Three freelance transgender sex workers wait for customers on the streets of Bangkok. Pic: Caleb Quinley.
ต่างชาติเขาวิจารณ์เรา พอจะทนฟัง ทนอ่านได้ไหมครับ......
ประเทศไทยเรา เป็นที่รับรู้กันอย่างกว้างขวางว่า ที่นี่คือนครแห่งหญิงบริการ เป็นจุดหมายปลายทางของเซ็กส์ทัวร์ ที่นี่มีทั้ง อาบอบนวด บาร์อโกโก้ และหญิงโสเภณี คลับต่างๆ ที่มีหญิงบริการนับพันคน ที่พยายามที่จะเอาชีวิตรอดในกรุงเทพมหานคร.........
ผู้หญิง ทั้งเด็ก และผู้ใหญ่ในอุตสาหกรรมให้บริการทางเพศ คือความสนใจของสำนักวิจัย จากเกือบทุกสำนัก จากทั่วทุกมุมโลก.........
Thailand is widely known for its notorious red light scene and an abundance of sex tourism. Massage parlors, Gogo bars, brothels and clubs all house thousands of sex workers desperately trying to survive the Bangkok grind. Each individual has their own unique story — often filled with desperation, poverty, exploitation and, in many cases, slavery.
Women and girls in the sex industry are often the main focus of interest in research projects from various agencies and organizations around the world.
The daily dangers of working as a Bangkok transgender sex worker
Sex workers share a moment outside a brothel in Bangkok. Pic: Caleb Quinely.
By Caleb Quinley | @calebquinley
BANGKOK, Thailand is widely known for its notorious red light scene and an abundance of sex tourism. Massage parlors, Gogo bars, brothels and clubs all house thousands of sex workers desperately trying to survive the Bangkok grind. Each individual has their own unique story — often filled with desperation, poverty, exploitation and, in many cases, slavery.
Women and girls in the sex industry are often the main focus of interest in research projects from various agencies and organizations around the world. Yet there has been very little investigation to understand the experiences, vulnerabilities, and abuses of transgender persons working in the sex industry, despite the large population of transgender sex workers in Thailand.
“A significant benefit in conducting this kind of research is that it diversifies our understanding of vulnerability and adds nuance to the ever-developing conversation on gender-based violence,” says Jarrett Davis, an independent social researcher and consultant regarding exploitation and violence issues. Davis’ recent study, ‘Same Same But Different: A baseline study on the vulnerabilities of transgender sex-workers in Bangkok’s sex industry‘, intricately examines the lives of transgender sex workers.
The study has made abundant progress in examining and analyzing this particular marginalized group. It has compiled valuable material through 60 extensive interviews with transgender sex workers, providing a basis for understanding the unseen vulnerabilities, exploitation and often physical and sexual abuse that transgender sex workers endure on a daily basis. The study found that the respondents’ reasons for entering the sex industry varied greatly.
Some are voluntarily working in the sex industry while others are trafficked into bondage. The men and women who work within the sex industry mirror the effect that poverty has on large populations around the world. It reveals how financial despair can drive people to undergo devastating emotional and physical risks that can even lead to the diminishing of their human rights.
“I really want you to know that nobody would ever choose to do this and live this lifestyle and I really want to leave, I don’t know what to do anymore,” said one 21-year-old sex worker.
In Thailand specifically, there continues to be huge susceptibilities within the transgender community regarding their rights and safety. Physical violence and rape are severe concerns that transgender communities regularly face. According to the study, a quarter of the respondents indicated that they have been physically assaulted in the past 12 months, stating that more than half of the physical abuse came from clients, while other abuse came from partners and bar “madams” and managers.
An outside glance of transgender Gogo dancers in a dressing room doing their hair and make-up. Pic: Caleb Quinley.
Two-thirds of interviewees admitted to being victims of sexual violence within the past year. Appallingly, one in four of the respondents said that they had been raped, or forced to have sex against their will. Through these abuses, the study found a prevalence and a heightened possibility of transmitting HIV through unconsented sex.
“I have a friend who just died from the disease,” said one 30-year-old freelance sex worker.
Physical and sexual abuse are clearly major concerns, yet the possibility of contracting HIV/AIDS is an equally dangerous threat amongst the community. According to the study, transgender sex workers are immensely afraid of contracting the virus due to nature of their daily work. This can lead to emotional trauma among many of these individuals who have had friends who have died from the virus.
Regardless of the knowledge of the health risks, physical dangers and social stigma attached to working in the sex industry, thousands continue to work due to the immediate financial rewards that they feel they might not find elsewhere. The study shows that most move into the sex industry due to severe pressing financial needs.
One bar-based worker, 25 said, “I didn’t know what else to do. Before, I was in the tiffany show, but the business was not going well. I thought this job is very easy. I can get money very easily.”
Many of these working individuals undergo high stress, leading them to turn to substance abuse to self-medicate and cope with the various difficulties they face. Unfortunately, however, these substances only exasperate their already precarious lifestyle. The study found that subjects abused alcohol heavily, in addition to “Yaba”— a caffeine and methamphetamine fused pill that dissolves rapidly after oral ingestion. One in five of the respondents described using drugs to numb themselves while providing sexual services.
A group of transgender sex workers cluster around the entrance to a popular bar named Temptations. Pic: Caleb Quinley.
Desperation is an intense motivator for anyone, forcing people to work in the most difficult of environments. Nonetheless, the fact remains that many men and women will continue to sell their bodies for money. Despite the varying complexities that force these individuals to sell themselves, voluntarily or not, it is equally as important to recognize the struggles this marginalized group face.
There is a high need for further research regarding transgender sex workers, as unfortunately there have been very limited studies so far. Gaining understanding into the intricacies behind why these decisions are made is paramount in comprehending the core issues and challenges they encounter. Particularly in this culture, respect and dignity are elusive concepts, yet many simply want to pursue this path without persecution, cultural judgement and with the basic human rights they are entitled to.
“I would like for people to understand that lady-boys are not bad people and society should accept this job,” said one 23-year-old sex worker.
About the author:
Caleb Quinley is a journalist and photographer based in Bangkok, Thailand. His focus topics are politics, conflict, urban poverty, and human rights issues.
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