“I’m a small-town farm boy; adopted at a young age and raised in a very religious family. Growing up, I did what I could to fit in but honestly despite all my best efforts I still stuck out like a sore thumb. So after moving out of my parents’ house at 16, falling into drugs, and subsequently failing to complete high school, I decided to move to Vancouver to pursue a dancing and modelling career. My dreams ended up taking a backseat after I started making a lot of questionable life decisions which ultimately landed me at rock bottom. I realized I had been wasting my potential and quite frankly I was fucking over it. I decided it was time to get my life back on track, so I put down the drugs, rolled up my sleeves, and got to work. That was when I got involved with Transitions. I owe a lot of the progress that I’ve made, to Alvaro and the program. Due to the constant support and guidance I’ve received from Transitions, I learned skills that have helped me completely transform my life. I can finally say I’m back on track and able to once again pursue the dreams I thought had died a long time ago. I’m in that place because of Transitions and I’m eternally grateful for that”. Participant, HIM Transitions.
Montreal, along with Vancouver, has historically (and currently) amongst Canada’s and North America’s largest sex worker populations. In response, various community organizations have been established for sex workers (and specific groups within them) to provide support, advocacy, peer support, and health programs that have operated for decades.
Transitions is a one-of-a-kind program in Vancouver, and its services are specialized and tailored to different segments of the local sex working population. In Transitions, we value evidence-based practices, experiential input, and flexibility to respond to the needs of our participants. After a year of delivering the program, the team has learned lessons and identified growth opportunities. As part of these learnings, a need to increase capacity and strategic ways to reach male sex workers (MSW) was identified, as well as the importance of knowledge exchange with other organizations who have experience serving MSW. In Vancouver, HIM is the only organization that provides tailored, specialized services to MSW (trans inclusive).
Why Male Sex Workers?
The percentage of MSWs (including both trans men and women) is estimated to be around 25% of the total number of adults employed in sex work jobs. MSW (trans included) often experience double stigma (homophobia, transphobia plus the stigma of commercial sex). According to various authors, “… this intersection is particularly pronounced in creating barriers for leaving sex work and limiting alternative employment options” (Sausa, Keatley & Operario, 2017 in Benoit et al., 2017).
For these reasons, the Transitions program at HIM is making a strategic visit to Montreal, to learn from the experience of organizations with extensive experience supporting MSWs, to share and exchange knowledge, build relationships, and consult regarding effective strategies and practices to deliver MSW support programs and develop programming. The Transitions Service Coordinator for HIM will participate in various activities with MSWs in organizations like REZO, which conducts drop-in spaces, do extensive outreach work, and have tailored, specialized programming for MSWs needs, including transition support.
Knowledge exchange, networking, experiential learning, and partnership with organizations serving MSWs to inform strategic planning (outreach, netreach, recruitment) and programming (best, cost-effective, evidence-based practices) for the Transitions program at HIM and the other organzations of The Metro Vancouver Consortium (serving male/trans sex workers). Ultimately, get imput to expand our capacity to support male sex workers.
Responding to the growing use of web platforms in the sex industry, and the high levels of engagement that the GBTIQ2S+ community has with Health Initiative for Men (HIM) on social media (Facebook primarily), the Transitions HIM Facebook page was launched on Tuesday, January 23, 2018! The primary purpose of launching this page is to reach out to male sex workers who are active on social media platforms like Facebook, as well as their friends, acquaintances and allies. This will facilitate awareness, contact, and access to the program. Additionally, the page serves as a vehicle to spread the word on social networks about Transitions, and as a platform to share news, events, and content relevant to Transitions participants, and male sex workers. The Transitions HIM Facebook page will inform and educate our main audience (GBTIQ2S+ community) on sex work matters and strengthen the presence of the program in web platforms used by community members and guys in the sex industry. Check it out! https://www.facebook.com/HIMtransitions/
The WISH Transitions program engaged in a partnership with WISH’s Supported Employment Program to pilot a new initiative. The four-month computer literacy program started with six participants who were learning computer skills while conducting a research project. The objective was to have this small cohort develop a Transitions specific curriculum for viably and realistically reducing dependence on sex work income for street-based survival sex workers. The group met weekly, with initial attendance and participation fluctuating between three to five people. Due to various reasons, only one person, Lori (*name changed for anonymity) had completed the program when it ended.
However, Lori thrived in this program. She developed computer skills, learned how to do research, and read two books on the topic of self-esteem and confidence. She learned how to refer to citations to find books in the public library on topics that interested her. Lori discovered that she loved doing research. She wrote a 2-page paper, on the computer using Word, on her topic “Self-Esteem and Addiction”. Lori will be supported to develop her study findings into an educational pamphlet, and eventually into workshop curriculum that she will facilitate to her peers.
On Sunday, December 17, 2017, PACE Society hosted a “Ho-Ho-Ho Holiday Bazaar.” Over 15 vendors participated in the event, including Transitions Consortium members WISH Drop-In Society and Battered Women’s Support Services’ social enterprise “My Sister’s Closet.” Vendors sold handmade and vintage gifts that were at times fun and cheeky!
At the Bazaar, PACE launched its first ever chapbook, a collection of sex workers’ stories inspired by a series of workshops titled “Sex Workers’ Wisdom: Writing Workshops” facilitated by the writer Amber Dawn.
WISH used this event to have its Transitions participants practice micro-enterprise skills. Participants in the winter art and craft show were supported to develop and implement a budget, timeline and financial projection. At the Bazaar, WISH had a couple of tables for its participants to display and sell their wares. Follow-up will occur to debrief and evaluate their financial planning.
On the day of the event, Vancouver was hit by a monsoon, so walk-by traffic was not as high as usual. However, vendors enjoyed the comraderie, and are looking forward to the 2018 event.