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Ashley, a transgender sex worker, shows her tattoo, a trans symbol, in her apartment on Thursday, June 16,in a Pittsburgh neighborhood. Ashley is the only friend for whom I have invented a word to describe our relationship.

When I sent her a text to set up the interview, our exchange went like this:. Me: Your place? Ashley has a wonderfully sardonic sense of humor. Twenty years old, her sense of style reminds me of old Hollywood movies. Ashley and I have had many conversations regarding our mutual obsession with vinyl, and I immediately notice her record player, stereo and albums.

I ask if I can turn on the air conditioning because it feels a bit stuffy. She mentions it is cooler in her bedroom. See what I did there?

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We sit on her bed. My friendship with Ashley began over poetry. We met because of mutual friends. We both spend time with people who want to be clean and sober. Through the natural course of socializing, we each discovered the other was a poet. She mentions to me after she hangs up that her client has requested her to wear a long flowing dress. We start again. I dressed up as Juli for a French class. And I shaved my legs. I did the full drag thing.

And I felt right being Juli. Once again, I stop recording. Her attention returns to me. Ashley explains about using a website for verification and how she's asked another provider to help her vet him but they were not able to, so a red flag. She knows I worry because she is my friend. One time I dropped her off after having dinner and writing together and when I found out she was meeting a client before the night was over, I made her text me before she went to bed.

She Curly hair and sex Pittsburgh not feel comfortable sharing what those sites were. Providers can only get access to the sites through a reference from a client and from a reference through another provider on the website. Ashley tells me about her high school in Philadelphia where she grew up, with 2, students and how she was one of the best known students, being president of six different clubs. It dawns on me that Ashley was still a male in high school.

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I try to imagine Ashley as a young man. I came out to the president of the GSA, the Gay-Straight Alliance, and he said it was rude to make fun of trans people. Ashley stops speaking for a moment, lost in her own thoughts. Ashley goes on to tell me how she came out publicly in front of her math class. The students were in class an extra hour that day due to a fire drill. As she tells the story, I imagine her standing up in front of her peers, announcing she is trans, will start dressing like a girl soon and how she felt she would faint in front of them.

She says she encouraged people to gossip about it "because I didn't feel like coming out more than once. I find myself thinking again about the dynamic with her parents. We had both been through things together. There were things between me and my mom that eventually led to me running away. Ashley is She has had to grow up so fast. Ashley says she couch-surfed with friends and ended up in a group home, which was not the most welcoming of places.

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That was probably the worst of it. I was there because I was out. At one point, Ashley tried going back home and finishing up high school. Words, which are her weapons and never seem to fail her, seem to be lost at the moment. In one of her rare guarded moments, she tells me no. It surprises me as she is ordinarily so open about her life and experiences. She does share that what brought her out of homelessness was becoming involved in sex work.

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, one in five transgender people in the United States has been discriminated against when seeking a home, and more than one in 10 have been evicted from their homes because of their gender identity. Throughout our conversation, Ashley has referenced her cocaine use. When she became homeless, that is when she developed her drug problem.

She explains that while some people become homeless as a result of their drug use, there are many where the narrative is reversed; they become addicted to drugs as a way to cope with the emotional stress and personal devastation that comes with homelessness.

Part of the allure was getting high, but it also gave her a temporary respite from her situation. According to the Center for American Progress, it is estimated that between 20 to 30 percent of gay and transgender people abuse substances, compared to about 9 percent of the general population.

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In its study, the center attributes this to the added stressors of stigma and discrimination. At this point, Ashley hasn't had any surgery yet but hopes to have a few different procedures done in the next handful of years. She has been on hormones since age 17 thanks to having her mother's insurance even in times she has been on the street.

She finances the copays herself. I am surprised to learn the Ashley started out majoring in social work. Ashley still hopes to one day have a career in social work. She eventually dropped out of the social work program and returned to school to take a poetry course. During that time she was also getting clean from drugs and found that poetry helped her fill the void. What made writing so compelling was her continuous drive to read. She first tried her hand at writing at the age of 9. I remember having breakfast and reading the cereal box ingredients out loud every morning.

Dextrose was my favorite word. I ask if her family is aware of how she makes her living. She initially told them she worked cleaning houses. She's not thrilled with it, but doesn't say anything else about it either. She wanted to be her own boss, and the minimum wage was not enough to live on.

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Sex work allowed her to work a handful of hours a week and gave her the time and space she needed to manage her mental health issues, namely depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. In many ways, she has found the lifestyle to be healing. The industry is not without its dangers. There are precautions that need to be taken to make sure you are safe. Ashley is very open about being involved in sex work. Regarding physical safety, she has always practiced safe sex and insists that her clients do the same. She argues that what she does is far safer than someone engaged in unprotected one-night stands.

In terms of protecting herself from potentially dangerous clients and situations, she screens her clients thoroughly. Her preferred method of screening is a recommendation from a provider on a known site. A provider reference is golden; it gives Ashley the reassurance that the client is good and not a law enforcement officer. If the client is someone who has never seen a provider before, she asks for some concrete evidence of what they do for work, such as a LinkedIn profile with more than connections as well as a work or state-issued photo identification that matches what is on their professional profile.

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She says you also learn to trust your gut. Ashley re a poem from a series of work she is writing on her experience as a sex worker, both the positives and negatives. Other identifying photos and text have been cut for the same reason. Janette Schafer is a freelance writer and poet in Pittsburgh. She's a banking and finance professional by day. You can follow her on Twitter bankbombshell. Comments are closed.

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