Queer/sex worker examines the manifold articulations of violence facing queer sex workers. It details the author’s dual personas, inside the workspace and out, and how contrary to popular opinion it isn’t the industry itself that provides the most violent experiences. It is a call for solidarity, and a glimpse into experiences most people are not privy to. It details the author’s experiences of transphobia and how when looked at alongside the intercommunity experiences of violence they have received when discussing sex work, the lack of support is telling. As sex workers, the author contends, we often speak alone in our own defence.
Creativity; Community; Experience; Violence; Sex Work
I look in the full length mirror in the change room. The smell of hair and body spray lingers. Tonight is a good night; I feel at ease with my curves and the way my body looks in the two-piece I bought earlier that day.
The manager at the desk didn’t recognise me when I came in, wearing a chest binder and button down. She asked me why I was headed to the change room, and I said: “I work here.” It’s a common occurrence; I get misgendered for a living. I realised I hadn’t seen her before. “My name is Angel.”
Now, amidst the chatter of girls, some who have been working since the morning, I start my ritual. I take off my binder, my chest gone from non-existent to evident, and replace it with the top half of the two-piece. I put on foundation, powder, blush concealer, mascara, and eyeliner in thick black wings. My underwear and sheer robe complete the look, along with my dark black wig that cascades down my back.
The manager, now circling the room with clipboard in hand, realises with a start that she recognises me. “Sorry about earlier”, she doesn’t quite look me in the eye and lets me know a client is waiting.
I have become her: Angel.
Angel has been my alter-ego for almost a decade, my ‘take no shit and make sure you get paid’ companion for as long as I can remember.
I first created her when I was an undergraduate student looking for a way to make money that didn’t involve fast food or retail. I had no idea she’d last this long; she was only meant to be temporary. I had no idea she’d take me to almost every state in Australia, to America, the United Kingdom and Europe.
Angel does things that I cringe at the thought of doing. From cocaine-filled parties in casino hotel rooms, to meeting men on street corners for rendezvouses in their apartments when wives are away. Angel will look a man in the eye and tell him he is gorgeous and good in bed, when in actuality he is middle-aged, balding, and his sexual performance is dubious; unlike me, she is an expert liar. She is confident, assertive and playful. When her clients tell her they love her, she rolls her eyes and says “love doesn’t pay the rent” because she knows that whatever takes place in that room will never last. Sometimes she laughs about it with her co-workers, sometimes she rages at the inappropriate ways she is treated, but either way, it isn’t love, and she knows that.
That night, the men she sees are interesting and mundane, young and old, polite and rude, but she is always in control. I am not like this; I am timid when approached by men.
6 am comes around, and the last few stragglers of hungover partygoers looking for a massage or blow job before they head home have been and gone, and I take off Angel’s disguise and become the other me again. It’s been a profitable evening, but I look forward to slipping off the lingerie, stowing it in the locker, and removing the wig and letting my short hair breathe. I get a ride home with one of the girls in an Uber. We discuss the night, then I go for a run with my dog, and fall asleep.
My two separate personas serve a purpose, to protect me from gender dysphoria, to stop me from completely hating myself, but also to sublimate the experiences we both share.
It’s coming up to Halloween, a time of year I hate because I am reminded of a time when Angel was nowhere to be found. I had just moved to Melbourne, was settling into routine life in an apartment in St Kilda after a period of moving around. I was discovering my new city, and with it, the potential to explore new aspects of myself my family and closest friends didn’t, and couldn’t, know about. On Halloween, I was wearing a suit and tie. I was on my way to a Halloween party. This one man who was apparently attracted to the way I was dressed—assuming my gender and sexuality was that of an effeminate gay man—followed me down the main street, pushed me into a nearby alley, and sexually and physically assaulted me.
I couldn’t find my angelic companion in that moment; she had completely abandoned me, her wit, her charm, her ability to escape situations like that one, were completely gone.
I was left to deal with the mental and physical illnesses that were to come. I retreated into myself, I lost touch with the beautiful person who lived just inside me, and my alter-ego became a distant and unused persona. It is only now I realize how inextricably linked the event was to other parts of my life. My gender fluidity was only starting to creep into the parts of my identity I wished to keep it separate from.
I am recovering. My person is recovering. My work makes that all possible.
Queer sex workers make up 30-50 per cent of the sex industry in Australia, depending who you talk to. It is unknown how many of us are transgender or gender diverse like me, nevertheless, the intersection between gender and occupation is one fraught with violence. I find safety and comfort in escorting, and the occasional brothel shift … but it’s outside work, when I live publicly and openly as a Trans person, who argues for the rights of their sex working peers, that the most violence occurs.
Online, I am repeatedly told I do not know my “real” gender, or that my work is abusive to “all women”. When I speak as a sex worker on panels with other sex workers, we are often faced with extreme levels of hostility from people who also identify as queer, and/or women. Every time we are treated this way it feels the same as that transphobe’s fist in my face in St Kilda. And like the transphobic man in the St Kilda alley, we don’t often know the fist is coming, and we cannot duck to get out of the way.
When my assault occurred in St Kilda, the people I told were extremely supportive, I even had many of my medical and psychological treatments fundraised for by community groups, but as sex workers, who work in the field of sex, not just those who happen across it in a St Kilda alleyway, we are alone.
On each and every comment thread, public forum or space where sex workers are talked about, the only people defending us are each other. So we develop communities powerful enough to combat violence, but never quite strong enough to transcend it.
Just recently, a group of radical feminists in Melbourne decided to sticker the cars outside workplaces in a bid to expose the clients who they consider responsible for the exploitation of people in the industry. It was only when people who were not sex workers started to be affected by these stickers that everyone began to understand the social and political violence we face.
Angel handles all of this in a way that makes her co-workers proud, but the she shouldn’t have to handle it at all.
I wake up, look in the mirror at the short hair, make myself food and coffee. My dog is asleep on the nearby couch, but perks up when I rustle his food bag. I pour his dinner into his bowl, he eats it, and I take him to the park. I take him home, I have a shower, and I leave.
Wig, dress, and make up, the smell of hair and body spray.
I’ve become her again.
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