As a full time project coordinator for Project X, Vanessa Ho is on a mission to end discrimination against sex workers.
Project X provides social and legal support, and seeks to end all verbal, physical, emotional, and financial violence against sex workers, including transgender female sex workers – a group that is marginalised by both mainstream and LGBT communities.
Project X volunteers regularly distribute condoms, HIV test vouchers and medical subsidies, and organise public education events as part of their outreach efforts.
Vanessa shares her thoughts about Pink Dot and how, like everyone else, sex workers – especially transgender sex workers – deserve to lead a life of dignity and respect.
“As a queer woman, my experiences with discrimination and stigma – from friends, families, and colleagues – have allowed me to relate to other groups of people who are marginalised. However, I don’t just feel a sense of solidarity with trans sex workers, but also, for example, racial minorities, people with disabilities, etc. Forces of oppression manifest in different ways for different groups of people; at the end of the day, we are all in the same boat. As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “no one is free until we are all free.”
While not all trans women are sex workers, a significant number of them are.
Sex work provides trans women opportunities that they cannot get elsewhere. Firstly, it provides them with a source of income, thus allowing them financial independence. The sex industry also affords trans women more freedom to express their gender than any other industry. In this line of work, they feel free to put on make-up, clothes that they like, without constantly having to explain themselves.
The community within the sex industry has a system of kinship. Sex workers take care of each other.
For example, they give advice on how to prepare yourself for sex reassignment surgery, teach you the skills you need to be on the streets, advise you on housing or employment if you want to move. Denied a social support system in mainstream society, they’ve formed one of their own.
While we may assume that the gay and lesbian communities would be more empathetic, this is often not the case. For example, one day at Changi Village, I witnessed a group of women in a car driving around, laughing at the trans sex workers there. When I confronted them as they got out of the car, one of them replied, “we are lesbians, okay, we do not discriminate. It’s just that my friends have never seen them so they laughed”.
It was disappointing that, rather than using this opportunity to approach the trans women to get to know them better, all they could do was gawk, mock and laugh at them.
What Project X really wants for transgender people is for them not to be judged by society, and for them to be able to have the same opportunities in life as everyone else, straight or gay. I hope for them to have a life that’s financially stable, to be recognised as equals in society for who they are, and not to have to change in any way for the sake of conformity.
Personally, I want to live in a fair society in which my future partner and I don’t have to face discrimination, where we will not be subjected to weird looks, stares or be called names.
I think Pink Dot has allowed LGBT people in Singapore to come out as a community and be recognised.
I want a society where I don’t feel like LGBT people have to suffer because of who we are. I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with loving someone of the same gender. Gender should not be a barrier to who we share love with.” – Vanessa Ho