"You have to know that the hate you face as a woman is much worse than being a male, cis, or trans. It's a different world," Samuel East, a transgender Toronto sex worker, told me over a cup of coffee last month. In his mid-20s, East is relatively new to identifying as male, and he only recently started medically transitioning with testosterone. His life as a sex worker, however, has been long.
While firm stats on trans sex workers in Canada are hard to come by, it's not uncommon to find trans individuals inovlved in sex work, either independently or for some form of an escort agency. Research shows that trans sex workers face more bigotry and violence than other sex workers, and like all minorities in the field, trans sex workers are subjected to fetishization in ways that white, straight, cis workers aren't.
While trans women—through celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner or Laverne Cox—have grabbed mainstream attention over the last year, trans men still fall under the radar in many ways. As East tells me, most people aren't even sure what it means to be a trans man. This fact is apparent even in sex work, with East being one of the few female-to-male sex workers in the Greater Toronto Area. To get a better picture of what his reality is like, VICE spoke to him about his life and career.
Some of the names, locations, and incidents in this article have been altered to protect the identities of the sources involved.
VICE: How'd you get started as an escort?
Samuel East: I was pretty young. I grew up in a Covenant House, but I got kicked out for dating chicks. Back then, I was a broke ass 18-year-old—one half of my head was super long and I had one dread. I was this grimy-looking crust punk kid. We were doing that thing where you go to a different temple every night of the week, getting free food and such.
So that's when you got into sex work?
Yeah. At that time, I started as a sugar baby, which totally sucks. [Clients] get way more time out of you than they should. It's the worst kind of sex work to do, because you're basically devoting 24 hours a day to somebody for $1,000 a month. It only made sense after that to move on to escorting, where I presented female. I became active on review boards about three years ago. Those were under previous work names of mine. The things people say on review boards are absolutely disgusting.
What were some of the early agencies like—the less organized, shadier ones that you worked for in the beginning?
Early jobs actually kept me from transitioning because those kind of [low-level] agencies border on trafficking. When you think trafficking, you think people kidnapped and taken away and put in a room where they're forced to work, but that's not usually the case. You may consent to be there, but eventually they start sending in people non-stop with no warning. You may see eight guys a day, one after another.
Sometimes I'd get a text right after a client left that would read, "Hey, you have another client in ten minutes." Like, OK, how does that give me enough time to shower, to change the sheets, to prepare myself? It was horrific. Your body takes some wear and tear after hours of doing this. I threw out my hip from doing cowgirl for eight hours a day. On the plus hand, I now have extreme amazon thighs.
What happened to the first agency you were at?
It shut down. It's when the law changed and you couldn't openly advertise your services anymore, and its whole shebang was offering a "menu" with all the options open to clients, and that's the most insulting fucking thing. I still get texts saying, "Hey, what's your menu?" Like, I'm not a fucking restaurant. Who taught you to text people? That's something I get as a male worker—I get to sass people more. It's great, I can actually take some rage out for once. [Laughs]
Where'd you go next?
Well, I didn't go anywhere better. At my first agency, if someone came in and hit you, they wouldn't do anything. The new place was way worse. [My boss] brought me to Alberta to work, and I was making $1,500 a day. Like, it was the dream, but it was rough. I got absolutely pummeled into the ground one day by a client. Beaten to the point of black bruises all over, and she was in the next room over and didn't do anything. That's an extreme case—she was an actual psychopath. But a lot of the people running these places are dudes who don't care or get it.
OK, so unlike in-calls to your house, these places were micro-brothels of sorts?
Yeah, it was a condo. If you're a sex worker that's ever walked in a condo, you have to think, How many hookers are in these walls right now? They're fucking everywhere. I can point to a bunch of condos in the city and know where different agencies are.
When did you decide to transition?
While I was working for a previous agency, there was a point where I decided I couldn't do it anymore. At the time, my appointment with my endocrinologist was coming up and I was definitely going to do it, so I just snapped. I showed up to work with my chest binder on, a packer, the whole nine yards, and the shit they would say to me based on this. Just absolutely terrible, demeaning stuff.
I knew I was going to lose clients because the appeal for trans men in sex work is just not there. The t-boy renaissance isn't upon us yet. With that said, my clients who do book me now book longer, because there are so few of us in the city.
How have things changed since your transition?
Things have gotten a lot better. I haven't been advertising as much. You're just not reaching out to your clientele—straight guys—as a trans man. If you go on review boards and type in "tranny," you'll see the most disgusting shit. Most people are still not trans friendly. They'll refer to trans women sex workers as men.
I remember reading one review where a trans woman had bottom surgery, and she started advertising as female—just completely left out the trans bit of the equation. The reason why is that when guys look for a trans woman, they're looking for a cock to go along with it. They dragged her. Stuff like, "He shouldn't be doing that! He's disgusting!"
Do you face transphobia now?
Yeah, I mean, where I work now is very trans friendly, but I've lost all my regulars who used to follow me religiously. I just kind of subtly bounced out.
I've gotten messages from people I used to know saying stuff like, "If clients found out you were trans, they would be disgusted." I'm not that deep into transition. I pretty much look the same. I've had clients now ask me to wear female lingerie, which doesn't make sense because the market for female escorts is oversaturated. A lot of them think I'm a trans woman and get really confused. I'll get, "Yeah, so how big's your dick!" It's not. I don't have one.
I got a call at eight in the morning the other day where a guy asked if I'm a boy or a girl, and kept referring to me as "she." Like, I don't mind if you mess up, but I made it clear. I haven't had coffee yet so I'm gonna get snippy.
You seem like you handle this all very well. How do you maintain business with disrespectful people?
I'm used to it by now. My level for what's shitty has really dropped—the bar can be hobbled over at this point. My whole career has primed me for this point. People can be very degrading. I've seen reviews of young girls who are 18, and it's totally fucked up: "She'll do anything! You can totally use her." It reminded me of my younger self. Seeing that around you all the time desensitizes you.
That's why I [dominate men now]—it's emotional release. Like, OK, you can be an asshole, but I'm going to hit you relentlessly for an hour and you're going to pay me for it, because you're a sucker. It toughens you in a very rough way.
Based on your experience, how does being a trans man differ from being a trans woman in this business?
[Trans women] get exposed to trans misogyny on a daily basis—trans men just get more and more "butch lesbian" comments, and then all of a sudden, you're a man. Trans men pass almost 100 percent of the time. Testosterone is a very permanent hormone. What it does to you, it can't be changed. A lot of trans women have to go through electrolysis, voice heightening surgeries... there's a lot to it. They get a lot of judgement and misgendering based on that.
A lot of people don't even know what a trans man is. The idea of a woman going to a male body is totally unheard of to most people. Mainstream, there's almost no trans representation out there in the media. That said, you're sort of free when you transition. You do not get the same kind of shit you get as a female when you're a male. You breathe for once.
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