The 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 11 percent of respondents reported having done sex work for income. For comparison, the rate for American women as a whole is estimated at around 1 percent.
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Wendy Williams worked in the sex industry, runs a successful adult website (wendywilliamsxxx.com), does PR for other trans porn performers, has a sex-toy line, and has worked as an escort.
What do you think about the controversy over what language people should use to describe trans people?
I think that my porn work over 13 years has done more to bring transgender individuals into homes than the people who are worried about being called words like "tranny." You get a heterosexual male who's having these feelings and doesn't know quite how to relate to them, what's he going to do? Go online and do some research. In my case, porn has opened up more conversations than—I mean, where are these guys going to find these [trans-rights] rallies? I can't tell you how many conversations I've had over the years about sexuality. I don't have a problem with being called "tranny." You can call me anything, just don't call me a "him."
What do you wish you'd hear from activists?
I've been told my whole life, "Oh, you can't be a role model for transsexual people because you do sex work and that's shameful." I would love for [activists] to come to me and say, "How can we work together?" But trying to shame me? That's not gonna work.
What should people know about trans sex workers?
I think that a large group of transgender individuals gets into escorting specifically because it's fast money to pay for transition. I interviewed [for a trans-focused reality show] and was told that because I was in the adult field, they wouldn't be interested. And I wanted to say: "Do you know how many transgender people do adult work—whether it's working in gay nightclubs or porn or escorting—at some point in their lives? You're missing out on an entire story line that is just never told, which is probably the biggest story line in the transgender community." Those are stories that need to be told. It's shameful and taboo, and we don't talk about it enough. Maybe if we didn't shame it so much... Porn and escorting for me has been great. But I hear horror stories on a daily basis. And there are still girls living from hotel room to hotel room. I don't think that we, as a community, are making it any better by shaming that or making it feel taboo. I don't think it helps in conversations, and I definitely don't think it helps men and women who are trying to learn more about their sexuality and their attraction if they feel like they're doing something wrong by seeing a transsexual escort.
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Alex has been working off and on as an escort since 2001.
Do you think your job is any different from a cisgender sex worker's?
Yeah, I think I've got it better than she does. Because number one, when her call does involve sex, she has to... for lack of a better term, she has to bottom. I don't have to do that. I can say, "I don't do that. I'm a top." Or, if I'm in the mood, I can... [Also,] it can be scary going on some of these calls. At least I feel confident and comfortable that I'm a little bigger and I can take care of myself. And on top of that, we're kind of like a commodity, you know? Guys know what they're going to get when they're with a genetic girl. But when they call me, they're curious. Curiosity has been keeping me in business for a long time.
Do people have misconceptions about trans sex workers?
I think that, for the most part, people think that TSes are just complete wack jobs, like we have this major mental-health crisis going on. And that simply is not true. I've worked in the stock market. I've worked in banks as a loan rep. I'm not saying I'm a brain surgeon, but I'm not stupid either. I can hold down a job just like anybody else. Luckily, I've got great friends who know me and know this is what I like to do.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell people?
In our society, it's frowned upon to be a tranny, and it's frowned upon to be an escort. I don't think that whatever you put in an article is going to change that. You can put that in the article. I think people are still going to have preconceived notions about us, that we're all a bunch of nutheads. People are going to think what they're going to think. If they don't like the work, they don't have to give me a call. But I'll be damned if I'm going to be judged.
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Kelli Lox is a trans porn performer based in San Francisco.
How do you think your experience is different from that of cisgender people doing the same job?
Well, TS porn is a niche market, so to speak. So the competition pool is smaller. And I can do scenes with guys and girls, so there’s some fun versatility there. But there are tough challenges as well. For example, people getting blacklisted by other studios because they did a TS scene once. There is definitely transphobia in the adult industry. Sure, there are some crossover stars, guys who used to do gay or TS scenes but now do genetic girl (GG) scenes exclusively, for example. But that’s rare. Most often, [stars] either do TS scenes or don’t. Transphobia within the adult industry is a new landscape that we are just now able to articulate and discuss. For example, a GG star recently refused to shoot a lesbian scene with a post-op trans woman. The fallout consisted of lots of, on one side, people praising her courage to only fuck who she wants to, and, on the other side, lots of people calling her a misogynist transphobe. So the topic is certainly ripe and relevant!
TS stars are kept in TS porn… How often do you see TS stars in porn that is not TS porn? Probably never. But that’s gonna change. It’s starting to change already. Nowadays, it’s possible to look at a scene where two people who happen to be from two different ethnic backgrounds are having sex, and the word “interracial” is not mentioned on the box anywhere or in the title. One day, it will be like that with TS talent as well.
What are your opinions of the debate around the language used to describe trans people?
I tend to say things like “words don’t bother me” and “it’s the intention, not the word, that can hurt” and stuff like that. But I learned the sticks and stones sing-along early in life, so it’s likely a survival mechanism. To be 100 percent honest, I’d have to admit that I would probably be hurt if someone called me “tranny,” “crossdresser,” or “transvestite.” Not that it kills me or anything—it just sounds flippant and disrespectful, and I’d bet it was meant that way. I would prefer to be referred to the same as every other woman; the correct pronouns are she and her, and the correct nouns are woman, female, girl, sister, daughter, etc. It’s not rocket science. In cases where I am telling a story wherein my or someone else’s gender transition is important, I’ll use words like “transgender,” “transsexual,” “TS,” or “T-girl.”
The current debate about names/words is more about whether TS issues are a civil rights issue or not. Non-TS people claiming that the word “tranny” is not offensive is the same as white people claiming that the N-word is not offensive. If you think TS issues are the civil rights issue of our day, you will probably let trans people decide what’s offensive/hurtful. If you don’t, you won’t.