The sex industry is wide and inclusive. Regardless of gender, race or background, this community welcomes you with open arms and it could change your life.
This goes for transgender sex workers too. The process of transitioning is hard, and the strain it has on someone’s mental health can be severe. This industry is forgiving and this is what appealed to transgender sex worker, Faye Kinley, 21, from Glasgow.
Now doing mostly online work, Faye started out in the industry escorting. Taking up sex work was also linked to her gender transition, she says, as the strain on her mental health during this difficult time resulted in her struggling to find employment.
“I obviously [had] mental health issues regarding, you know, my transition, gender dysmorphia, which was making me not want to work. So, I was at the stage where I was on disability benefits and stuff… And I was just kind of at the point where I was like, I could escort, you know. There’s lots of guys who are into that, you know, trans women and stuff, so I could just escort and I could make money.”
Her escorting led to a surge in her online presence, and she was able to make content online. She spends fewer hours online to make more money than she would escorting, and thinks it is a safer environment.
The transgender community commonly faces fetishization from the public. Usually treated like an experiment, something to experience once, without respecting or supporting the political and social rights of transgender people. This is comparable to women facing sexualisation on a daily basis. However, it does not bother Faye, to an extent.
“I think when you’re a sex worker it’s kind of your job to be fetishized, you know. I mean, every woman who’s doing sex work is being fetishized in some way. I think, for me, when fetishization bothers me is when I’m like in a relationship outside work. Because, obviously, at that point I don’t want to be a fetish. I want to be more than just sex.”
She thinks that she is treated differently, though, as a transgender sex worker.
“I think there’s probably a slight lack of respect because a lot of guys that do kind of purchase content from trans women, they are underlyingly transphobic.
“You know, they want our content, they want our sex, they want all that from us, but they don’t want to stand up for our rights. So, I feel like they kind of subconsciously treat us with a little less respect.”
Although Faye sees no shame in her job, she believes that it has still affected her future, admitting that she thinks a lot of doors have been closed for her. However, she thinks not sticking to a corporate job will allow her to avoid any issues.
“I would like to do a range of stuff that isn’t kind of corporation based. So, I wouldn’t necessarily have difficulty getting a job because there’s not a corporation who’s going to be like, looking me up on the internet. So that’s kind of my perspective on it.”
Although the sex industry is notorious for being welcoming to all kinds of people, there is a lack of transgender representation in some organisations and places within the community. Faye believes there is a massive underrepresentation, which does not make sense as there is a huge transgender presence in the sex industry.
“Trans women make up a huge portion of the sex work industry. But, we get majorly underrepresented when it comes to even like safe spaces and charities and unions. I feel like there’s not as much direct support and understanding, and there could be.”
Faye does not blame the people who run these organisations, though. But, she does think people are just not as educated on transgender sex worker issues as they should be.
“These places are normally run by people who are quite empathetic, obviously, because they often help sex workers and they understand the prejudice of sex workers. Usually, they can understand the prejudice of being trans. However, I don’t think they are specifically educated on trans issues necessarily.”
This is something that Dr Anastacia Ryan, founder of Umbrella Lane, one of Glasgow’s biggest sex work charities, acknowledges. She believes it can be solved with more minority sex workers taking up leadership roles.
“I think the thing is with any kind of subset or like some community of sex workers, it takes often one or two people who identify with that group to take on a leadership position. So, for a while we had a trans sex worker who was in a leadership position within Umbrella Lane, quite a key spokesperson. When we had her there, we felt that we kind of attracted a lot more trans sex workers to the drop-ins and to our services.”
Although there is no transgender leader in the organisation anymore, she does not believe that there is a division within the industry or her institute.
“I would never say there was a division. For some reason, sex work seems to kind of trump all other experiences amongst groups of complete diverse backgrounds and different experiences.”
All drop-ins and events run by Umbrella Lane are clearly welcome to all types of sex workers no matter their gender, sexuality or race. But, representation is what draws them in, and there is just not enough at the moment.
What transgender workers expect is to see themselves in leadership or influential roles to feel fully included in the sex work industry. Only being newly legally legitimised, the industry has a long way to go and a lot of changes to make. There is still time to fix this gap.
Image credit: Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images