Reading: Caren Wilton — My Body, my business: New Zealand sex workers in an era of change

I joked I reckon I’ll know some people in this book. Turns out wasn’t a joke. Turns out it was much more personal than I expected, even when under that joke I knew I bought this book to remember history. My history. History around me. History I should know.

Long time ago, young me worked end-of-week nights in the needle exchange in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, binning returns and handing out fresh packs. Which led to me being nights at the NZ Prostitutes Collective drop-in centre, because being a young transsexual, the only work available was sex work. Or selling drugs or doing robbery, more or less in that order. I never did proper street sex work on Karangahape Road, but did occasionally crack it opportunistically, sometimes just so I’d have a bed for the night. All the transsexual women who worked the street passed through the drop-in centre of an evening, Māori, Pasifika, and the one of two Pākehā. Later, they’d be up the Ponsonby Road end, and when I lived in the old brothel, above the sex shop looking down Howe St, I’d see them on the corner.

My Body, my business: New Zealand sex workers in an era of change reminded me of a lot of history I’d forgotten, and connected things, filling in blanks, explaining details. Like the probable identity of the old Greek man who owned the house in Pirie St I lived in when I was (once again) homeless, the upstairs apartment home since the ’70s to various Māori trans sex workers. Or the doctor at Three Lamps in Ponsonby who used to prescribe hormones to all the transsexuals, also known since the ’70s. I don’t think I ever saw him, but pretty sure it was a woman Doctor in the same practice.

And just the general truth of it all, how it was in the ’80s and ’90s — even though most of the oral histories were slightly before my time. It was all so familiar, reminding me how deep I was in that life, how they were the ones who guided and saved me. And how it was so easy to have that all taken away.

I wonder how my life would look, would have looked, if I hadn’t been through conversion therapy. Would I have started dancing (probably, I was incredibly naïve about what trans girls and women could and couldn’t do)? Would I have moved to Melbourne? Maybe, though staying in Sydney is perhaps more likely. Gone to VCA? Realistically I wouldn’t have made it through the auditions, because being trans and a dancer has only been a possibility for the last decade or so. Even my — in current language — non-binary self bashed up hard against the rigid and strict cisheteronormativity of dance back then.

This is a reminder. Where I came from, what I lived through, who were my contemporaries, family, whānau, who I owe an obligation to.