As the title suggests, everything on this blog concerns violence against trans women.
The Trans Women's Anti-Violence Project is a trans feminist project addressing issues of systematic, institutional and interpersonal violence and oppression experienced by trans women (those who were coercively assigned male at birth and identify or are identified as women/female) across multiple identities (e.g., race, class, dis/ability, citizen-status, nationality, sexuality, age, HIV status, and form, status, or age of transition, etc.)
Ida Hammer is a writer and social justice communicator. She organizes the Trans Women's Anti-Violence Project. She presents workshops and trainings on cis privilege and being a trans ally. She's also involved in organizing against sexualized violence. She's a proud dyke-identified trans woman and an organizer of the New York City Dyke March.
There was a post going around this morning that originally claimed there were over 1,000 murders of trans women last year, based on the 2013 NCAVP report.
In fact, according to the report there were 13 such homicides in 2012.
The poster made an edit, but still maintained…
One thing to keep in mind, from the “Limitations of the Findings” section of the report:
The vast majority of this report contains information from LGBTQ and HIV-affected-identified individuals who experienced hate violence and sought support from NCAVP member programs. Local member organizations then submitted data to NCAVP, which NCAVP compiled and analyzed for national trends. Since NCAVP only measures data collected from individuals who self-reported and from other public sources, it is unlikely that these numbers represent all incidents of violence against LGBTQ and HIV-affected people in the United States. NCAVP’s data may particularly omit populations such as incarcerated people, people in rural communities, people who may not know about their local anti-violence program (AVP), people living where the closest AVP is too far away to reach, people who are not out, people who are uncomfortable with reporting violence, and people who face other barriers to accessing services or reporting. While the information contained in this report provides a detailed picture of the individual survivors and victims; it cannot and should not be extrapolated to represent the prevalence of hate violence against LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities in the United States.
Which isn’t to invalidate anything said above, but to give an important bit of context to the report itself.
The report can be viewed in full here: http://www.avp.org/storage/documents/ncavp_2012_hvreport_final.pdf
The Trans Women’s Anti-Violence Project has been following violence against trans women for three years and one thing that is for sure is that violence against trans women is seriously under reported. With murders in particular there is not even the benefit of self-reporting, as in the case of other forms of violence. Most murders of trans women are those that have been reported by (nationally accessible) media and/or community activists. If a murder of a trans woman isn’t reported (or is misreported) in the media or if she was unknown to vocal community members, then the murder goes unnoticed.
The fact is, most acts of violence against trans women are not reported, and when the are reported they are usually misreported (usually by misgendering the victim). Often it takes sensationalized account to bring these murders to the attention of the public. Additionally, most women are not connected to a vocal, organized community; even in major cities like New York and San Fransisco. As a vulnerable and marginalized population, it has to be expected that most murders of trans women are not going to be noticed.
The Trans Women’s Anti-Violence Project has noticed cases of murdered trans women that were originally missed by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects. And this project is dependent on media accounts that are accessible online and easily identifiable as trans women. So, yes, the reported number of murders is just scratching the surface.
Nonetheless, 13 murdered women in any given year is itself a tragedy. Even a single murder is cause for concern! There is no need to exaggerate the numbers in order to consider this a serious problem in need of our attention. Focusing on the exact numbers may not be as important as focusing on why these 13 women where killed. While the number can fluctuate, there is less variation in who is being killed.
What we do know is that at least a dozen trans women in the U.S. will be killed in cases that are high-profile enough that we will know about them. This is a pattern found in the NCAVP reports that has been going on for years. Furthermore, we know that these are going to be almost entirely Black and Latina trans women, with very few exceptions. And that about half of these women, give or take, will have had some experience in the sex trades. We also know that they will have been killed by cis men. And it is not unusual for these women to have known their murderer and have had some form of intimate or sexual involvement with him. And it is a rarity, if it happens at all, that the man was “surprised” to learn the woman was trans.
The problem is, these murders are too often labeled simply “anti-trans,” or worse “anti-LGBTQ” or “anti-queer.” This is very misleading. If these were anti-trans murders there would be a fairly even mix of trans people of all genders, races, and economic status. When looking at the last two decades of violence, we find that a white trans man like Brandon Tina is the outlier, not the norm. The race, gender, and economic status of those killed is no less important than that she was trans.
Yet how often are these murders considered effects of institutional racism, sexism, and economic injustice as they are called “transphobic”? How often are these murders considered acts of sexual or intimate partner violence? Not often enough. In order to end this violence we need to consider the full person and the context of her life and death.
Excerpt from article:
"A woman in New York City left a nightclub in late 2010 to meet some friends for tacos. While she was walking to the restaurant in the Queens neighborhood of Jackson Heights, a man pulled up beside her in a dark-colored car and began talking to her. As the woman inched closer to hear what the man was saying, two undercover police officers jumped out of a van and arrested her for engaging in prostitution. She was thrown into a van with a dozen other women and taken to the115th Precinct in Jackson Heights to be fingerprinted before being transferred to Central Booking. There, she was then jailed in the men’s unit, where she endured painful verbal harassment from some of the cops and men in custody, according to the community organizing group Make the Road New York, which identified the woman by the pseudonym ‘Natasha.’ Her story sounds more like a rare kidnapping than a routine arrest, but Natasha’s arrest would come as no surprise to anyone who has been harassed or arrested by police for what’s known as ‘walking while woman.’"
Support Monica Jones and De-fund Project ROSE
Phoenix, Arizona has some of the most severe prostitution laws in the United States.
According to a municipal statute titled ‘manifestation’, an intent to commit prostitution includes activities like waving at cars, talking to passers-bys, and inquiring if someone is a police officer. Mandatory minimum sentencing and felony upgrades make it highly probable that workers are funneled into the prison system for sex work related offenses. Alongside Arizona’s already brutal racial profiling laws, these anti-prostitution statutes enable police to profile and harass people of color, immigrants, people in poverty, and LGBTQ people.
The History of Project ROSE
Since 2011, Phoenix police, prosecutors, and professors from the Arizona State University (ASU) School of Social Work have been collaborating on a program titled Project ROSE (Reaching Out to the Sexually Exploited). Over two weekends per year, up to 125 police officers detain community members that are suspected of being sex workers. Even though the police and Project ROSE founders state that the individuals apprehended are not technically arrested, the Phoenix ACLU has stated otherwise-they are handcuffed and brought to the Project ROSE command post and are confined to a room to speak with a Project ROSE volunteer and a city prosecutor. Arrestees cannot speak to a defense attorney, even though they are being held without the constitutionally mandated option of being able to leave freely. People who qualify (only those with no outstanding warrants, those who have not completed a prior diversion program, and not in possession of any drugs at the time of arrest) are told they can take a diversion program run by Catholic Charities that can last as long six months. Criminal charges are held over the arrestee’s heads until the diversion program is completed. Those who do not qualify, or decline to participate in the diversion program, are sent a court summons in the mail and face criminal charges.
Project ROSE harms sex workers.
By teaming up with police and prosecutors, sex worker diversion programs like Project ROSE increase the profiling and targeting of vulnerable communities — poor communities, people in street based economies, and communities of color. Trans women of color are disproportionately impacted. Rather than making sex workers safer, diversion initiatives cause harm by funneling them into the criminal justice system. Project ROSE and programs like it violate ethical standards in social work and perpetuate the idea that individuals who sell sex are not human. Further, Project ROSE frames its work as saving sex workers — who are stigmatized as scarred victims rather than people with civil and human rights (the right to work, the right to be free from violence, the right to due process and much more). This “savior” mentality makes no distinction between people who are subject to human trafficking and those who engage in the sex trade to support themselves and their families. Project ROSE results in increased vulnerability and fear on behalf of sex workers, violating their rights while driving them into the criminal justice system. Similarly, Project ROSE may also violate the rights of victims of trafficking, and may not adhere to best practice standards for the treatment and care of trafficked persons set out by human rights advocates.
Who is Monica Jones?
Monica Jones is a trans activist and sex worker rights advocate who lives in Phoenix; she is also a student at ASU who recently gained entrance into the university’s School of Social Work.
During the Project ROSE stings in May 2013, Monica spoke at a community event protesting Project ROSE. The next evening, as the Project ROSE stings continued, police arbitrarily arrested Monica and charged her with violating a vague anti-prostitution statute. Monica is standing up for her rights in court and her trial date is on March 14, 2014. It is of the utmost importance that we stand in support of Monica and all others whose human rights are being violated by the police and prison system with the support of programs like Project ROSE. Ultimately, we must get Project ROSE’s mass arrest program off the streets of Phoenix and bring an end to police harassment and profiling everywhere.
Since her arrest, Monica and others have continued to protest Project Rose. As a trans woman of color, Monica has been especially ssingled out for police harassment. Police have approached her three times when she’s been near her home or walking around Phoenix, and the most recent time she was handcuffed again and under suspicion of “manifestation”. Monica’s case proves that Project ROSE is harmful.
Project Rose is planning its next sting operation in February. ASU has hosted several summits on “sex trafficking” and Project ROSE is being hailed as the new model for preventing sex work across the United States. Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP-Phoenix), the Best Practices Policy Project, and other harm reduction and trans activist groups are uniting to stop Project ROSE and put an end to this coercive and unethical model of policing, and to change Arizona sex work laws.
SWOP-Phoenix and the Best Practices Policy Project have recently filed a report of civil rights violations to the UN Human Rights Committee on behalf of Arizona sex workers. We invite you to join us in speaking out against unjust criminalization programs like Project ROSE.
Please sign this letter to make your voice heard against Project ROSE and the collaboration between ASU School of Social Work and the City of Phoenix.
The pledge to support Monica Jones and protest Project ROSE
We, the undersigned individuals and organizations, protest the coercive and criminalizing tactics of Project ROSE. We believe that Project ROSE stigmatizes sex workers as victims rather than people with agency and rights. Further, we believe that Project ROSE causes far more harm in the form of incarceration and forced “reeducation” than it does good. We demand that Arizona State University cease its partnership with Project ROSE, and that Project ROSE is ended entirely.
We demand that the resources allocated to Project ROSE are channeled to developing sex worker led, non-coercive models to support the health and safety of sex workers that promote harm reduction and improve occupational health, safety and working conditions rather than criminalizing and profiling vulnerable communities.
We are alarmed at the targeting of a human rights defender- Monica Jones- who is standing up for the rights of people unfairly targeted by the police and prison systems. We demand that the criminal charges against Monica be dropped, that an independent monitoring body launch an investigation into police harassment against her, and that she be protected from further abuse and harassment by police.
We are united in calling for an end to the pattern and practice of racist and transphobic policing across the United States, and we commit ourselves to working for a society where people of all backgrounds and identities are free from police abuse and discriminatory arrest.
Yesterday we were thanked for being silent and respectful to a grieving family seated center stage. We were instructed to keep politics at the door though politicians had a front-row seat with camera crews readied for their election year soundbites. …
The only reason I left not feeling defeated was because of you, in all your resilience, beauty, brilliance and ferocity. You held me up, you told me that we would get through, and you showed up despite knowing the open secret we all carry: that Islan was not the first to fall and she will not be the last.”
I am writing this blog tonight in response to recent events which have taken place. Domonique Newburn (Fontana, California), Islan Nettles (Harlem, New York) and a young trans woman in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania were all murdered in the same week. All were trans women of color.
Tonight I am…
Koko Jones: Why she kicks ass
- She is a super‐skilled and charismatic percussionist and band leader based in New Jersey, whose music is deeply trained in R&B, Afro‐Latin, jazz and traditional African percussion.
- She studied music at the University of Massachusetts and Jazzmobile simultaneously until 1979 when her Professor, saxophonist Archie Shepp, took her on tour to Europe where she recorded her second album. Just months later she was hired by The Isley Brothers and toured and later recorded a host of records with them. The association with The Isley’s led to numerous opportunities one of which was several tours with Whitney Houston.
- Her transition from male to female took place in 1991 which left a gap in her musical work history until 1999 when she was forced to present as a male in order to have full custody of her child. She transitioned back in 2008.
- She has also toured with Jermaine Jackson, Archie Shepp, Charles McPherson, Winard Harper, Ray Copeland, Talib Kibwe, Babatunde Lea, James Weidman, Clifford Adams, and Malaki Ma Congo Drum and Dance Ensemble.
- In 2013, Koko will release her fourth album as a leader, her third on the Motema label and her very first recording made since she transitioned.
- Her talents as a percussionist, songwriter and producer are revealed on her new CD and stage performance program with a cycle of songs that trace her physical, spiritual and musical journey towards her new life as a ‘liberated, Transgender woman percussionist of color.’
Get into Ms. Jones’ everything.
Jury Selection Begins for Officer Accused of Shooting Trans Women: MPD Officer Kenneth Furr is accused of opening fire on five people as he stood on the hood of their car. Furr has pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from the August 2011 incident. Authorities say he used his service weapon to fire through the windshield of a car, striking two transgender women and their male friend. (NBC4 Washington, Oct. 15, 2012)
Transgender Women’s Constitutional Challenge To Sharia Law Fails In Malaysia: In October, Judge Siti Mariah Ahmad, of the high court of Seremban in Negeri Sembilan, one of Malaysia’s thirteen states, struck down a first-ever constitutional challenge brought by four Malay trans women who sought the court’s protection for being unfairly targeted by Article 66 [which criminalizes those assigned male at birth “who dress in women’s clothes and behave like women in public”] of the Negeri Sembilan sharia law. Malaysian rights advocate, Thilaga, working in the Justice for Sisters campaign for the rights of mak nyah, says, “Transgender people don’t report violations by police or religious officers because they don’t expect justice. Often, they don’t know their rights and lack resources to go to court to fight charges.” The four applicants in the Negeri Sembilan case attest to this. (The New Civil Rights Movement, Oct. 16, 2012)
Trial for Kenneth Furr, D.C. police officer accused of solicitation, begins: [In correct language is used in this story, e.g. giving less authority to a trans woman’s preferred name, using “gays” as a noun rather than an adjective, and confusing being gay (sexuality) with being trans (gender identity).] Chloe Moore, a transgender woman, testified she was walking near 5th and K Streets last Aug. when she was approached by Furr, who she says was intoxicated. Moore says Furr continued to stalk her, offering money for sex despite her refusals. She says he stopped when he was confronted by other individuals, some of whom are also transgender. An arresting officer testified he heard shots and arrived to see Furr, gun in hand, jumping up and down on the hood of the Chrysler. According to one witness, Furr was yelling, “All you [expletives] are going to die.” (Sam Ford, ABC 7 News, Oct. 17, 2012)
Malaysian AIDS Council criticizes transgender court ruling decision: Government-funded organization has criticized last week’s Islamic court decision ruling against four transgender women. The trans women were challenging an Islamic law that prohibits cross-dressing by arguing it infringes their constitutionally protected human rights of non-discrimination and freedom of expression. Justice for Sisters said that Judge Ahmad had failed to consider the fact that ‘many transwomen, including the four applicants in the case, have been subjected to physical, verbal, emotional and sexual abuse by officers employed by the Islamic religious department’. (Anna Leach, Gay Star News, Oct. 18, 2012)
Trial begins for D.C. cop charged with shooting trans women in car: D.C. Superior Court trial began on Wednesday for D.C. police officer Kenneth Furr, who was arrested while off-duty in August 2011 for allegedly firing his service revolver into the front windshield of a car in which three transgender women and two male friends were sitting. Two of the women and one of the men suffered non-life threatening gunshot wounds in the incident. Earlier this year, a Superior Court grand jury handed down a 9-count indictment against Furr that included six counts of assault with a dangerous weapon, one count of assault with intent to kill while armed, and two counts of solicitation for prostitution. Prosecutors have not listed charges against Furr as hate crimes. (Lou Chibbaro Jr., Washington Blade, Oct. 19, 2012)
Thank you, Fierce, for publishing these letters. I, too, am upset that the Times has not issued an apology for this lacking-in-context piece and/or published any of these letters from others who are angered by the piece.
On July 25, 2012, FIERCE organized a Call to Action asking supporters to submit letters to the New York Times demanding Dignity for Transwomen of Color and LGBTQ Youth in their reporting. The Call to Action was organized in response to a July 24th article: “For Money or Just to Strut, LIving Out Loud on a Transgender Stage.
The article, which relied on and fed into harmful, negative stereotypes of young transwomen of color, neglected to highlight or consider the root causes of why LGBTQ youth are disproportionately on the streets and finding it harder to maintain access and ownership over this historical safe space.
Over the weeks following the action, we received dozens of letters that were not only powerful, but also the acts of solidarity were incredibly moving for all of us here at FIERCE! Seeing your words and feeling the support of so many allies, we saw the depth and strength of our struggle against transphobia, homophobia, gentrification, and criminalization of LGBTQ youth of color, especially transwomen of color.
As far as we know, theTimesdid not publish the letters. In an effort to empower LGBTQ youth and the communities that support LGBTQ youth-led organizing in NYC and elsewhere, we wanted to share a small collection of these letters with you.
In love and struggle,
THE GUERRILLA ANGEL REPORT — January Marie Lapuz was stabbed at her home in the New Westminster area last Saturday night and died at a hospital shortly after. No one has been arrested but someone was seen running from the area.
Lapuz was highly regarded in the trans community, volunteering her time and active involvement in a LGBT social and support group. Lapuz moved to the area from the Phillipines and spoke 3 languages.
Sher Vancouver’s Alex Sangha: “She would volunteer as a host at our social events, help us out with fundraising and she’d even perform. … She did a great Beyonce and she was a great singer and dancer. She was the life of the party. She made everybody laugh. We already miss her a lot.” … “The obstacles she overcame as an immigrant, as a transgender person, as a person in poverty … she really overcame a lot. … I learned that society is not providing enough supports for people like January Marie.”
The police do not know why she was killed but report they do have some details that they don’t wish to release at this time. They also reported that she was a sometimes sex worker.
Police are looking a mid 20s Asian male, five foot five inches, short black hair, and muscular build, He was wearing gray shorts and a black muscle shirt. The police are asking for the public’s help, call 1-877-551-4448 or by email to email@example.com. Anonymous tips: CrimeStoppers at 1-800-222-8477.
(Lexie Cannes writes The Guerrilla Angel Report!)
DETROIT - About 50 people showed up Sept. 21 for the launch of Who’s That Girl, a media project presented by the Horizons Project and supported by the Michigan Department of Community Health’s Health Disparities Reduction Minority Health Section. The project, which includes images of four young transgender women, is a marketing effort to change media and societal perceptions of the transgender community.
"The purpose of the campaign is to provide understanding about HIV, especially in the trans community," said Bre’ Campbell, the project’s coordinator. "A lot of times, when AIDS messages are put out they do not include trans women."
All of the women featured in the campaign are under the age of 25 and active in the community. Campbell said they illustrate that “regardless of what society thinks about trans women, they are smart, they are successful, they are educated and they are loved.”
The Horizons Project launched the campaign at a reception at Wayne State University’s Student Center. About 50 people attended, and after they ate and had an opportunity to view the images, they were witness to a very informative panel discussion featuring the four women who comprise the campaign.
"If you look at the photos, it shows that even though we are in some ways different, we are still human and can still blend in," said Sahray Arnold. "Even though we’re not all the same, we’re all the same inside and we’re all of value."
Mia Cole said she believes society at large is misinformed about trans women and only knows what they see on trash TV.
"Everyone thinks transgender women are what you see on Jerry Springer and that’s not it," she said. "We don’t walk down the street snatching our wigs off. We’re very smart and intelligent. You shouldn’t reject the unfamiliar because we have a lot to offer."
A fashion model and harpist, WSU student Ahya Simone said she hopes to help change society’s perception of trans women.
"I take joy in educating people about women like me," Simone said. "There are few [images] out there and I want to be that face. I just want to be a role model for girls like us, and women in general."
Not all discrimination comes from outside sources, though. The women all shared that they were often marginalized by others in the LGBT community.
"The ‘T’ is in there," said Krystina Edwards. "So I’m gonna need the L, the G, and the B to embrace us."
The images in the campaign were all shot by photographer Jhordan Haliburton.
"At first I was kind of nervous about it because it was my first professional photo shoot," he said. "But they came out great. I love them. They came out very wonderful."
Look for images from the campaign to appear in the pages of Between The Lines soon.
(Jason A. Michael, Originally printed 9/27/2012, Issue 2039 - Between The Lines News)
It was announced that local non-profit leader in AIDS services, Chicago House, was selected as one of eight national grant sites to study the link between HIV and retention in care of transgender women of color.
The study, which will be housed in Chicago House's all new TransLife Center (TLC), will allow $300,000 per year for the next five years from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) as a Special Program of National Significance.
The TLC programming will serve as a collaborative comprehensive and multi-strategy approach to identifying HIV-positive transgender women of color who are out of care, while engaging them successfully in accessible, quality HIV primary care.
In leveraging the resources and expertise of five project partners — AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Center on Halsted, Lurie Children’s Hospital, Heartland Health Outreach, and South Side Help Center — Chicago House will identify transgender women of color living with HIV, create a broad network of culturally competent healthcare providers, and deliver an array of services that help marginalized transgender women overcome barriers to care.
"The TransLife Center Programming will incorporate three tiers of support to the habitually overlooked "T" in the LGBT community," commented Chicago House CEO, Stan Sloan. ”TransHousing will provide a safe and understanding home to transgender men and women, through the rebirth of our original 24-hour-care building in Edgewater and multiple scattered site units throughout the city. TransWorks, an offshoot of our highly successful employment program, will work with trans men and women to identify their unique employment placement needs and prepare them for the workplace through resume writing, interview skills, and connections to culturally competent job opportunities.” Sloan continued, “The final element, TransHealth, will connect trans men and women to non judgmental health care addressing their unique needs through Dr. Rob Garafolo of Lurie Children’s Hospital.”
HRSA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the primary Federal agency for improving access to health care services for people who are uninsured, isolated or medically vulnerable.
”Chicago House remains committed to providing the best in services to the homeless and HIV affected, and the integral TransHealth funding from HRSA further validates the needs that we have identified within the transgender community,” Sloan said. ”The growth in reaching out to this population represents the same trailblazing growth our founders had in mind 27 years ago, and it is a wonderful next incarnation for our former hospice site. The transgender community has been so strategic and receptive in helping us develop the programs, and we are excited to begin this next step of Chicago House's history.”
(Chicago Go Pride)
If you drive up Charles Street past North Avenue late at night, you’re likely to glimpse the seamy world of prostitutes and the johns who pick them up. Many of the women standing on the street corners and (in the words of one frustrated resident) “draped over” the cars began life as boys and turned to prostitution around the time they made their transition to womanhood, feeling that, as one of them put it, “it’s the only way [for a transgender woman] to survive.” Eventually, however, the perspective often flips around, and they come to see that getting off the street is the only way to survive.
For this story, four transgender women, each of whom had very different experiences of prostitution and the transition to living as a woman, told us their stories and allowed us to take portraits of them. They try to support each other as part of the Beautiful Me Sorority. Though these stories are in no way representative of the entire transgender community, we feel they offer a glimpse of lives rarely seen in print. We allowed them to use the names they use on the streets or web sites where they ply their trade.
Bambi, a tall 24-year-old transgender woman with light skin, red hair, and a wicked wit, leans back against the wall in what is called graffiti alley, off North Howard Street and North Avenue. Several tour groups of new MICA students walk through, and a young country artist films a video at the other end of the alley, which has become an almost Disney-fied version of Baltimore grit. But Bambi remembers what it used to be like.
“I actually used to date in this alley sometimes,” she says. “It’s off the beaten path, no cops coming back here. I’m not going on my knees or anything, but it’s relatively clean. It feels full-circle. But I know I won’t have to come back here to work anymore.”
When Bambi talks about dating and working, she is talking about the same thing. She worked as a prostitute in the neighborhood for several years. Though many of the tricks blend together, Bambi can still recall her first night on the street. She was young and had recently made the transition from living as a gay man to living as a woman. She had a job and was complaining about money to a friend one day, and the friend told her that she knew how she could make easy money.
“I went out to Calvert and 23rd,” she recalls. “On my first night I hadn’t been there more than 10 minutes and I made $90—for a blowjob. Shit, $90 for five minutes—not even that—worth of work. This is when I was 20 and new to the scene. It is a strange sense of power at first. You don’t think about the danger or how you’re branding yourself socially. I was new to womanhood and it made me think, How pretty I am: There are 30 million girls out here, but he chose me.”
Bambi says that no other industry is as tied to appearance. “We’re not standing out there like this,” she says, miming a blowjob. “They can’t tell how good you do it. It’s all about how you look. Your self-esteem becomes monetary.”
On a good night, Bambi says she would make $400 in a short time, getting what she needed and then going home to avoid the ever-present dangers of incarceration and violence.
Bambi did experience both, however. She was robbed during her first week on the street. “I wasn’t street-smart,” she says. “I grew up with two parents. My mom owns a house in a Jewish neighborhood in Northwest Baltimore. I didn’t know what to look for.”
It was 2008 and a man picked her up. He asked if she wanted to go eat breakfast at an IHOP. It was a foggy night and she couldn’t tell where they were. The man was friendly as they kept talking.
“I was so naive, I just kept thinking, He really, really likes me,” she says, mimicking a ditzy voice. “Finally I noticed we were at Poplar Grove and I knew we were going in the wrong direction, and I started thinking, Is he going to shoot me now?”
They ended up in the woods, where the man put a “long gun” to Bambi’s head.
“He took everything. I was out there in the woods with one pump and a Rite Aid bag, in the fog,” she says. “It was four days before my 21st birthday. I was thankful for the situation because I knew what to look for” from then on.
She was robbed three other times. Once, when a man pulled a knife on her, she escaped. “Two weeks later, the police warned me about him,” she says. “I told them he had just tried to rob me. They said I was lucky because, after I got away, he had graduated to a gun and put a bullet through the next girl.”
The police, however, generally aren’t friendly to Bambi and others like her. “The cops are assholes. Fucking assholes. You meet a nice one every 5,000 years,” she says. “You’d think there would be more black officers in a largely black city. But they import these racist Anglo-Saxon cops from West Virginia who act like we’re not even citizens. ‘You’re not only a derelict negroid,’” she mimics a cop, “ ‘But a derelict negroid with a dick and a dress. What the fuck is wrong with you?’”
Bambi says she was arrested once while waiting for a bus on North Avenue at 7 A.M. “I suck dick for a living, but I wasn’t working then,” she says. “My real crime was being transgender on North Avenue. When they brought me into booking, everything stopped and they looked at me like I was a Martian. The female officer tried to be nice and get me a holding cell by myself, but the males said ‘Oh no, Beyonce don’t need a cell by himself.’ I was like, thanks for the compliment, but you know damn well I do.”
According to Bambi, the johns are almost as bad. “A lot of these guys are sick. The lowest of the low,” she says. “One guy offered me $500 to suck his dog’s dick—he said it was the dog’s birthday and he’d never had his dick sucked. But the worst was this guy who had a master-slave fantasy. He offered $300, and at first I was going to take it because I thought I’ve seen this before. I thought he wanted me to order him around. But he wanted to be a slave master. ‘So you want to have a house nigger?’ Uh-uh. As a black person, I couldn’t do that. My ancestors had to do that shit. But I should have taken his money for reparations.”
Photographs by J.M. Giordano
Eventually the lifestyle became more difficult to maintain. “I was 20 and I never paid attention at first to the fact that girls who were my age were talking about a trick five or six years earlier,” she says. “Then I was like ‘ohhh,’ as the girls got younger and younger. If you’re 20 and there is a 15-year-old standing there beside you, it don’t matter how pretty you are. They’ll take the 15-year-old. By 25, you’re washed up, and at 30, you’re dead.”
Bambi says she has largely retired from the trade, but admits it’s hard to escape. “It’s like drugs—not only using them but selling them. The cash flow, how quickly you can make money, it’s addictive,” she says. “I’ve clocked a 10-hour day [in retail] and made $80 and that’s taxed, and I know I can go to Charles and 21st and stand there an hour and make $100. You don’t always think about the night you got robbed or raped or arrested. You know you could die, even if you’re not going on the stroll, just being black and transgender in this city, just walking out on the street. But it’s easier to abstain when a girl has just died.”
Though she is a full-time psychology student and works a regular job, opportunities still arise. “I might be walking at the mall and not have any money and some guy walks up and offers you $80 to go into the bathroom with him. What the fuck are you going to do?”
Bria graduated from Morgan State and is in a graduate program at a local university. She plans to go to law school and specialize in civil rights cases. She is a large woman with deep black skin and a glowing smile.
“I transitioned when I was 20,” she says. “I always knew I was trans, but I was scared of what people would think and how I’d make a living. I was always my biggest critic. But I dressed as a girl for Halloween once and never came out of women’s clothes.”
Bria, now 23, was in college then. “I’ve been working since I was 15—I worked at Rite Aid, at a nonprofit working with the trans community,” she says. “But I needed to supplement. It’s expensive being trans. But it’s also just normal expenses. Rent, car—everybody needs money.” So she turned to prostitution.
“Not the streets, the internet,” she says.
Bria talked to older trans women who told her the streets were not what they were 10 years ago—they were more dangerous now. So she went on to Craigslist in the summer of 2010.
“We’d usually meet at a hotel,” she says. She acknowledges that it is still dangerous. “But talking online for a while, you can gauge the risk before being around them and not take the risk if it doesn’t feel right.”
On a good night, she would meet with three or four different men and bring home $500 0r $600.
“Most of the girls, we don’t want to do it, but the way things are built, it is really a game of survival,” she says. “I don’t have my self-esteem attached to it, but a goal.”
And though she still needs money, Bria is now in a committed relationship and no longer works in the trade, focusing instead on her studies.
bright eyed and short, Virgin Hellfire almost looks like she could star as the plucky best friend in a sitcom. Like most transgender people, she had a difficult time growing up, but her coming-out was, in some ways, more difficult than most. She is from Cambridge, Md., a town on the Eastern Shore, which she describes as “a three- or four-mile radius, birds and nature, and no civilization.”
There were only about 100 people in her graduating class, back when she was a he. “I was the only openly gay man in my school,” she says. “The only examples I had seen of trans women were Jerry Springer guests. I didn’t want to be one of those people, so I denied my gender.”
Still, by the time she graduated from school, she had also graduated to wearing makeup and women’s clothes, though she was not yet trying to pass. The day she took her SAT, she left for Atlanta, which she describes as the “epicenter for gay black people.”
As she began to discover her identity in the big city, she also began to discover “a lot of shady business—prostitution and identity theft were the most common.” Virgin says she was trained by her roommate “to do everything she knew how to do, good and bad, and I developed an affinity for fast money.”
Eventually, however, Virgin’s sense of small-town morality took over and she began to dream of “white picket fences.” She moved back to Maryland and began to attend Coppin State while also beginning her transition to womanhood, starting hormone replacement therapy in 2007. As happens to many people going through this difficult transition, she fell into depression and returned to the shore, where, after some adjustment, her mother and grandmother embraced her and began to teach her aspects of being a woman. Her father, a career criminal, was in prison and so she was largely protected from his judgment.
As part of her transition, Virgin tried prostitution. “I went on one date, but I wasn’t comfortable with it. I’m the only girl I know who doesn’t do it,” she says. “So I became a tranny pimp. I majored in computer science and so I used the internet to book dates for all my friends. I’d go on the streets with them and be [a] security guard. When they got in a car, I’d follow to make sure they were safe.”
Virgin Hellfire and her stable worked in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and Charlottesville. Most of the johns were looking for trans women and she says her biggest seller could easily make a $1,000 a day. “That would be $250 cash for me. But it didn’t matter, because they also paid my expenses. That was just spending money.”
Eventually that sense of morality and the dreams of the white picket fence won out again. In 2008, she walked away from the life. She works as a hair stylist and studies business marketing at Baltimore City Community College. “I’m in a relationship with a trans man now,” she says, and though they are taking it slow, she thinks it might work out and dreams that they might have children “the natural way.”
When asked if she is planning to get gender reassignment surgery, Virgin shakes her head. “I ain’t nobody’s guinea pig. Those techniques are all experimental now. I like my orgasms too much. Nobody’s going to take my orgasms from me.”
Kasey obviously works in fashion; she has an unfakeable sense of style. But she also works as a caretaker for the elderly and an advocate for transgender issues.
“I worked on the streets one time. And the only time, I got locked up,” she says. She says that she felt it was a lucky occurrence. “That night, it had to happen. It was meant to happen. I was used to working, but it was at a point in my life where I’d just lost my job. I didn’t live actually far so I could just go like I was walking to the store and nobody would know actually what I was doing.”
It was April 2010. She walked to the corner of Maryland Avenue and 24th Street. She stood there for 20 minutes and a car pulled up. “We talked, he tried to make me feel comfortable,” she says. “One of the first things that should have went off is I got in the back seat. I didn’t get in the passenger seat. But I wasn’t used to it, it was something I didn’t do and I didn’t know. And besides I was already scared. I was really scared.”
But Kasey and the man started talking and she began to feel more comfortable.
“He said he went to MICA and I told him what I did and he said ‘Oh, you seem like a really cool person.’ We agreed on a price and then he just made an abrupt turn and said, ‘I hate to break it to you, I’m the police.’”
Kasey says that the officer told her that he felt really bad about it, but he took her to jail and she sat in the parking lot until they rounded up about 10 or 15 other people. She was booked, but she says the officer felt sorry for her and put her back in the paddy wagon and dropped her back off on 25th.
“He dropped me off midway home and it was like, ‘Take your butt in the house and deal with it in some other kind of way.’ Even though times get rough, I might consider it but it’s like, ‘No.’ There’s been too many stories about us found in abandoned buildings. It’s too dangerous. Too risky. I would rather face discrimination going and filling out a job application than standing on the corner.”
(Baynard Woods, City Paper)