At 16 years old, I began trading sex for money. The money I earned I used to pay for the vital medical care my family couldn’t afford. This essay is not a confession. Neither is my book Redefining Realness. I do not believe that having engaged in the sex trades or being a former sex worker is a confessional matter.
I do not believe using your body — often marginalized people’s only asset, especially in poor, low-income, communities of color — to care after yourself is shameful. What I find shameful is a culture that exiles, stigmatizes and criminalizes those engaged in underground economies like sex work as a means to move past struggle to survival.
I was 15 the first time I visited Merchant Street, what some would call “the stroll” for trans women involved in street-based sex work. At the time, I had just begun medically transitioning and it was where younger girls, like my friends and myself, would go to hang out, flirt and fool around with guys and socialize with older trans women, the legends of our community.