Harlots Parlour

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a small sample of transphobia

I’ve seen this report around a bit lately, by Suzanne Jenkins, from Law at Keele University in the Midlands of the UK.

Now, I want to focus specifically on the trans aspect of the report, because it’s here that it seems most problematic.

Let’s begin with definitions. There’s (cissexual) women, (cissexual) men, and transsexual (women). This is a problem from the start, if you’re beginning from the cissexist position that trans women are some mystic third gender of our own. We’re not, we’re women. It wouldn’t have been very hard to write “cis women” “cis men” “trans women” in all those pretty graphs, or even just “transsexual women”–it’s not a good start if you begin by disrespecting the gender identity of those you’re purporting to study (and presumably help?)..

Further, given this semantic problem, and given general cissexism it’s hard to tell what Jenkins means in describing trans women as gay or heterosexual. Now to me, trans people’s genders are legitimate, so a trans women attracted to men is heterosexual–but that’s not something one can safely assume with researchers (eg J Michael Bailey’s description of straight trans women as “homosexual transsexuals).

The sample size, as with a lot of the research I’ve seen on trans women is a bit small (22), but is understandable–academic research is often terrible on both transness and sex work, so the trust there isn’t going to be widespread.

Still, if you can get past the terrible phrasing, at least there’s some research specifically about trans women. And what it does reveal is that, on the whole, that trans women have a worse experience of sex work than both cissexual women and cissexual men. Some key stats in the study:

* trans women are more likely to do sex work to avoid poverty (27.3% compared to 15% for cis women and 6% for cis men).

* trans women were much more likely to feel that sex work put the client in a position of power over the escort (31% compared to 6% for cis women and 15% for cis men).

* 50% of trans women felt that clients did not treat them respectfully, compared to 16% of cis women and 15% of cis women.

* 41% of trans women had experienced violence, compared to 7% of cis men and 16% of cis women.

Now, what is striking about all of those numbers is how the negative aspects of sex work seem to be disproportionately affecting trans women sex workers. Now, this may be the result of a skewed survey considering the comparatively small size of the trans sample, but I’m willing to bet that it’s not. Even taking that into account, it seems clear that there is a quite specific problem for trans women. This undoubtedly has a lot to do with transphobia and homophobia on the part of punters, the perception that trans women are not “real” women (a perspective that the Jenkins report unfortunately seems to mirror in places). Given that 96% of trans women’s clients are cis men according to Jenkins, it seems likely that at least some punters may carry homophobic attitudes that affect their treatment of trans sex workers, the mixed desire/disgust that so often characterises our sexual relationships with cis men in general.

I agree with Viviane Namaste’s recent statement that there needs to be more research done with trans sex workers, with a focus on violence and HIV rates – for instance, Namaste has found HIV rates of up to 75% of trans sex workers in Rome. If Jenkins’ study is suggestive, we need to more clearly see the scope of what problems there are (as well as support sex workers are happy and working in good conditions of course), and sample sizes of 22 are definitely insufficient for the task.


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This entry was posted on 8 October, 2009 by in Uncategorized.
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