Trans sex workers: Hankering to cross the divide

Trans sex workers: Hankering to cross the divide

The work of a transgender sex worker is arduous but in the territory it can pay well - $300 or more an hour, writes Phillip Thomson.

AT LEAST two types of people can earn $6500 a week in Canberra: senior public service executives and transgender sex workers.

For Danika the dream started when she was a country boy in Wagga Wagga. Young and slim, she started living as a woman when she was about 20 and four times a year rents an apartment to work from in the national capital.

Bondage and sadomasochism are part of the gamut of offerings of dominatrix Danika, a trans-gender sex worker who operates in Canberra.

Bondage and sadomasochism are part of the gamut of offerings of dominatrix Danika, a trans-gender sex worker who operates in Canberra.Credit:Reuters

''I can make about $6500 a week gross when I go there,'' says Danika, who identifies as a woman but is still physically male.

''My best day is $1600.


''Going to Canberra is never a failure and the clientele seems to be more laid back there.

''They'll have a chat and are not so anxious to get into things.''

Danika is her working name and she can be seen in the classifieds dressed as a woman.

She is one of a significant number of transient transgender sex workers finding clients in the ACT.

She shares an apartment with another sex worker and the work can be demanding.

It involves bondage and sadomasochism as she plays the role of dominatrix, teaching a man about ''the aspects of sexual servitude [and] turning them into a woman'' for a price of $300 or more an hour.

''I think there's been far more people willing to give it a go since Fifty Shades of Grey,'' she says.

''Trans [workers] can be a lot more in-sync with the male libido.''

Danika says her clients are not just from the public service. She sees a lot of tradesmen too.

''It wears you out.''

A quick search reveals a dozen trans-sex workers operating in the territory at any one time.

So, why the popularity and where do transgender people, prostitutes or not, fit in society?

A self-described civil libertarian and a man who almost became a senator for Tasmania this past week, Robbie Swan, says transgender sex workers are a modern phenomenon who are a product of advances in science because they can take hormones to adjust their appearance.

''Transgender is really a third sex,'' Swan says. ''We had trannies and cross-dressers before [but] these people are fair-dinkum transgender.

''I suppose a lot of guys think it's the best of both worlds and want to indulge in a gay fetish - they're all straight men who visit transsexual sex workers and it's a way for them to satisfy a curiosity without labelling themselves as gay.

''Most men as boys have had some sort of gay experience, even though most men are attracted to women.''

Queensland University of Technology senior lecturer on gender issues, Angela Dwyer, does not believe transgender is a third sex.

''If you ask them, the most common response is they feel like they're in the wrong body and they just need a sex change so they can get on with their lives,'' Dwyer says.

''They are still very much marginalised - it's never talked about by schools or rarely by parents.''

As sex workers, she says, they often experience violence, though Danika, who is yet to have a sex change, cannot recall any dangerous situations.

Being transgender is not always about men turning into women and it's not all about the sex, at least according a documentary by Sydney actor Andrew Guy.

Guy used to be a woman, Anna, but the documentary, titled It's Not about the Sex, which was seeking funding last year, shows his transition to manhood via surgery. ''I'm doing fairly radical surgery which I feel I need to do,'' he says on a website. ''A lot of people here [in Australia] feel that it's new and experimental and of not high enough quality. The results people are getting though are pretty amazing.''

A transgender candidate has just run in the federal election.

Robbie Swan is the registered officer for the Sex Party, which ran the nation's only transgender candidate, Melissa Star, aged 37, in the federal election in the seat of Melbourne Ports.

While a long distance behind the major party candidates, she was one of the best performers for the Sex Party after grabbing almost 2500 votes, or 3.82 per cent of first preferences.

''She bussed in transsexuals from all over the country to help her with the campaign and they helped her as they stumbled along in their heels,'' Swan says.

On her Facebook page, Star touted: ''We have the second largest swing towards us, after the Liberal Party. We have almost doubled our vote in Melbourne Ports from the 2010 election.''

According to the Australian Jewish News, she ran on a platform supporting voluntary euthanasia, the decriminalisation of marijuana, marriage equality and better sex education in schools to counter the bullying she experienced at school, which included someone throwing a brick at her head.

At age 24 she had sex reassignment surgery in Thailand.

A sex change can cost as little as $5000 in Thailand while in Australia it can be as much as $25,000 and the government does not pick up the bill.

Speak to people who have been through a sex change and many are firm in the belief Australian laws discriminate against them.

Trans advocate Kathy Noble, 78, says: ''In Australia we are second or third-class citizens.

''Sometimes transgender people turn to sex work to pay for their operations.''

Noble had a sex change in 2001 and said recent laws meant transgender people had been put in dangerous situations overseas because they had conflicting passports, while it was also hard to change names. She said many had turned to sex work because they had been kicked out of home and found it difficult to get a job.

For Danika, she continues to live a high-income lifestyle and says her family knows about her way of life. ''I come from a pretty liberal family, which is fortunate - I know girls who have been rejected.''

Phillip Thomson is a Public Service Reporter at The Canberra Times.

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