Trans women call it walking while trans: when police officers assume that anyone who looks like a transgender woman must be engaging in sex work. The fear and hardship that this engenders among trans women who aren’t sex workers is one of myriad reasons why the complete decriminalization of all sex work must be a central piece in the struggle for transgender human rights. Decriminalization, as distinct from legalization via regulation, would seek to strike those laws which criminally penalize sex workers from the books.
Sex work is a broad category encompassing anything from erotic dancing and pornography to street-based sexual solicitation, and may be done for money or for food, shelter, or other goods and services. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 19 percent of all trans people, and 47 percent of black trans women, have engaged in sex work. This does not take place in a vacuum but in the context of pervasive societal discrimination against trans people in general, and trans women of color in particular. Widespread bias against trans people severely limits access to traditional employment, housing, and health care—but also, through family rejection, to informal kinship-based networks of support.
One in five trans people have been paid whores? Almost half of black trans women (men who present as female) have been hookers?! (I don’t apologize for using strong language; I cannot stand the way we euphemize away the moral ugliness of what they do by using anodyne terms like “sex work”). This is not a psychologically or emotionally healthy population. And yet we are told that we have to accommodate them.
Of course, not every trans person who engages in sex work does so to avoid homelessness. Ally Brinken, a transfeminine genderqueer person who initially got into sex work to supplement their income during grad school, enjoys being their own boss as a pro-domme. “Sex work as a profession and as a community is much more free of marginalization and discrimination which, as a student, I definitely came into contact with,” Brinken said. “Sex work as a community is very trans positive. It’s profitable, and it’s good for us, allowing us to use our bodies and our sexuality that society so often stigmatizes.”
A “pro-domme”? What’s that? I had to look it up. A “pro-domme” is a prostitute who works as a specialist in perverted sex (domination), without necessarily having sex itself with her clients. Really excellent people. And:
Trans women are not responsible for the forces that push them toward sex work when they are discriminated against in lawful work, nor are they responsible for the desire others feel for their bodies, which pulls them toward sex work and makes them as vulnerable to trafficking as other women are.
So, let’s see: according to this writer in Slate, if we don’t decriminalize prostitution, we’re anti-trans, in part because prostitution allows transgender people to feel good about themselves. Transgender people have no moral responsibility for selling their bodies for sex. Society makes them do it … except when it’s fun, in which case it’s “pro-trans.”
The reader who sent that in writes:
See, I am confused. Just a while back we were told that sexual minorities only wanted to be treated as equals and have access to the same set of rights, and anyone opposed to such just had a malicious and bigoted desire to limit who could come visit sick gay people in the hospital.
So this is weird, right? Because this doesn’t seem to have anything at all to do with who can come visit sick gay people in the hospital. It almost seems like there is a broader agenda, that there always was one, and that it is more aggressive than they were letting on!
The Law of Merited Impossibility (“It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it”) is irrefutable. They keep moving the Overton Window farther to the left — and there seems to be no meaningful resistance to the Weimarization of this country.