by Victoria Alexander
I lived in a duplex in the West Village in New York City, a short walk away from the Meatpacking District. The District was also known for its notorious BDSM clubs: The Mineshaft (1976-1985), The Anvil (1974-1985), Manhole, Vault and the heterosexual-friendly Hellfire Club. The gay BDSM clubs were obvious. I didn’t know about the transgender sex workers on “The Stroll” since I wasn’t walking around during their night shifts. When I wanted to drive out of Manhattan, I would always avoid the toll by going through Hunts Point and its infamous “Track.”
THE STROLL, directed by Kristen Lovell and Zackary Drucker brings a unique perspective to the transgender women of color who formed a “community” working “The Stroll.”
The co-director, Kristen Lovell, moved to New York City in the 1990s and began to transition. Fired from her job, she joined other transgender women of this era who were engaged in sex work in the Meatpacking District of lower Manhattan. Approached to be interviewed for a documentary on The Stroll, Lovell decided to use her first-hand experience to enter into the business of filmmaking.
With Lovell’s insight and first-hand experience, the women she interviewed were fearless in describing their time from the 1970s through the early 2000s.
The Stroll began its demise when New York City Mayor Giuliani enacted “quality of life” initiatives that ramped up policing in the city and pushed the sex workers out of the neighborhood. Today, the Meatpacking District is gone. The city has successfully transformed the area into the High Line. The High Line stretches from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street in Chelsea along Tenth Avenue, curving west to Twelfth Avenue around the Hudson Yards development at its northern end. It’s become a major tourist attraction with high-end shops, restaurants and parks.
Lovell interviewed 11 trans women who worked The Stroll. Most of the 11 spent a great deal of time on The Stroll: Egyptt worked from 1983 to 2001, Lady P from 1985 to 2005, and Ceyenne from 1980 to 2005. These transgender women have no regrets about their work and the time they spent on The Stroll. It is amazing that they spent so many years successfully having creative lives, relationships and building a community for support.
There are questions the viewer seeks that are not addressed. What happens when a car stops? Is the cost negotiated? Is there a fee scale regarding the acts the men wanted? Did the men want to see the trans woman’s private parts?
The amount of time the participants of this documentary worked The Stroll, even with its dangerous conditions, clearly shows that their services were boldly sought. It would have been interesting to interview the men who supported The Stroll. It is also obvious that these sex workers were independent and did not have pimps who sent them out on the street. There is no indication that there was rivalry among the trans women.
The film gives the background for the fight for trans women’s rights and the leaders who worked to bring focus to the police harassment and dangers they encountered. As the protest signs of the movement said: “Sex Work is Real Work.” THE STROLL brings a segment of society that was demonized to the forefront. Their services were in demand by anonymous men. It was a viable cash-only vehicle when other forms of work were denied to them. The men who slowly drove and cruised The Stroll should have been interviewed. How did they feel about the shame and disrespect the trans women received while plying their trade? Was the amount of money worth the dangers? The trans women had no choice but to use The Stroll to survive living in New York.
What cannot be ignored is that the trans women served a sexual need nightly. It is hypocritical that the police often used their services while arresting them merely for “walking while trans.” Why didn’t the police stop the cars trolling the streets? Or just sit in a police car on the street? And what does it say about the customers that so many trans women were needed for a 10-minute car stop?
What is obvious is that there was, and probably still is, a market for the services of trans women. THE STROLL brings this reality into the mainstream while not condemning or criticizing the faceless customers.
The ALL is Mind; The Universe is Mental.”
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