UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

"We are trans women" : on-street sex work and transgender politics in Mexico City Gómez-Ramírez, Oralia


This dissertation is a feminist ethnography about on-street sex work and transgender politics in contemporary Mexico. It focuses on the socioeconomic and symbolic tensions existing between trans activists and trans vendors, mostly of sexual services, in Mexico City. It is based on ethnographic research consisting of participant-observation, formal interviews, informal conversations, and travel companionships with low-income female-gendered transpeople and self-identified trans activists in places of work, homes, social gatherings, and activist events about sexual diversity. The fieldwork for this study was conducted between 2010 and 2011, with shorter research periods spanning 2009 to 2014. The research also draws on bill proposals and official stenographic transcripts of socio-legal discussions held in Mexico City’s Legislative Assembly between 2001 and 2013. This study shows that, while not all transpeople are sex workers, a sizeable number of low-income trans women work as sexual labourers on the streets of Mexico City. Trans women have gained increasing visibility in on-street sex trade areas. Impoverished transpeople suffer the symbolic and material expressions of a generalized disrespect and disregard affecting on-street sex workers and low-income female-gendered transpeople. A sexual labour framework is thus critical to understand the ways in which social class and informal on-street vending shape the circumstances, livelihoods, and aspirations of low-income trans women. Their daily realities are shaped but not subsumed or exhausted by gender expressions and subjectivities or sex–gender systems alone. A class and labour lens, in addition to a gender lens, is necessary to shed light on the often-overlooked dimensions of socioeconomic standing and employment background that frame the lives of trans activists and trans sex workers. This project applies an intersecting critical trans and sexual labour analysis to understand the socioeconomic concerns and livelihoods of female-gendered transpeople. It contributes to the ethnographies of Mexico by underscoring regional and class diversity in the experiences and circumstances facing Mexicans. Lastly, this work helps refine feminist anthropology by demonstrating the utility of classic concepts to understand shifting intersecting realities and, more broadly, by refusing to conflate trans and sex work issues in Mexico with those found in other contexts.

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International