This story is adapted from Broadly's Queerly Beloved podcast.
When Liara Roux first started doing sex work, they say it felt a little like drag. "I was like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna be Hot Girl. So I would put on my makeup and wear clothes that I wouldn’t normally wear; and I would be meeting these guys and they would think that they would be spending time with a hot girl when in reality sometimes they would actually be spending time with a hot boy."
Liara is genderqueer and sometimes they feel more like a girl, while other times they feel more like a boy: "It changes by the second."
At the beginning of their career, Liara kept their gender identity private from clients and instead presented as female—the gender they were assigned at birth—because it was easier and safer. Recently, though, things have started to shift. After coming out publicly as genderqueer through a personal essay, Liara has attracted more queer clients and has been able to open up about their gender to some existing clients.
"A lot of my clients have discussed my gender identity with me," they say of their more recent work, "a lot of them, too, have told me that me talking publicly about my gender identity has made them explore their own as well and realize some things about themselves. It’s been really rewarding how accepting clients have been of it."
One of those clients is Annalise.
Annalise and Liara first met about a year ago. Annalise was looking for sex worker services, but she was also looking for companionship and acceptance, she says. She wanted to be around someone who seemed open and "fascinating."
So when she found Liara's website, she immediately became engrossed. Along with the usual photosets and profile info, Liara had uploaded book reviews and literary essays she’d written. "It was really interesting stuff, about things like Chinese puns and the dominant patriarchal structures we live in," she recalls. "I was like, ‘I have to meet this person.’" Annalise sent an email, and eventually, the two met up for a date to the symphony.
At the time, Annalise was presenting as a man. She was using her legal name, as well as male pronouns. Throughout her life, she had a sense that there was something queer about her, she says, but she could never quite put her finger on it. Because she was assigned male at birth and was attracted to women, she felt trapped in the role of playing a straight man. She didn’t know there was such a thing as gender fluidity, she says.
That is, until she met Liara. Liara and Annalise immediately felt comfortable around each other. With Annalise, Liara didn’t feel like they had to pretend. Liara was open about their queerness and gender. And the feeling was mutual for Annalise. She quickly began opening up to Liara, leaving little hints about how she was questioning her own gender and sexuality.
Eventually, Liara decided to bring it up. "I asked her, ‘If you could take a pill and transform into a beautiful woman, would you?’ And she was like, ‘Oh of course! Without hesitation! Who would hesitate?’"
At that moment, something clicked for Annalise. She says it wasn’t so much like learning something new about herself, but more like finally stepping into a pair of shoes she had always wanted to wear.
Ever since Liara asked that one question, Annalise and Liara have continued talking about gender identity, and doing so in a way that’s lighthearted and playful. Because their explorations have been private, there are no consequences of trying out something different—whether that be a name, pronoun, or pair of heels.
"We went to Barney’s and we were perusing the racks and we came across this really beautiful Victoria Beckham dress and [Annalise] really wanted to try it on, so we went to the sales clerk and asked if they had it in her size," recalls Liara, laughing, "and the sales clerk turned to me and looked me up and down and was like are you sure you want that size? And Annalise was like, ‘Oh no, it’s for me.’ The sales clerk looked surprised and non-judgmental and went to go get the appropriate size."
Eventually, Liara christened Annalise with her feminine name and Annalise asked her to start referring to her with female pronouns. Liara began introducing Annalise to other queer folks and trans women, and, in general, invited her into a world she had always wanted to be a part of, but never quite knew how.
"When I wake up and I’m with Liara or I’m going to see Liara, I just think to myself, Today I get to be Annalise and inhabit this world where I can fully express myself," says Annalise. "Those days feel really great."
Through conversation with Liara and newfound queer community, Annalise has begun identifying as genderfluid. But in most parts of her life, she still presents as a man. She has a family and a successful career, and she’s not yet ready to come out in those realms of her life. She has, however, begun drawing up a timeline of when she thinks she wants that to happen. And eventually, she says she’d like to physically transition.
For now, Annalise has at least one sphere in her life—time spent with Liara—where she feels safe experimenting and expressing herself fully. Meanwhile, with clients like Annalise, Liara has found a way to express herself with total authenticity, even in their professional life.
"We’re really there for each other and we’re able to help each other out with ut judgement and that’s been really rewarding to experience."