Toronto: Drama continues on the tranny stroll

NEIGHBOURHOOD / ‘This is something that could get ugly’
Michael Pihach / Toronto / Thursday, June 18, 2009

When Pheobe sees girls screaming and fighting at 3am at the corner of Homewood and Maitland — Toronto’s infamous tranny hooker stroll — she bites her shiny lip-glossed lip.

She says it’s an ugly site when she sees two tranny hookers, like herself, rumble drunkenly in the street, ripping the glue out of each other’s weaves because one girl is “stealing the other girl’s john.”

“When there’s a fight, the wigs and weaves fly,” says Pheobe, a statuesque 21-year-old trans sex worker who has worked in the area for two years.

She knows it will get even uglier when the neighbours find out. She is well aware that local residents are fed up with the noisy fights, vandalism and john traffic on the tranny stroll, and want the girls off the block for good.

Pheobe saw it coming last summer when the Homewood Maitland Safety Association (HMSA) launched a campaign of late-night demonstrations in an effort to move sex workers away from the area. The demonstrations included picketing on the street and photographing johns and their licence plates.

HMSA members say they were reacting to an escalation of disturbances in the area including drug trafficking, noise and late-night fights — one time reportedly involving at least 30 girls.

One resident reported finding dirty condoms on their front lawn and shit on their doorstep. (“Yes, that actually happened,” admits Pheobe.)

Some sex workers claim the HMSA responded by shining flashlights in the girl’s faces while they worked — a claim HMSA member Paul Hyde denies along with any reports of violence by the association members against the girls. “Our members consist of little old ladies, handicapped individuals, gay men and others,” he says. “We do not tolerate violence.”

Hyde says the HMSA’s latest challenge is tempering the late-night shouting matches between sex workers on the street and people on the balconies of 60 Homewood. “People on the balconies are starting to hurl objects at the sex workers,” says Hyde. “This is something that could get ugly.”

ON THE FRONTLINES. Trans sex worker Pheobe, who has worked the Homewood stroll for two years, says the workers are getting flack from the residents because of “a group of girls who make it bad for everyone.”(Michael Pihach)“When there’s a fight, the wigs and weaves fly,” says Pheobe, a statuesque 21-year-old trans sex worker who has worked in the area for two years.

Some sex workers accuse the HMSA of photographing them while they work. The HMSA says this is also false. “We do not take photographs of the girls,” says Michel Bencini, a member of the HMSA. The HMSA does, however, photograph johns and their licence plates. It is “a major deterrent,” says Bencini.

“[Johns] do not return for more since the majority of them want anonymity,” he says.

Pheobe says the camera flashes from resident’s windows bother some girls, but not her. “I just call them the tranny paparazzi,” she quips, flicking her thick, brown hair.

Last month HMSA members agreed to stop demonstrations for three weeks so outreach workers from the 519 Community Centre could engage with the girls about respecting neighbours property in a hostility-free environment.

Last month outreach worker Monica Forrester spoke optimistically of The 519’s strategy, but Bencini says the organization is off-track.

“The 519 seems to think, naively, that the sex workers and residents should have a nightly love in,” says Bencini, who believes the problem would be solved if the sex workers simply shifted themselves to Jarvis and Wellesley streets. “This idea that sex workers can work quietly when everyone knows that they are very high and anxious is not realistic.

“The HMSA is not against sex work,” he adds. What they’re against is the calamity and risks it brings to their block, such as when one sex worker allegedly threatened a resident at knifepoint.

Pheobe agrees there are girls on the stroll who do cause problems. However not everyone should be blamed for their actions, she says.

“There is a group of girls who make it bad for everyone,” says Pheobe, referring to a “new gang of young immature trannies” who she says are drunk, loud and cause fights on the stroll late at night.

“I tell them to keep the noise down and respect the neighbours, but they don’t care,” she says. “They don’t realize that some of us are here to work so we can pay for feminization surgeries.”

It also doesn’t help when girls start slashing their prices to undercut one another, as if Homewood and Maitland was a tranny hooker Walmart.

“I used to make $100 for blowjobs. Now I only make $20,” scoffs Pheobe, who services most of her clients in cars in secluded areas near the stroll. “The johns don’t care. To them a mouth is a mouth.”

Sometimes Pheobe leaves the drama at Homewood and Maitland and heads north to Isabella and Jarvis where there is peace. “I make my own stroll,” she says. “I’ll let johns follow me. If they want me, they’ll follow.”

If only moving the stroll itself was that simple. Det Day of Toronto Police Division 51 has policed Homewood and Maitland for 22 years. He says eliminating the tranny stroll would take “tons of resources over a long period of time,” including undercover vehicles and round-the-clock officers.

Day would not comment on whether or not Toronto Police would commit to such an operation. Their biggest challenge, he says, is keeping sex workers away from the area because most girls who work at Homewood and Maitland also live in the area.

But not all. Take Layla, for example, a 20-year-old transsexual sex worker who flips tricks on the stroll “when there’s no johns online.” She says police confront her while en route to the neighbourhood. “They’ll see me at Wellesley and Jarvis and stop me before I even get there,” she says. “I suppose my pink hooker boots give it away.”

Day says that in all the years he’s patrolled Homewood the past six have been the quietest. “There are less girls on the street,” he says, noting the popularity of adult classified ads in free publications like Now and Eye (see page 12 for Xtra’s) and the internet for advertising sex services.

“I don’t know why you would go to the street,” he says.

Pheobe says the street is faster. “Guys call my [internet] ad but will hang up, or never show. I guess they’re just nervous,” she says.

The chances of eliminating the stroll altogether are slim, she says.

“The stroll has been there for years. It’s not going anywhere,” she says. “Ten years from now there will be a new set of neighbours, a new set of girls, and a whole new protest. The neighbours are just wasting their time.”

Original on XTRA

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