Betzy Ballesteros as told to Stephen Woodman
When I was 14 I came out to my parents as gay and transgender.
My mother reacted badly. I left my family home and we stopped speaking for four years.
I started wearing makeup and taking hormone pills. I also went to live with a friend in a different part of town.
To support myself I took to the streets as a sex worker. There were about 100 transgender women working in Guadalajara at this time. There was competition between us but also a sense of community.
Some areas for street work are more dangerous than others. The area around Plaza del Sol is the best paid but most violent. In the ten years since I started working, five of my close friends have been killed in that area.
The most recent murder occurred in December 2015. I was standing on the corner with five other sex workers and a black Chevy Suburban pulled up to ask about prices. We told the driver the price and he asked me to get in. I opened the door and sat in the passenger seat. Strangely, he turned round and said: “You know what? Please don’t be offended, but I actually prefer your friend.”
He was very polite. So I said: “No problem.”
I called my friend Flower over and she took my place in the car.
During the five minute drive to the motel, I don’t know what happened between them, but Flower was found dead in an alley with an ice pick in her body. I think they must have fought, but she was a very calm person. It was such a surprise because she wasn’t aggressive at all.
The police turn a blind eye to violence against the transgender community. No one has ever been arrested in connection to any of my friends’ deaths.
Of course, I was terrified going back to work, but I had to be back on the corner the very next day. I have no one else to support me so I can’t stop working.
On the streets, most sex workers use cocaine and crystal meth. Many are addicts. The vast majority of the clients also use drugs. I would say that most are married and most have money. Clients near Plaza del Sol tend to be the richest. In that area, many are lawyers, doctors or businessmen.
After ten years, I’ve started advertising on the internet more and staying off the streets. You earn better money that way, but I think the dangers are just the same. I’ve had friends who have been attacked in their homes by clients. Fortunately, I’ve been lucky and I haven’t experienced that myself.
I now mostly work from home. All of the neighbors know what I do and no one seems to mind. In my free time, I see friends and visit family. After falling out with my mom for four years, we started speaking again and we’ve become quite close.
I’ve also been on a few tours across Mexico. It is common practice for sex workers to move from state to state. You attract more attention when you’re a new arrival in town. The most I’ve earned from a tour is 55,000 pesos (US$3,000) for six weeks work.
There aren’t many options for transgender women outside of sex work. I wouldn’t have much chance being hired to work in a supermarket or restaurant.
I do know a few transgender people who have set up salons, but most work the streets.
At the moment, I am saving so I can pay for more surgeries. After I’ve undergone those, my plan is advertise on an exclusive website for transgender sex workers. That has been my goal for some time now.
I know I’ve been lucky to survive when so many friends are gone. I put it down to supernatural protection. I keep a shrine to Santa Muerte (Saint Death) in my house and I pray for her support on a daily basis. She has kept me safe and provided work. In exchange, I leave her offerings such as wine, beer and honey.
The vast majority of transgender sex workers follow Santa Muerte. Many people say it’s satanic but I think it depends what you ask for.
I believe in God but transgender women are not normally allowed in the church. One time I went to Mass with a group of transgender friends. The priest stopped in the middle of his sermon and demanded that we leave.
Even though being transgender makes me a target for abuse, I wouldn’t change my identity for anything in the world. For all the arguments with my family and despite all the friends I’ve lost, it wouldn’t be possible for me to stop living as a woman.