THE REALITY OF MANY TRANS WOMEN AFTER NON-PROFIT WORK
(Life after Non-Profit)
I am a transgender woman of color. I transitioned 4 years ago, and started working in the field of HIV Prevention for Trans women and eventually at a civil rights organization for trans people. I left the organization as a recent college graduate in hopes that I would be able to find a full time job making a livable wage and just maybe find an employer that would see my potential. Months later, my potential was listed on Backpage and Eros (for a nominal fee of course). I now realize the importance of sex work for a trans woman. Aside from doing the obvious and providing for your basic needs, it also allows us to keep an iota of independence. We go through such limits to transition that going back is not an option. If you’re going to be verbally and psychologically abused as we often are by family, friends, and society, might as well get paid for it. But sex work is a dangerous game. One has to be strong and wise in order to get through it and not get all fucked up. If you are out there, I commend you. In my case, I was a big fucking mess, and still am. I started doing heavy drugs in order to get through it, but that only worked for 6 months. After that I was forgetting to charge my clients. I was miserable. I had lost over 60 pounds and began neglecting to take my estrogen. I didn’t even have the freedom to get as high as I wanted to because who wants an undernourished hooker?
I think that my getting as fucked up as I did was so as to not be attractive anymore and to become unappealing to people. After two hospital visits, I knew that I had to get out. I wasn’t going to win either way. I realize now that sex work is not my calling. I’d rather be chained to a chair reading the long-winded Henry James than entertain a man. Unfortunately, reading the classics doesn’t pay. What pays is being degraded, humiliated, and treated like an imbecile.
Sex work was not new to me. I was introduced to it, ironically, while working at the nonprofit organization fighting for the civil rights of trans people. I had mentioned to a friend that I didn’t have enough money to buy books and pay my rent. After a while of getting to know my community, I began to realize that I was not the only one with an “extra gig” to supplement my income.
A word of advice to nonprofit agencies that employ trans women: Appreciate us! Open more doors for opportunity; don’t let us die doing outreach at trashy bars, passing out condoms; and - most importantly - pay us what we are worth, and increase your budget (and expectations) for our professional development.
Before I left, my budget was $500.00. What did they expect me to do with that? Take a typing class? Learning Trans is more than just knowing the transgender umbrella, learning to use the correct pronouns. It is understanding, compassion, solidarity, and knowing that we are your neighbor, your son, your daughter, or your mother.
In celebration of this weekend’s Pride festivities, I celebrate all of us. Although, I made my mistakes along the road in trying to find that greener pasture, I still believe that we should always strive to make ourselves better, stronger, and more knowledgeable, and sometimes the grass is greener and fruitful on the other side.
-Jane The Obscure