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Thursday, December 7, 2023

Mexican sex workers fight injustice with the pen

Paloma Paz puts on a wig and pink heels before heading onto Mexico City’s streets for sex work—a precarious profession that she combines with journalism to decry injustices.

THE PEN IS MIGHTIER. Paloma Paz, a transsexual sex worker, walks on a street in Mexico City. She and 10 other women write for a free monthly magazine called Noticalle published by the non-governmental organization Brigada Callejera (Street Brigade). AFP

She began writing articles after seeing fellow sex workers thrown onto the street when the hotels where they lived and worked closed due to the pandemic.

Journalism “is a way of shouting at society, at the authorities, about what’s happening to us,” the 28-year-old transgender woman said.

“It’s not a hobby,” she added, combing her long black wig at her home in the Mexican capital.

Paz and 10 other women write for a free monthly magazine called Noticalle published by the non-governmental organization Brigada Callejera (Street Brigade).

“It’s a means of communication mainly produced by sex workers for sex workers,” who felt misrepresented by the mass media, said the NGO’s founder, Elvira Madrid.

Around 1,000 copies of the magazine are printed each month, made of three letter-size sheets of paper folded in half and stapled together.

On the cover there is a cartoon of two sex workers with the word Noticalle in the background. The letter O is represented by a condom.

Members of the magazine’s team distribute copies each month by hand to sex workers in Mexico City.

“This is community journalism,” Paz told one woman.

“We report everything that we see on a daily basis. Read it at your leisure,” she added.

Leaning against a wall perusing the latest issue, the woman welcomed the publication as a useful window into the lives of sex workers elsewhere in the city.

“It helps us to find out what’s happening in other areas where colleagues are,” she said, asking not to be named.

In its June issue—the 26th—the magazine reported that sex workers had lost up to 70 percent of their income due to the pandemic.

Other topics included extortion by organized crime and the case of an indigenous transgender sex worker sentenced to 14 years in prison after she was “unjustly” convicted of murdering her partner.

Madrid selects the articles that are published and an external collaborator acts as designer and proofreader.

Paz and her colleagues regularly hone their skills at a journalism workshop, Madrid said.

“You have to take care about the sources of information,” a teacher tells them in one class.

Krisna, a 51-year-old transgender sex worker, was trained at another journalism workshop and now sometimes reports for the digital media Disinformemonos.

On one recent day, she patiently interviewed displaced indigenous people outside the National Palace demanding housing from the government, tactfully extracting the information needed for her article.

Learning journalism “has given me a sharper vision of the news. I have the ability to analyze texts, to see the social and political situation in the world,” said Krisna.

One of the best things that the profession has given her is a different, peaceful way of defending against police abuse, she said.

In 2014, the Mexico City government began issuing credentials to sex workers to protect them from police officers who asked for money or sexual favors.

Using her new skills, Krisna also co-edited a book of interviews by sex workers of colleagues involved in journalism.

Reporting “helps me with my self-esteem and my value as a human being,” she said.

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