Sex life: The solidarity between cis sex workers and trans women

I feel connected not only to my fellow sex workers who are trans women, but to all trans women
April 2, 2024

A few months ago, I was on a night out in Melbourne with a flock of girls; nine Malaysian trans girls (a lot of Malaysian trans women come to Australia because of persecution by the Malaysian government), one Filipino trans girl, one Ecuadorean trans girl and two Australian girls who were, like me, white and cis. It was sex work that brought us together—a bunch of us were on tour (what we call it when private escorts travel to other cities to work) and I was dating one of the trans girls, who I had met in a doubles booking with a client and subsequently got to know better through shooting porn together. The other girls lightly teased her about being a transbian—“Sis, you like pussy now?”—while the matriarch of the Malaysian girls introduced us all to each other. In Southeast Asia, “bad girl” is a term used by sex workers to describe other sex workers, and as she pointed around the group she went “Bad girl, bad girl, bad girl, bad girl, bad girl, bad girl, bad girl, bad girl, bad girl, bad girl, bad girl, bad girl, good girl, bad girl”’. “What do you do?” I asked the good girl; “I’m an accountant,” she answered, and we all laughed. 

While we were having pre-drinks at one of the Malaysian girls’ apartments, she tried to herd us all into her living room so she could see a regular in her bedroom. Her protestations might have worked on civilians, but other hookers know you set your own hours: “girl, cancel him, we all had to say no to bookings to be here tonight!” the Ecuadorean girl said. Our host texted him to reschedule. I was chatting to the sole “good girl”, who was telling me she was self-conscious about her post-op pussy, worried that it didn’t look like a “real” one. I offered to show her mine for comparison and when we got them out, she squealed with excitement—they were completely identical, from the exposed inner labia to the prominent clit. 

We are all stigmatised women, who are perceived as threats to and by other women

As always when a bunch of working girls get together, there was a lot of shop talk; discussion of busy times and busy places, where was dead and what work we’d had done or want to have done to our faces or bodies. For me it was incredibly relaxing and affirming to be in a room full of other women who share my day-to-day professional experiences, who I don’t have to censor myself for or even worry about the phrasing of things that would be opaque to an outsider. I began to think about the similarities between all of us, the layered and hidden lives and the decisions around whether or not to disclose our differences from “normal” women. 

The other day I watched an American short film, How Not to Date While Trans, directed by and starring Nyala Moon. What was most interesting to me about the film was how much of it was—almost verbatim—a replication of the discussion that goes on among cis heterosexual women in online sex worker groups. Much of the dialogue in the film addressed questions like how to sound out a love interest’s opinions without revealing and endangering yourself, and at what point you tell a potential partner about yourself—or if you never tell him, and instead do the stressful work of keeping it clandestine forever because otherwise he’ll either use it against you or see you as undatable. It reminded me too of a lecture by Nina Arsenault, when she speaks about how cis sex workers often have constructed or “artificial” bodies in the same way that some trans women do. Both of these things, plus my night out, made me think about the solidarity that must and should exist between cis sex workers and trans women, not just because of the direct crossover—in that many trans women are sex workers too—but also because we are all stigmatised women, who are perceived as threats to and by other women, are vulnerable to violence (both from individuals and the state) and are desired (often shamefully, in secret) by men.