Transsexuals of Queens
The power of Transsexual prostitutes

At 4:00 am the 7 train over Roosevelt Avenue provides the rhythm for Jackson Heights, Queens. Each train spills out people from the late shift and fills with others going to the early shift.

The closing of the bars brings another rush: Drunken men to the sidewalks and hack cabs to the streets.

It is also the time the transsexuals start working, selling sex. They stand out: Tall, heavily made-up black and Hispanics dressed for show. They cluster about one intersection flirting with passing men and dodging the desperately drunk ones.

Their corner has two all-night bakeries where they rest. The young women working the bakeries know all of them; they have their drinks ready without the need to ask.

Jessica sits and sips her coffee. “Why 4:00 am? Because the men are so drunk they can kiss me and still pretend they are not gay.” Across from her is Claudia dabbing makeup on her face. “Hispanic men have to be all macho. Being gay is a no-no. This late, perhaps nobody will know, not their family. Even they can pretend.”

At the next table sit two men in dirty work-clothes eating plates of rice and meat.

None of the Johns say they are gay. “The men out here are in the closet or they don’t want to believe what they really like. They look for us to say they’re looking for a woman, but they know what it really is. There are more closeted gay people than we know.”

The transsexuals do not consider themselves gay. They are women who like men. “I am not gay. I am a woman. I just want what every other woman wants, a tall white handsome guy like you. Do me a favor, forget that camera and give me a big kiss, honey.”

They almost all come from very modest backgrounds and from places where homosexuality is not only shunned but a sin. They knew they were different early.

Desire, from Jamaica, knew when she was six. “My dad hated who I was. Jamaicans hate fags.” It took until the age of sixteen, when she went to jail and was happy for the attention of the other men that she was able to come out. “Guys started liking me in jail.”

Jessica from Puerto Rico had the same story. “I always knew I was different, from five. I did not want my penis. I wanted what the girls had. I came here because it’s better to be this way in New York than where I come from.”

In Hunts Point the prostitutes are driven by addiction having fled sexual abuse and dysfunctional families.

The women of Roosevelt Avenue have largely dealt with their trauma.

I am not a boy I am a girl.

It takes an immense amount of courage to understand something so fundamental and act on it. Especially when done in a culture that sees you as a mutant and a sinner.

These women have taken control of the issue and now are using it to make a living. It is a living that relies on the hypocrisy of the culture that oppressed them. As one woman told me, “A smart woman can separate a man from his money.”

Society loves to view all sex workers as victims. Many of them are but it’s far too simple.

The women of Hunts Point are victims of child abuse, of dysfunctional society, of addiction.

The transsexuals of Roosevelt Avenue are victims of homophobia and of a closed-minded church and culture. Most are not however victims of sex work.
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