Text by Caspar Tate
One year ago today, Germany started its lockdown due to the spread of COVID-19. This lockdown happened very suddenly and organisations and projects had no time to prepare. Before Corona, we used to host the “Trans Dinner” every Thursday. One or two women from Frobenstraße (the street where street-based, trans sex workers work) would cook food and get paid for this. Other trans sex workers came to eat, talk, take a shower or wash their clothes in the washing machines. Many would also do their makeup and get ready for work. It was also important, to provide a safe space to do this. After 3 hours, everyone would head out together into the night, in search of clients. This weekly meeting was very meaningful for everyone.
On March 12, 2020, the last “Trans Dinner” took place. Four days later the lockdown suddenly began and we weren’t able to continue. When the lockdown began, the counselling centres also closed. No one went out to tell the women still working the streets what was going on. One day, seemingly out of nowhere, everything was closed. No one had thought of informing the sex workers, drug users and unhoused people in Kurfürstenkiez about Corona. The first few weeks we went out as often as we could and would translate Corona-related information, explained how to stay safe and informed sex workers about the new ban on sex work. It was always quite eerie. Everything was closed and everyone was at home, except for those that where unhoused or those that could not afford to not keep working. The first month was very hard. Back then we didn’t fully know yet how Corona spread and how to stay safe. I was very scared because I thought we would lose our friends one by one. The government wasn’t coming to help. Everyone was left out on the streets, with no access to toilets, showers or even a sink to wash their hands in. Many of the cis women working on Kurfürstenstraße left Germany at the beginning of March before the lockdown – they returned to their families and friends – an option that none of the trans sex workers had. All of them stayed in Berlin.
Right away we started having the “Trans Dinner” out on the street on Frobenstraße. We handed out hundreds of sandwiches and drinks. Preparing the food in our apartments and carrying the heavy bags to Frobenstraße. The months went by and we started handing out supermarket vouchers and food to prepare at home. As more information was being published about mask-wearing, we asked our followers on social media to send us masks. It was very encouraging when hundreds of beautiful cloth masks arrived, which we then handed out each week.
In the summer we started the “Mask Sewing Project”. We asked around in the sex worker community if anyone knows how to sew masks and we were excited when Katie reached out to us. Katie met up (one-on-one) with some of the women from Frobenstraße and taught them how to sew masks. For each mask they made, the women received 5€ in cash (the money for this project was donated by Berlin Collective Action). Later we gave the masks away to people for a donation and the cycle went on. We want to thank the queer book shop “Eisenherz” for having the masks on display in their shop! This project was a lot of fun for everyone involved and it created a small income, that everyone was happy about. Due to the mask-mandate changing and only allowing medical masks, not the fabric masks anymore, we decided to stop the mask-sewing. We still have some masks leftover, so please contact us if you want one!
On International Whores Day (June 2) we organised a picnic on Kurfürstenstraße with other sex workers. We held short speeches, gave interviews to the press and distributed flyers around the neighbourhood calling on neighbours to stop harassing the women working on the streets. A few weeks later we organised a meet-up for sex workers and allies at the Berlin Pride and want to again thank everyone that came!
At the end of June, we demonstrated together with the “Sex Work Action Group” for the rights of sex workers, against stigmatisation and demanded that the government starts supporting sex workers in this crisis. In the summer we wanted the ban on sex work to be lifted. Similar close contact professions were allowed again, only sex work was forbidden. Massages are ok, but erotic massages not. WTF? Sex workers were being called “Super Spreaders” of the Coronavirus by politicians, while to this day open-plan offices have not been shut down. The corona cases were not that high in the summer and our community was really, really struggling financially. Not a single person in our project has received any corona support from the government (Here is more info on this: https://www.gender-blog.de/beitrag/sexarbeit-corona/). Instead, there were some relief-funds for sex workers organised by Berlin Collective Action, Hydra and BesD. We helped street-based workers fill out the paperwork for the funds and distributed the money when it arrived (many don’t have a bank account). Please check out the relief funds from Hydra, Berlin Collective Action and BesD. At this moment all relief funds are empty and have been for a while.
In August the ban on sex work got lifted to be then put in place again shortly thereafter. We came up with a new side-hustle and started cooking vegan KüFa at the queer-feminist Bar “B-Lage” in Neukölln. Street-based, trans sex workers were invited to come cook and all the money that was made that night would be evenly distributed among everyone. We veganized Bulgarian dishes and everyone loved cooking and hanging out at the bar. Due to the new lockdown in December we had to pause this, but it will be back soon!
Around October, more and more violence was happening on Frobenstraße, mostly towards the trans women. Attacks kept occurring and the police would not show up or show up very late. Many workers were scared to call the police in the first place, due to the ban on sex work and the police being very aggressive and disrespectful towards the women in the past few months. These brutal attacks scared most trans workers and led to people not going out anymore to work. No work, also means no money and the problems just got bigger.
In December the temperatures dropped. It was so, so cold. A few trans women that are unhoused stay in the train station at night to keep warm. Most shelters in Berlin reject trans people or put trans women in mens rooms. Trans people also experience (sexual) violence in shelters and there seem to be no efforts made to change this. We have been saying for a very long time now that there needs to be a shelter only for trans, inter and non-binary people. In January this year, the first steps were made in Tempelhof-Schöneberg by the regional parliament in creating such a shelter. We have been part of this process and we are now waiting for the district office to approve of the shelter. In February the “Schwulenberatung” opened up their queer refugee shelter to migrant, trans sex workers. However, not a single person has moved into the shelter yet, since the government has made it very hard to qualify to move in. At the moment, no one who needs the shelter has the paperwork they require.
At the beginning of February, our Instagram got deleted, due to the censorship around sex work online. Instagram is the main social media platform we use. Just hours before we got deleted, we had just posted a call for donations (masks, condoms, disinfectant…). We have since gotten our account back, but we are still outraged that we got removed. We were never provided with a reason for our deletion; although presumably, it was for simply dealing with the topic of trans & sex work on a platform that consistently censors and bans the voices and images of trans people/sex workers. That same week the Camp at Ostkreuz got evicted. This was a self-organised camp in which over 100 unhoused people lived, mostly eastern-European migrants and many Romani. We were in this camp very often, since a group of trans women from Frobenstr. lived and spent time there. The people living there were evicted at night, while it was -10*C outside, so that an investor can build offices and an aquarium on the land. Last weekend we were out demonstrating against the eviction again and hope that more sex workers, queers and allies show up to the next few protests!
Throughout the year we were in close contact with 15 street-based, migrant sex workers and have been closely supporting them through this pandemic. The support we offer ranges from small things like translating documents, to accompanying people to appointments, to helping in crisis situations.
Some examples of bigger “cases” we have supported in the last year:
- One woman had an operation in the Spring that did not go well and she had to go back into surgery a few times. We visited her weekly, brought food and helped her with whatever she needed during this time.
- Another woman that is unhoused lost her partner of many years in the Summer. We helped her prepare and attend the burial. In the weeks and months following, we raised money to pay for the religious ceremonies.
- One of our members took in an unhoused teenager that was working on Frobenstraße and housed her for 6 months while she was fleeing domestic violence.
- In November, an HIV+ worker from Frobenstraße reached out asking for help to get HIV medication. After 8 years of not having any medication, we were able to connect her to the Berliner Aidshilfe and help her receive medical attention.
Our project has its focus on supporting our siblings and colleagues on Frobenstraße, but we are here for all trans/non-binary/intersex sex workers. Due to the pandemic, many sex workers from other areas of the industry have reached out to us for support. We gladly met up with everyone and were happy to get to know so many new people. The past year has been incredibly hard. Until the end of 2020, only two people were left actively organising the project. This meant an incredibly large workload for only two people (Isabella & Caspar). We couldn’t give up, however, because we couldn’t leave our friends alone. We have made it through the year and we are happy that new people have joined the organising! Most of all we are relieved and happy that everyone from Frobenstraße has simply survived the last year. We want to thank you for all of your support!