Slate Magazine recently ran an article on decriminalizing sex work, and why that’s an essential move for transgender rights. Written by Evan Urquhart, it’s worth reading through and giving consideration to some of the statements and ideas presented.
What does prostitution have to do with transgender rights, you might ask. Often, nothing. But too often in history, widespread discrimination and transphobia has left trans women few alternatives with which to support themselves economically.
This is changing as more people become allies and more workplaces strive for diversity and equality, but we still have a long ways to go. Trans women here and in other countries often have no access to paid employment unless they turn to sex work.
In “Decriminalizing Prostitution is Central to Transgender Rights,” the writer makes the case that punishing prostitution is discrimination against trans women.
Let me say this: I support decriminalization of all sex work for both service providers and consumers. This is a private transaction between consenting adults and criminalizing sex work is hatred of both women and men and their sexual freedoms, desires, needs, and rights.
I also reject the idea that women are helpless and can’t choose sex work, even those who work independently and clearly state that they enjoy their work.
Traditionally, in the case of transgender women, it has been extremely difficult to find other kinds of employment and many trans women who do not want to participate in paid sex have had no other choices.
Urquhart’s argument is that criminalizing sex work makes existing while transgender a crime, and trans women end up in prison where they are often abused and raped. This is a major affront to human rights.
Urquhart writes, “According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 19 percent of all trans people, and 47 percent of black trans women, have engaged in sex work. This does not take place in a vacuum but in the context of pervasive societal discrimination against trans people in general, and trans women of color in particular. Widespread bias against trans people severely limits access to traditional employment, housing, and health care…”
The article says transgender women are often harassed by law enforcement, whose job is actually to serve and protect them. Even as transgender prostitutes with no recourse to support themselves are treated like criminals for daring to try to make a living, other trans women are assumed to be prostitutes just because they’re trans.
Cops, and other citizens, too often assume a transgender woman is selling sex even when she’s not. In this way, trans prostitutes are punished inhumanely for their only access to work, and other transgender women are treated like prostitutes even when they aren’t.
Harper Jean Tobin is the policy director at National Center for Trans Equality and expresses how this happened to her, when she was transitioning and waiting in a bus shelter for a ride. The police assumed she was soliciting. Eventually she was released but the incident marked her, showing her personally the everyday experience of herself and other trans women.
Nat Paul, a leading expert on trafficking and sex work, advocates for transgender people:
“Survival is not consent but necessity. Criminalization of sex work only compounds the multiple, intersecting biases trans women face with criminal records.”