City Paper: Sex Trade – Exploring the Lives of Transgender Women On The Streets

City Paper: Sex Trade – Exploring the Lives of Transgender Women On The Streets

…“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.”

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?”…

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