it survival work, then it is, but so are dozens of other lines of work - are you going to attack them just as strongly?"

I keep feeling misunderstood too. My point isn't that one type of work is less deserving than the other, it's the point of leveling in each type of job. As I said in other comments, along the same lines as your comments, my issue is treating all the ppl who do the sort type of work as having the motivations and needs for doing that type of work. I personally find *that* disrespectful of sex workers.

As Antonia said, it is about a sense of agency. Some ppl working in the sex trade have it, and some don't, just the same as some workers at McD's have it, and some don't. I just don't feel it is that helpful to conflate the motivations and needs of everyone in a type of work to some general stereotype.

Perhaps I am over interpreting what Morgan is saying. If so, I apologize. But for sure, my goal is not to denigrate sex workers or to argue against their humanity or their rights. :)

"But to pretend that many of the trans women living in extreme poverty in Thailand and Brazil (the two countries which produce the vast majority of trans porn) do not face coercion is equally absurd."

I find this type of thinking indicates a kind of pathological view of sex work (or maybe even just sex in general for some individuals). Lots of people living in poverty are pushed towards all kinds of jobs that they might not prefer. Yet sex work is always singled out in this way as a particular and unique evil.

The way to deal with this situation is not to attack sex work (which so easily turns into an attack on sex workers themselves), it is to attack _poverty_.

That having been said, there are of course genuine cases of sex trafficking out there, and that must also be eliminated absolutely and unquestionably, but conflating that with a woman (cis or trans) who goes into sex work because she's struggling to get by is ridiculously simplistic and, in my opinion, a total disservice to the sex working woman in question.

Savannah, getting rid of poverty won't get rid of sex work. I will impact when womens' decision (or coercion) to go into sex work but it won't eliminate it. I also think there are trans women who go into sex work for reasons other than money. Do you honestly believe I don't think issues surrounding poverty don't need to be addressed?

NO ONE ever said that all women (or trans women) go into sex work due to sex traffic or coercion. I never, ever said that. But Morgan in another thread did totally dismiss (in a very global way) the issue of sex trafficking at all and I find that offensive. If she wants to say it's not a big issue in Toronto, fine. I don't know Toronto. If you want to say don't marginalize sex workers because there is trafficking, then fine, I agree. But don't say trafficking isn't an issue.

And also... we're not talking about all kinds of jobs, we're talking about sex work. I agree, I don't like that people are pushed into doing transient farm work and exploited by agribusiness due to their illegal status, but that's not the issue we're discussing.

Gina, you completely misunderstand my statement just as you completely (and repeatedly) misunderstand Morgan's statements. It's very apparent that this is a result of having a pathological view of sex work.

I never said that getting rid of poverty would get rid of sex work In fact I completely oppose the elimination of sex work as a goal even in theory. You are projecting that false interpretation onto my words because somehow the idea of eliminating sex work is a concept that resonates with you.

What I said is that poverty is the root cause of people choosing work that might not be their first choice. That might include people choosing transient farm work (as you mentioned), McJobs, sex work, whatever, when in fact their first choice would otherwise be to do something else.

However, it's perfectly possible (and in fact it happens) that some people would indeed choose sex work as their first choice. Given that that is the case, attempts to "eliminate sex work" are simply nonsense.

Now all that having been said, there is in some cases the real incidence of coercion in relation to sex. That is always to be condemned and yes we must attempt to eliminate that. So I don't see any disagreement between my position and your position on that (or Morgan's for that matter!).

You keep saying something about what Morgan said in another thread (that you don't quote, conveniently enough) about trafficking. Yet here she is on _this_ thread acknowledging that coercion does exist, and yet you can't let it go… not only that, you proceed to insult her in a really underhanded manner.

It's like you can't take 'yes' for an answer. You've made up your mind you don't like someone's perspective and you're determined to dump all over them no matter what, even when they essentially agree with you on the major points.

As for TDOR, I'm not a sex worker and never have been (though if I had been I would be just as proud of that as my present job in academia). Yet those of us in Toronto are all working together on planning for TDOR remembrance. We are all acknowledging how transphobia works in different contexts (how it oppresses all of us, sex worker or no), while also recognizing that most of the people on that list are in fact sex workers. It's perfectly possible to do that.

.white sex-positive women who do sex work to pay their way through grad school...

Sex work is just as oppressive for those people.

You start out doing the hooking and before long it is you who is hooked.

At first I rationalized what I was doing with: I'm only doing it until I get my SRS. Then it was only until I go through school.

Then it became rationalized in different ways and I drank away dealing with the damage it was doing to me.

I am the only one of the people I knew who did sex work for any period of time in the 1970s who is still alive.

I attribute that to my going into therapy, feminism, being political and sheer dumb luck.

Most died either from over doses or as a result of substance abuse.

No one lived a "good life" as a result of sex work.

Sex work BTW includes doing porn as well as dominance games.

It is really destructive for the people who do it.

Anyone who thinks being TS or TG (without doing sex work) results in society abusing you more than most hasn't done sex work.

The stigma of having been a sex worker gets thrown in my face even now because I am open about it and I haven't done sex work for many years.

Sex work is a profession for some. And it should be legal, and regulated, Like it is in Amsterdam (where I live - they pay social security and tax here, and there are very few street workers). It's safer and healthier for everyone, when it's legal.

Having said that, I imagine that very, very few people grow up dreaming of being a sex worker.

Jillian I am Surprised you didn't mention sex work as a form of self degradation and destruction. I look at it as the person saying to themselves "I am dirty therefore I am undeserving of holding a regular job" or and "My life is worthless hookers get killed maybe I can get killed while doing it." You can also add putting yourself at increased risk of aids or death as a form of self degradation and as suicide by someone else or thing.

Yes, there are strong elements of both of those. "Low self esteem" doesn't even begin to cover the first. A desire to escape into non-existence is almost universal.

I've had a few words with a leader of the sex workers collective. She was very much against people doing sex work because they had to, rather than because they wanted to. Not just sex work, any kind of work for that matter.

I wanted to ask you if anyone has a complete and current list of all the studies done on Transsexuals? I mean in one place and only showing studies related to Transsexuals. Personally I don't support sex work legal or illegal but I support the human treatment of everyone provided they give you the chance to treat them humanely.

Not even remotely, I'm afraid. For one thing, it's impossible to disentangle transsexuality from intersex. For another, most of the literature before 1990 (and quite a bit since) conflates transsexuality and homosexuality - see Blanchard's AGP theory for example.

Prof Sid Ecker's bibliography on the biological basis for transsexuality used in his presentation to the APA in 2009 ran to 9 pages. The amount of papers just on that has at least doubled since then.

If I included all the sociological and employment studies, the legal aspects, the international conference proceedings etc just the bibliography would be a book in its own right. My blog only includes selected readings, I'm currently too busy doing my PhD thesis in another area entirely, the application of Meta-Genetic algorithms to computational chemistry.

Sorry. There's so much I don't know too. My conversation with Mish of the Scarlet Alliance and others was an eye-opener. I'm such a prig I really belong in something like the "Concerned Women of America" you know? Not the usual hypocritical "straight arrow", I'm the real deal. Except I have an intolerance for injustice. So when I read something like this:
... I become an Activist, even though I'm highly introverted, bordering on Social Anxiety Disorder.

I have to. I can do no other.

Isn't Concerned Women of America a right-wing, anti-feminist group? Or am I confusing them with something named almost the same name? The group of which I am thinking is on the same order as Focus on the Family and groups like that.

Yep, that's the one. I'm really a terribly conservative, private person. I'm a prude too.

By all rights, I should be amongst the CWA. Except for their inhumanity in just about everything, their self-righteous bigotry, plain irrationality, cruelty, etc.

OK, I'm a prude. Why the heck should that stop me from seeking justice for sex workers, and that means listening to them, knowing them, associating with them and being in some way part of them, while realising that I know nothing about their lived experience.

I've spent so much time light-years outside my comfort zone that it's the new normal for me. And while I really hope to be able to fade into complete obscurity one day, I also know it ain't gonna happen. Too much needs doing. As a right-winger, I believe in personal, not collective responsibility to right wrongs. If I see someone starving, it's my responsibility to do something about it, not some collective's, such as a council or state.

As for helping those who deserve it (and the corollary, not helping those who don't) - Save 'em all, and let God sort 'em out.

"By all rights, I should be amongst the CWA. Except for their inhumanity in just about everything, their self-righteous bigotry, plain irrationality, cruelty, etc."

Yes, that's why I was confused. I was having trouble wrapping my mind around you agreeing with a lot of what they do. And, no disrespect to you, but even more so in them accepting a trans woman, or even an intersexed one. :)

Zoe I'm kinda like you I was much more introverted and had quite a bit of social anxiety pre transition though I'm coming out of my shell. How is the intersex sex and gender diverse thing working out in Australia? Personally I think it is way better way to go than the whole Transgender mess we have here. I'm starting to go infront of college classes and as I do I'm showing them how Transgender and LGBT control of it is discrimination. What makes it really great is that I come a week or so after the LGBT rep does So the students really get the opportunity to compare notes. It is especially fun to see the students reaction when I show them just how many definitions for Transgender are floating out there. They are down right shocked when they find out Transgender also includes straight people that aren't CD, TV or TS. They also don't think it's right the LGBT is trying to steal a bunch of peoples identities and histories and claim it as there own. What I do with Transgender is break it apart to define it which gives it a much more accurate meaning. Trans meaning to cross over or change. Gender the socially and culturally expected roles of men and women. So combine the two: To cross over or change the socially or culturally constructed roles of men and women. What's neat about my definition is it is inclusive of every Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual. Here in America it is not culturally acceptable or socially acceptable to marry a same sex partner therefore every LGB is Transgender. I'm hoping that NCTE and NLGTF in the spirit of Transgender inclusion (Forcing People against their will) adopt this much more accurate definition. By adopting this definition on this years Transgender day of remembrance they can include every young LGBT person who committed suicide or was murdered because they were seen as breaking the socially or culturally expected norms of men and women. The last two years here in Des Moines Iowa the Transgender Day of Remembrance wasn't honored. This year Mara Kiesling is showing up and I have a protest against it planned because it doesn't include all those young innocent LGB's that died for being Transgender.

So, correct me if I am wrong, but it sounds like to me that after complaining high and low about GLBs forcing TSs into the GLBT against their wills, you are now trying to coop the GLBs into being TG? I have some ideas why you would do that, but I am curious to hear your explanation.

Carol the fact of the matter is the definition of the word Transgender fits Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals like a glove. I'm not co-opting them besides I thought you support Transgender inclusion? Just think of all the extra people that could be memorialized on the Transgender Day of Remembrance. What about the fact it gets rid of the alphabet soup? I kinda like the sound of "Transgender Community." Most Lesbians and Gays I know think of themselves as Transgender anyways. Look at the Michigan Music festival the Radical Lesbians openly embrace their Transgender ways. So you see even Janice Raymond and Julie Bindel are Transgender. None of them want to be the opposite sex they want to change the socially and culturally accepted roles of men and women how very Transgender of them. Same sex marriage has been banned in the majority of states that means same sex marriages violate the Culturally and socially constructed roles of men and women. Again how Transgender of Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals to try and change the law. I really hope Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals can get over their internalized Transphobia and come to accept their Transgender identity.

Ok, that's kinda what I thought.

Someday you really must write a book about the planet you live on.

I live on the same planet as you do with one exception I understand the difference between sex and gender. Like I said every gay and lesbian is transgender by the fact they cross the societally exspected roles of males and females. If being gay was viewed as normal male and female behavior gay marriage wouldn't be called gay marriage it would just be called marriage. Like it or not the vast majority of males and females are straight and comfortable in their own skin.

Rachel Bellum | October 22, 2011 10:26 PM


I hope I'm not being rude here by jumping in.

You can easily generate a nearly comprehensive list by going to PubMed and searching on "transsexual" and some other terms. PubMed will show both psychological(/sociological) and medical studies. Everything from behavioral studies to surgical studies. If you're already familiar with PubMed, please forgive me.

As Zoe said, the older the study gets the more it tends to be conflated with things like homosexuality. Older studies will also tend to be heavily conflated with crossdressing, transvestism, childhood gender confusion and etc.

Also, even in the newer work you will not find every study regarding transsexual people unless you also search these other terms, and especially transgender.

I have also noticed a number of studies regarding things like HIV/AIDS and sex work which might not appear with a simple search under "transsexual."

Even newer studies can have radically different definitions for categories like "transsexual." Usually finding information for the definition used for each paper requires finding it in the body of the work. (Most papers are not freely available from the publication website, but you can find some at an author's personal website. They will also sometimes email a review copy when requested.)

These things can be really subtle. Nearly every study on homosexual men mixes/treats bisexual men as part of the homosexual group for instance. It's so easy to miss these things that even LGBT researchers often do it.

Generating a comprehensive list would be a multi-year endeavor and would still not satisfy everyone unless it was somehow cross-referenced against every possible definition variation. Even field experts who keep a lot of this information in their head are only really deeply familiar with a portion of it.

A useful list might be a multi-year endeavor but making useful comprehensive statements is literally the work of a lifetime.

Rachel I'm fine with you interjecting your wisdom on the subject. Something you might have missed is that Transsexuals are also listed as men having sex with men. I know Dr. Walter Bockting has done some of this research. While he places Transgender and Transsexuals into the men having sex with men category he also says that none of us are male or female but instead something else. Personally I find his work lacking and queer biased to the point of being ethically questionable. Whether you are Transgender or Transsexual identified you deserve to have appropriate medical care specific to your needs. I believe the idea of Transgender as a medical condition will prove to be career ending for the people who started and practice it.By lumping so many different causations into one grouping they are creating a large amount of distress especially added stygmatization on those who do not identify with the LGBT. We have all witnessed how brutal the arguments over the use of Transgender are. To continue with the use of the word shows it is agenda driven without care for those who are caught up in it.

Rachel Bellum | October 23, 2011 8:56 PM


I happened to see the MSM label inclusive of transgender/transsexual just 3 or 4 weeks ago for the first time. I can't remember if it was the researcher you are referring to, or perhaps an associate.

I was trying to get caught back up on trans related studies and just did a general search. I don't usually look at the kinds of studies that focus on MSM (often AIDS related or sex work related), -not meant to be judgmental I'm just more interested in other aspects.

I was very shocked to see a study purporting to be about MSM that listed categories in the title that included trans female sex workers. Perhaps I shouldn't have been but I was.

Sometimes researchers do things that appear prejudiced because it helps the study relate better to the history of the field of study (among other possible reasons), but, frankly, both prejudice and ignorance play a role as well.

That's pretty bizarre. I wonder if they know the demographics. I am transsexual, and have never had sex with a man in my life.

Rachel Bellum | October 24, 2011 1:42 AM

Oh, the study I was referring to was actually about straight men seeking sexual gratification with other men through various means, their motives, and risky behaviors that were associated with it. I think the sex workers were included solely as a possible avenue to achieve "male" sexual contact.

To be fair I did not read the actual paper. I rejected the study out of hand because I felt it was inherently flawed in design as they equated male to male sexual contact with male to trans female sexual contact. For instance, I don't believe the motives of the straight men are categorically the same in these two cases. Also, I find this categorization to represent genuine prejudice and as such I question the researchers ability to accurately parse data on such a delicate and poorly understood project.

By that I mean for instance, we're still officially and publicly arguing over whether bi men exist, and the idea that straight men can seek sex with men seems absurd to most people. As such, I believe researchers working with MSM need to hold themselves to very high standards so that the work is truly worthwhile.

Additionally, if you don't already know, you might be interested to hear that in older research/theories regarding transsexuals they had to be solely sexually attracted to members of their assigned birth gender (that is no homosexually or bisexually oriented trans people need apply -though of course they would have been considered homosexual then and apparently by some still now).

"MSM" goes back to the definition given by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), which includes some trans women under the premise that penile-anal intercourse (PAI) risk groups can include trans women. I'm not defending the term at all: there are several alternate terms that would be better, but many are passed over for fear that they'll scare away straight and bi men from participating. So there isn't always an intent to misgender, but at the same time, there's little will to fix an obvious and glaring issue with the term, and folks just follow the CDC lead.

Merecedes as I'm sure your well enough aware there is a group of heterosexual Transsexuals myself included that do not actively seek out sex with men. We do not need sex with men to verify our feminity or sense of self as women.But In the article I'm referring to Dr. Bockting states these things: What are some of the unique issues facing transgender people that you feel contribute to the higher rate of HIV in this population?
Many of the issues are related to stigma. For example, it's not that difficult for MTF transgender persons to find men to have sex with, because there enough men who are interested in that. But for them to find a longer-term, committed relationship, that is more challenging because there are few men who are willing to publicly to acknowledge that they have a transgender fiancée, so there is quite a bit of stigma that extends to the partners. On the one hand I think it's real, on the other hand it's also a very strong perception among transgender women related to their issues of low self-esteem as a result of growing up in a world with few role models. They worry about, "Am I lovable?" or "Does anyone want me?" As a result, sex is a very strong affirmation of being wanted, attractive, and of their femininity. A common perception is that a man may want to have sex with me, but to spend our lives together, that may be more difficult because of the stigma associated with being transgender.
In one of the interviews in your book it states that many transgender people may have sex to feel desirable, or to feel loved, or to be validated as a man or a woman.
Yes, and they may even go through a time where they feel compulsive about sex, because they want to feel better when they are lonely and struggling with self-esteem issues. But I think also because of the perception that they are relieved that they have found someone, who, in their view, despite the fact that they are transgender, want to spend the night with them. And then after having disclosed, what is often already obvious, that they are transgender, and finally having found someone who wants to be with them even if it's just for one night, then on top of that to insist on a condom, that's risking rejection a second time. And if on top of that they are revealing they are HIV-positive, that's like risking rejection three times. That's what the qualitative research indicates, that it does compromise sexual negotiation because they don't want to risk that rejection, and they are in desperate need of love, affection, and company, because they are rejected -- often by family, and by society.
What many of you may not know is that I came of age in the early eighties and have been in contact with the LGBT in one form or another since the very beginning of the Transgender movement and can prove it. I stronlgly oppose both the Transgender label and the concept of Transgender healthcare because it blurs the lines to the point of creating further marginalization and stygmatization of certain elements caught within it. Do some Transgender and Transsexual people engage in risky sex practices no doubt. Most people that I come into contact with that express a sexual interest in me come from the perspective that we are all just like Dr. Bockting described and are an easy lay or a great disposble sex toy. The Transgender label doesn't allow for those who act a certain way to be separated from those who don't. In that sense I see it failing to meet minimum Academic standards. I also see it violating ethic standards by grouping people together simply based on stereotypes and shoves them into a larger further marginalized and stygmatized group. Time will tell but I'm beginning to believe that Transgender will cost LGBT academics dearly.

Rachel Bellum | October 26, 2011 12:45 AM

Hi Mercedes,

I assume the intentions are good. I just think for that where this crosses over into epidemiology there should be more than good intentions, for instance.

For example if the the motives of heterosexually coupled straight men who are covertly seeking sexual encounters with other men in high risk behaviors is being examined, offhandedly I would assume that they would differ significantly from heterosexually coupled men covertly seeking sexual encounters with trans women. High risk sexual encounters with cis women of no kind were included. It seemed that the intentions were to understand the motives so that effective strategies could be developed (with an eye towards HIV and other STIs). This seems noble. However if the data is confounded by inappropriately mixing behavioral groups, these strategies won't be as effective as they potentially could be.

To me the presumption that men seeking out trans women are the same as men seeking out men demonstrates faulty study design. If nothing else, it's a valid research question that should be examined in such an important field.

Britney Austin | October 20, 2011 10:56 PM

This is a topic I am on the fence on. It is my opinion that such work is unhealthy physically, psychologically, and spiritually. On the other hand I am an advocate for freedom. This is supposed to be a free market economy and as such this profession should be legalized and regulated as needed.

I'll admit that I am more judgmental toward those who are involved with this profession for years or even decades than I am toward those who do this for a short period of time as an emergency economic measure. I believe that everyone should make some attempt regularly to elevate their lives. In other words, make your life better. This could mean better economically, better physically, more educated, spiritual advancement, take up hobbies or activism, whatever. People who are involved in sex work for long periods of time typically have hit rock bottom in life. They have rolled down the hill and the only thing they can do is either stay at the bottom or begin climbing. Sex work as it is in today's world is not a realistic way of life for the long term. They are not going to retire off of it. They have not gained any marketable job skills from it. All that has happened is they have gotten increasingly trapped.

Arresting them is certainly not the answer unless they are committing crimes against other people (i.e. stealing). There needs to be more unbiased social support networks for these people. I honestly think the ultimate key is education. If these people could gain marketable job skills and more education than they currently have they will have an easier time picking themselves up and moving away from that life. Plus, they will see the incentive to do so in the first place. Many of these people may not actually believe that any other life for themselves is possible. That is what must change. If they truly wish to stay in this line of work after being well educated then that is their choice as free citizens. But nobody should ever have to feel as if they are forced to enter or remain in such work.

Britney, what you are saying could apply to a lot of other jobs. You don't learn a whole lot of other marketable skills flipping burgers or loading and unloading boxes or any number of under-paid and under-respected jobs out there. Yet you never see this level of judgment against people who stay in those jobs for years or even decades.

You actually can learn a whole lot of marketable skills from sex work: sales, customer care, web design, scheduling, marketing, video editing, and entrepreneurship just to name a few. The issue often isn't that an individual doesn't have marketable skills or education (I know many sex workers who do), but that:

1) it's hard to put that on a resume, employment gaps or arrest records are hard to explain.
2) good jobs are hard to find these days even with skills and education
3) sex work is often not the worst job around and many will legitimately choose it over other options.

"You actually can learn a whole lot of marketable skills from sex work: sales, customer care, web design, scheduling, marketing, video editing, and entrepreneurship just to name a few."

Yeah, if you don't end up hooked on drugs/booze, riddled with STDs, beaten up, locked up, and mentally screwed up, then yeah, you might be ready to go into business baking pies, or some such acceptable thing as that.

"Yeah, if you don't end up hooked on drugs/booze, riddled with STDs, beaten up, locked up, and mentally screwed up..."

Do you realize how broad a spectrum "sex work" includes? I'm not saying that doesn't happen to some people, it does. But not only are you painting a picture where that sounds almost inevitable, you are using really dehumanizing language around it that paints sex workers as almost trash.

I can't tell if you're coming from the perspective of someone who, or caring for someone who had a bad experience doing sex work or someone who's only connection to the issue is bad media stereotypes. I'm coming from a space of being a sex worker and having a community of friends and lovers who are current and former sex workers as well.

Some of my friends are struggling and some are thriving. Some have been arrested and some have been beaten up by police - and they still have marketable skills and often they still choose sex work. Rather than perpetuating negative stereotypes in the hopes of berating them into choosing a career change, the obvious solution there is to get police to stop beating up and arresting sex workers.

This is why I fight for sex worker rights. Yes, there is a problem and the treatment of sex workers in this society is very unjust. But you don't solve it by making things worse for sex workers in the hopes of convincing people to get out of the job. You fight to make it better.

Suzan wrote:

"No one lived a "good life" as a result of sex work...

It is really destructive for the people who do it."

There are a lot of risks, definitely. A significant portion of that comes from anti-prostitution laws that drive people underground, make them unable to rely on law enforcement, sometimes make them depend on exploitive people, can make them easy prey, can make people feel a need for a crutch... even if you find a means where you have control over your surroundings, it's not easy. But if you're going so far as to say that it by it's very nature is always harmful, I won't agree with that. Personally, as an introvert I found it very draining being "on" at the level that's needed, and at the same time being alert for risk. But I'd managed to carve enough autonomy to have some idea how it could be if people were empowered, protected by law rather than hounded by it, and not constantly barraged with shaming and targeting.

Lisa wrote:

"I am Surprised you didn't mention sex work as a form of self degradation and destruction."

I came at it from two different perspectives at two different times in my life. The first time, I had little recourse, no escape, and not really prepared for much of what went with the job. At that time, "degradation and destruction" fit. The second time through, I had more autonomy, more choice, and nope, I won't accept that kind of characterization. Frankly, if my job dried up tomorrow, I'd probably sooner return to sex work than apply at McD's or WalMart.

This is all seeing an effect and assuming causality. It's like looking at Warren Jeffs and thinking that poly relationships are always exploitive and misogynistic. But if we dissect sex work, we find the negatives stemming from oppression, from stigma, from poverty, from disenfranchisement... and not necessarily integral to sex work itself.

And Suzan wrote:

"They need alternatives that are better than the place they are in doing sex work not worse."

Agreed, and/or alternatives that will safeguard and provide autonomy in the meantime.

the missing piece in this whole discussion is Agency.

one must support both, jillian, for both are about Agency.

I support both trans rights and workers' rights, and sex workers, regardless of whether they are cis or trans, are workers and should have basic government protections. Sex work should not be illegal.

At the same time, there are other related principles:

a. No one should be forced, coerced or enslaved into sex work (or any other work); and

b. No one should be put in the position of having to choose sex work for survival.

c. Children must be protected from any exploitation.

I could agree with this:

"... Sex work should not be illegal.

At the same time, there are other related principles:

a. No one should be forced, coerced or enslaved into sex work (or any other work); and

b. No one should be put in the position of having to choose sex work for survival.

c. Children must be protected from any exploitation."

... but would caution that any and all of those three get distorted in ways used to justify criminalization of sex work, i.e.:

- the belief that all sex work harms all women, through objectification and erosion of families

- that women and children are in danger of exploitation as long as a demand for sex work exists, so ending the demand will stop the problem

- that all women engaging in sex work are inevitably and constantly harmed (and yes, there are plenty of people who *have* been harmed, and who would attest to that -- indeed, if I hadn't returned years later with greater independence and self-determination, I might have once been inclined to say the same), etc.

The new battle against sex work uses these arguments by distorting and co-opting the problem of human trafficking, and does a double harm: by painting the entire industry as human/sex trafficking, and by erasing actual trafficked women through deflection, and proposing that they can be saved if we attack prostitution instead.

In the end, it doesn't take a lot to pick those distortions apart, but not enough people have the will to do so.

Sorry, I'm rambling.

Angela Brightfeather | October 21, 2011 10:32 AM

I feel a bit ashamed, because despite all the many years of experience that I have had in the Trans Community, this is probably the one topic that I know the least about....and I guess that is a combination of two things. The desire to keep myself out of trouble and of the proverbial grid, with as little record as possible of my fingerprints and/or mug shots, as well as the fact that Trans people I have come into contact with (some of them being sex workers themselves or having that experience) never talk about any details of it in general or specific conversations.

So I thank all of you for speaking truth to this situation and to Jillian for bringing it up. I am finally earning more.

A "perfect world" scenario was brought up before. I cannot but think that in that perfect world this would not be an issue because everyone would be doing anything they wanted, there would be no infectious diseases to contract, and we all most likely would resort back to being Bonobo's who never have to think about what sex is because to them it is just another one of life's most pleasurable activities and there is always enough bananas for everyone.

But unfortunately it is not a perfect world and because of that we need to be mindful of what sex has become, mostly because of the diseases, the religious condemnation that breeds discrimination and illegalities against it, and a world that is transfixed on the outer beauty of relationships instead of valuing the inner beauty of people.

Actually, it makes my head hurt, trying to think of all the good and bad things that sex has become and the many different paths that make it a positive or negative thing in our society.

What I have been working for all these years is for Transgender people to have equal human rights. I guess, as applied to this discussion, that would mean that they would never be forced to have sex to survive, but they would be allowed to have sex because they liked it.

Gosh, does getting F^%ked at work count as sex work?

Well, yes, if you're a sex worker.

Otherwise you're just making a low-brow joke on a serious topic that actually isn't all that clever.

Well alot of you are missing the point, of Morgan Page's article on pretty queer, it was a very well written article!, lets get something straight here, "Pretty Woman" is a "Holly Wood Fairy Tail" that does not happen in real life, operas are just stories & the bible is just a collection of stories, not facts! & lets face as for "Middle Class Privileges" the "Middle Class" has been rapidly shrinking over the past 30 years! Sooner or later you're gonna have to wake up face the facts, that your white bred shell around is decaying/crumbling, falling apart. Stop bashing people who are, comfortable with their sexuality & their bodies!, people who are different from you. from the sounds of it the author of this article, does not seem have any real inside knowledge of "Sex Work"!

Alot of people on here are nothing more than really dumb sheep, following a very dumb shepherd, there is a whole world around you & you don't even know it!, but hey that is what you get, when you watch & read "Mainstream Media"!!


I have to say that comparing the lives of very real sex working women (who face a multitude of complex intersectional issues) to a (bad, superficial, practically meaningless) Hollywood film really isn't doing anyone any favors.

But remember she had an affair with a married man, who flew her to Paris & another man gave her $40 in a bar, it sounds to me like she was looking for a sugar daddy & not contemplating sex work, but sugarcoats & uses the word 'Mistress". I don't see any valid points in her article!, but what is obvious is that she has watched on to many Hollwood Fairy Tails!, but we both know Pretty Woman is not reality....

Paige Listerud | October 22, 2011 1:23 PM

Over in India, some sex workers have organized themselves into unions for job protection, occupational security and healthcare. Criminalization strikes against sex workers in the field from joining together for their own empowerment--making them targets for abuse from johns, pimps and law enforcement. Decriminalization is only one step, if an important one, in a long struggle to get sex work acknowledged as work and sex workers as people who deserve workplace protection and skills that can be transferred to other occupations. Nice, liberal-minded non-sex workers make for good allies but sex workers themselves have to unite for their own liberation and lead the charge. They have a parallel experience as other LGBTQ, in that not only are some sex workers LGBTQ, but sex workers have to "come out" about their sex work in order to create change.

I said I shouldn't have gotten involved in this discussion but since I have, I do have something to add. In Rhode Island, because of odd and unlikely circumstances, indoor prostitution was legal until a campaign was waged against it. The local chapter of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women at Brown and a Roman Catholic legislator along with the Attorney General and State Police waged a successful campaign to have it criminalized. There was opposition from the National Organization Women, grassroots anti-poverty organizers, prominent female members of the general assembly and others who were against criminalization for many good reasons. A local filmaker, Tara Hurley, did a documentary on the subject, interviewing many sex workers. I think the problems faced by sex workers are worthy of consideration and the rights of sex workers should be fought for alongside the rights of other marginalized people. I am going to link to Tara Hurley's website, which I think is informative and then link to a piece written by David Segal in the HuffPo in another reply which discusses the problems involved with criminalization and why there should be opposition to it. Tara Hurley's site : http://www.happyendingsdocumentary.com/index.html

Here's the HuffPo piece by Segal which, like most of the positions he takes, I find insightful and informative:


Morgan M. Page I enjoyed your article and thought it was very perceptive and balanced.

Lost in all this banter is the fact that there are women (Trans and otherwise) in every medium to large sized city in the world who make 6 figure incomes and retire comfortably at a fairly young age. It is not that rare although I presume it is a small minority of sex workers.

I think our society is very prudish and caters entirely too much to an outdated puritan condemnation of sex outside of a sanctioned marriage. Perhaps we should be honest and admit that the truth of our society is and always has been liberty and justice for some.

Several comments mentioned the need for trans specific job coaching and job training opportunities for trans folks looking for additional income and/or have interest in leaving the street economy for other work. Here in San Francisco, I coordinate a trans employment program called TEEI http://www.teeisf.org. We provide one-on-one job search support to trans folks. We are also offering a new life skills program called Work It starting on Nov. 2nd for folks with gaps in employment and/or limited work experience. D.C. just started a similar training, check out the AP article here: http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9Q7G5180.htm