Transgender sex work is pretty underrepresented on the silver screen. Though there are some great existing documentaries, there are few fictional features, and even fewer that are actually any good. I’ve searched far and wide; these are the 3 essential and artful films to watch that shed light on the lives of the trans sex worker. 

Funeral Parade of Roses

Funeral Parade of Roses (1969)

I’ll be honest. The first time I watched Funeral Parade of Roses (1969), I didn’t have a singular clue what was going on, but I kept watching solely because the visuals were so captivating. It was poetic, horrific, explosive and very New Wave. It reminded me of Un Chien Andalou mixed with A Clockwork Orange  (turns out FPOR was a major inspiration for Kubrick’s masterpiece). The second time I watched it, I paid better attention and properly understood all the crazy shit that goes on (the story is a loose adaptation of Oedipus Rex- need I say more?).

We follow transfeminine Eddie and her experiences in Tokyo’s 1960’s underground queer scene: the gay bar she works at, the people she interacts with, the places she goes. This is intermixed with unchronological flashbacks to her childhood (hence why you need to pay attention). One of my favourite aspects of the film is that it is partly documentary, interviewing actual trans women at the time in Tokyo about their sexuality and identity. This film is so cool (if nothing else) for giving a glimpse at the lives of trans sex workers at a very specific point in time in a very specific place. It manages to be both hauntingly dreamlike yet forcefully real. A must watch. 

Tangerine

Tangerine (2015)

Tangerine was literally shot on an iPhone 5s and it was a major success. Sorry to all the boys with their toys out there, turns out you don’t need massive expensive cameras to make an award winningly great film. I always wanted to watch Tangerine because of this fact, and also because of its LA sunset hue #aesthetic I’d seen on the advertisements. I discovered that it’s so worth watching for way more than just these surface level aspects- I’ve honestly never seen a film similar to it before.

The story is set in Hollywood on Christmas eve and focuses on trans sex worker, Sin-Dee Rella, who fresh out of a 28 prison sentence meets up with her  bestie Alexandra (also a trans SWer). Alexandra reveals to Sin-Dee that her pimp Chester, who is also her boyf has cheated on her with a cis woman whilst she was doin’ time. As they try to track down Chester and his new girl, we get a glimpse into their lives as trans sex workers in LA. The film manages to be hilarious whilst showing the harsh realities of trans sex workers in Hollywood. It’s so unique, with the iPhone camera making it feel almost unusually realistic.

The film was originally going to be more of a sob story, but director, Sean Baker (the guy who  went on to make The Florida Project) became close to two trans women who inspired him to show the harshness of trans sex worker life in Hollywood but with humour too- because that would be more realistic. The iPhone camera adds to this realism, in a way not seen before on the big screens, making it a truly unique watch.

Wild Side

Wild Side (2004)

Named after Lou Reed’s hit, Walk on the Wild Side, this French language film premiered in 2004. Being French, kind of arthouse and early 2000s, it’s right up my street. Wild Side is a meditative and fragmented tapestry that focuses on three marginalised people within society and their feelings about nationality, sexuality, gender and family. Played by non-professional actors (because there were no professional trans actors in France at the time), director Sébastien Lifshitz put authenticity at the forefront of his film at a time where it could’ve been way easier to just hire a cis actor. Kudos to him. 

We follow Stéphanie, a transgender sex worker who moves back to her small hometown in France to look after her sick mother.  Her two flatmates join her: Algerian hustler, Jamal and Russian night worker, Mikhail. As both men fall in love with her, we witness Stéphanie’s contrasting experiences of sadness in regards to her mother, but excitement and discovery as she begins a relationship with the two men. Through showing society’s disapproval of her plus her mother’s misunderstanding and misgendering of her we are shown societal attitudes towards trans people at the time and yet we are still able to celebrate the beauty and attraction of the trans woman through the lens of Stéphanie’s lovers, who clearly adore and desire her. It’s always refreshing to see a sex worker film that explores other subjects and doesn’t necessarily rely on the protagonist’s profession being the only drive for the narrative. Not to mention the beautiful cinematography. It’s an elegant, understated and thoughtful film. Go watch. 

Art
Escorting
Films
sex worker
transgender
Iso

Iso

Author

Iso is a writer and filmmaker based in East London. She is passionate about all things erotic and leads a sexy, shame-free life in hope that she can inspire others to do the same. Originally from a Northern seaside town, she is naturally drawn to the best things in life: candyfloss, trashy karaoke bars and heart-shaped sunglasses.


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