Transgender Women in Sex Work

Tamika Spellman talking to Police Officers

Tamika Spellman, a former sex worker, talks to police officers after a fight between two sex workers. Spellman works as a mentor to transgender sex workers and checks on them often. 

TW/CW: transphobia, sexual assault, murder, transphobia

This section of the exhibit focuses on the mental and physical risks that transgender women face in the field of sex work. Transgender sex workers make up 62% of murdered trans people in the United States. [1] Transgender women, especially transgender women of color, are often not able to work in fields outside of sex work due to the biases held against them. These women are frequently excluded from the “woman’s body is not her own” narrative because of their assumed “male privilege” prior to coming out. This assumption is incorrect because transgender women, while they may have lived part of their lives as men, are women. Assuming this privilege invalidates their female identity. Transgender sex workers need to be included in the “woman’s body is not her own” narrative because transgender sex workers often advocate for others since they know how it feels to be oppressed. These women are often also the largest advocates for other identities. An example of this is the gay rights movement that started at Stonewall Inn in 1969. Sylvia Rivera, a transgender sex worker, along with many others, started the movement that eventually gave same-sex couples the right to vote and many other rights they did not have previously. Transgender female sex workers can have a large impact on the fight for equal rights, but only if they are first given the platform they need to do so.

If you or someone you know is struggling with their gender identity or is facing emotional, physical, or financial violence because of gender identity, consider exploring the following resources: 
The Trevor Project: and 1-866-488-7386
National Center for Transgender Equality:
Trans Lifeline: and 877-565-8860


[1] Rahman, Nadia. “Governments Have Failed to Protect Trans People from Murder -and from COVID-19.”, November 20, 2020.

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