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by XaXa McQueen

With sex work increasing in ubiquity one might assume that the market has become a safer space, but that assumption would be tremendously incorrect. According to Sex Crime Laws, the murder rate for an American Prostitute is 204 for every 100,000 – with only 58% of assaults being actually reported.  

On one hand, sex work has become a commodified and popular industry for those with the resources to brand, market, and vend themselves to a carefully curated roster of clientele.  On the other, it is still a stigmatized means of survival.

As a person of color, discrimination and the perils it presents has always been in the periphery of my thoughts. When I accepted that I was transgender, those thoughts came to the forefront of my concerns.  The sex work I’ve done was phone sex operating, but a vast amount of my transgender peers have done much more. For trans women, turning tricks has historically been a last resort after unsuccessful attempts to find legal and legitimate work — discrimination being the most common factor.

 Unfortunately, this has cost so many their freedom and even their lives. The saddest part about this is: every time a trans woman is murdered, the investigative focus is always honed onto what SHE may have done to contribute to the circumstances surrounding her death. The prevailing consensus is usually either she was a sex worker, or she had tricked some unwittingly unwilling sexual participant, or both!  Immediately, the victim is implicated with being the cause of their own murder. With the erasure of our transgender identities from all government websites, and other threatening political posturing, it is evident that the trans community, my community, is in clear and present danger.

I set out to speak to some of the transgender sex workers in my community, most of whom preferred to remain anonymous. I had a chance to speak to Miss Ceyenne Doroshow, one of the most galvanizing and influential transgender figures actively trudging through the trenches for trans rights today.  Ms. Doroshow is a legendary community staple and founder of G.L.I.T.S., a program that fights for the rights and protection of transgender sex workers. Ms. Doroshow, herself, was once a sex worker.  She offered the following tips as useful personal accountability and communication tools, as well as methods of assuring culpability will be dispensed with integrity should the events of a service session happen to go awry. Also sharing her advice here is Taviannah Lamariyah, a transgender case manager at Atlanta/Fulton County Pre-Arrest Diversion Initiative, who frequently councils trans working girls, and has, on many occasion, acted as their proxy and guardian when faced with legal issues, as well as handful of other sex workers.

For the girls on the pole that give private dances to keep food on the table, and the trans girls who work the corner to have a bed to sleep in for the night; it’s simply called Trickin’. This is for latter: Seven Tips to Leave a Private Session With Your Safety and Coins INTACT!

1. Use the Buddy System

According to Taviannah Lamariyah, this is the safest way to ensure one’s security when engaging with a John.  It can mean anything from having a trusted partner participate in the session in tandem or wait nearby in the room, or just outside.  Taviannah shares that some girls have gone so far as to have a friend hide in the closet as a precautionary measure. Ramona [name changed at her request], one of Taviannah’s former cases, concurred that this is also a useful tactic in case the client tries to exit the session without paying. It’s best to pick your cohorts wisely.

2. The Check-In Method

Ceyenne Doroshow, the Founder of G.L.I.T.S and Nikki Sweet, the Founder of VOW Performance Parties.

Another form of the Buddy System which can be used when a working girl is with a client she is more comfortable with, usually a regular patron is the Check-In Method.  This is a little less involved for the third party as the worker just informs them of where they are going to be, who with, and for how long. After a certain time, the worker should check-in with her designated sentinel to confirm that she has ended her session safely and is en route to her safe zone.

Ramona (not real name) is a trans sex worker from Atlanta, and recommends having the friend call or text some time in the halfway mark of the session, just to give the worker the option of discontinuing (under the guise of an emergency) if she’s uncomfortable, or proceeding with the ‘date’.  This way, if something has happened in that short time, there will be less of a reaction time of reporting it and finding the culprit.

Ceyenne confirmed that this practice makes it possible to affirm that the working girl was last heard from in a smaller window of time, in case a situation causes for a search to be performed.  She reasoned that the key to reinforcing this is, if a check-in goes unanswered, the designated sentinel has to mobilize and have the session area checked by any management staff so that the police can be called immediately to the premises, if need be.

Sabina Magic recommends another tip: share your location through GPS with a trusted friend. That way if they don’t hear from you they don’t have to send in the Calvary Sometimes sessions get a little hot and heavy and you don’t have time to check your phone plus a client might think it’s rude for you to be on your phone.

If you’re concerned about a buddy and you’d like to get authorities involved, remember that Police respond quicker to call from establishments than civilians. Getting the management to call the police will illicit a faster response.

3. Be Wary of Working in Cars

Ms. Doroshow says: “Never let a client drive you ANYWHERE!” But Ramona points out that for many trans girls “walking the stroll”, attaining a client often means getting in the car with them. In that case, she warns not to board vehicles with multiple passengers.  Ramona reflects somberly, “I’ve seen two of my girlfriends get into cars with too many dudes and turned up dead.”  She confided that a one-on-one encounter helps the John feel their anonymity is protected, but if they are with their friends, “There’s always one fool that make a problem out of [their] friend enjoying themselves, and the one that pays the price is the girl.”

Ceyenne Doroshow photographed by GG

4. Stay Sober

Miss Ceyenne, as I affectionately refer to her, had this to offer: “Maintain control of your environment and ALWAYS be aware of your surroundings!”  She notes that this is harder to achieve while inebriated or high. Part of being vigilant of the setting is remaining cognizant of the body language of the trick.  The situation can spiral out of control if a drink gets spiked or a joint gets laced. The client’s attitude, posture, position, and demeanor must always be under consideration because men, especially DL [Down Low] men have been known to get rattled and nervous, and can become violent. 

Sabby Shows says, you could always just nurse one drink. “Providing an experience is part of the service. Nurse a glass of wine throughout the session so the client feels comfortable and you stay in control.”

5. Screen Your Clients!

Most trans girls working a corner don’t have time or the privilege of being stringent in their client selection. Still, Miss Ceyenne asserts that if soliciting house calls or hotel room rendezvous, a little pre-screening is a must!  She says to just have a quick candid conversation with them, and doing so will open up a view to their intentions. She notes some things to observe are: how earnestly they engage, and if they are flighty and dismissive. Some other behaviors Ms. Doroshow suggests to be mindful of are if they are “asking too many questions” or “unwilling to answer simple direct questions and omitting information.”  Any of these are tell-tale signs that the trick in company may not have your best interest in mind.

Trust your instinct.

6. Prep Your Defense

Ceyenne Doroshow mentions that all trans girls, not just the sex workers, need to have their legal defense systems prepped and in place.  These steps can include: keeping bail money set aside, having the number of a pro-bono LGBTQ lawyer handy, and, above all, being caught up on the local legislature’s application of laws when applied to trans individuals.  This will hopefully help against being taken advantage of, or discriminated against while being processed. If you feel comfortable, make contact with any of the local law enforcement that deals with LGBTQ cases. These specific departments do exist in more urban areas – there is usually a senior officer assigned to direct this division.  Finding out who that officer is, and becoming acquainted and well versed in the Police Department’s policy, will help you navigate the legal system should the situation call for it further down the road. Usually, giving the arresting officer a name of a senior officer will inspire more compassionate treatment or, at the very least, a less hastened decision to process and prosecute. However, you can always exercise your right to remain silent. You never know what can be used against you in court, and you have every right not to say a word.

7. Get involved

Taviannah Lamariyah (left) Tracee McDaniel (center) Estrella Sanchez (right) marching down the street of Downtown Atlanta

Thanks to the efforts of women like Tracee McDaniel, executive director of Juxtaposed Center for Transformation, and the first trans-woman to be appointed to Atlanta’s Citizen Review Board, the Atlanta Police Department has implemented an LGBTQ Council and has special curriculum to train officers on how to accurately assess and deal with transgender folk.  Ms. McDaniel has been instrumental in developing this curriculum and the APD officers have since grown more sensitive to the circumstances of the working trans girls they interact with.  It really is up to trans folk to make these branches more common.

Ms. Doroshow asserts that we trans women must insert ourselves into as many decision making processes as we can.  It is painfully apparent that policy is being made about us, without us. We must make sure that there is a trans presence in these rooms.  As Ms. McDaniel frequently states, “Show up and participate!” And she lives by her word.

Now, so must we.

Xaxa McQueen is a transgender U.S. Army Veteran turned actress and model. She is currently an advocate of equal rights for transgender individuals and is a Certified Peer Support Specialist for Battle Buddy Bridge in New York.

GG is a queer visual artist born and raised in Ireland, now living in NYC.