"Before we defended ourselves with blows": sex workers practice journalism in Mexico

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Paloma Paz dons a black wig and pink heels before heading out to a street corner in Mexico City to work as a sex worker. In front of the mirror she talks enthusiastically about her parallel activity: journalism, which allows her to “denounce injustices.”

She began writing notes during the pandemic, witnessing how many of her colleagues who lived in hotels were thrown out on the street. She thus joined a score of women who alternate sex work with journalism.

“It’s a way of yelling at society, at the authorities, about what’s going on with us,” says Paloma, 28, at her home in the north of the Mexican capital.

“It’s not a hobby,” continues this transsexual woman as she expertly combs her long false hair. “We cannot say things when they go away (irresponsibly). We have to investigate and collect (information) to have foundations.”

She and 10 other women report for the free monthly magazine Noticalle, of the NGO Brigada Callejera.

“It is a means of communication mainly made by sex workers for sex workers,” who have not felt represented in the commercial media, explains Elvira Madrid, director and founder of Brigada Callejera.

About five members of the outlet distribute this publication from hand to hand among prostitutes in the center of Mexico City each month.

“This is community journalism (…) because we recapitulate everything we see on a day-to-day basis, read it calmly,” Paloma tells a woman who is in a corner and reads the issue attentively.

“It helps us to find out what is happening at other points where other colleagues are,” says this anonymous woman.

The magazine is made of three letter-size white sheets folded in half and stapled together. On the cover there is a caricature of two prostitutes with the word Noticalle in the background. The O is a condom and 1,000 copies are printed each month.

In its June edition, number 26, it exposes that sex workers lost up to 70% of their income due to the pandemic, suffer extortion from organized crime and the case of a transgender indigenous woman and sex worker who was imprisoned for 14 years because she was accused of “unjustly” of the murder of his partner.

Elvira selects the notes that are published and an external collaborator acts as designer and proofreader.

Paloma and her colleagues, says Elvira, regularly attend a Brigada Callejera permanent journalism workshop.

“You have to take care of information sources,” a journalism teacher insists in a class.

Krisna, a 51-year-old transsexual sex worker, was trained in another journalism workshop, which allows her to be a sporadic reporter for the digital media Disinformémonos.

That day, he patiently interviews Otomi indigenous people outside the National Palace who are demanding free housing from the government, given that their community was displaced from the state of Querétaro after suffering water shortages.

With great tact, he finally obtains the necessary information for his briefing note.

The trade “has given me a sharper vision of the news. I already have the ability to analyze texts, to see the social and political situation in the world,” explains Krisna, who also declares herself an activist.

He considers that through journalism he can react in another way to police abuses.

“Before, we defended ourselves with blows from the police,” says Krisna.

Her skills as a journalist made her co-editor of “Putas, activists and journalists, why did we do it?”, a book of interviews conducted by sex workers with other of their colleagues who participated in the Aquiles Baeza workshop, given by the columnist and Director of Disinformémonos, Gloria Muñoz.

Journalism, Krisna concludes, “helps me more with my self-esteem, my value as a human being because it enriches it.” He now also wants to study Law.

In 2014, the Mexico City government began issuing credentials to these workers to protect them from police officers who asked for money or sexual favors to let them work and guarantee them medical care.

Paloma and other of her colleagues say that in practice they continue to be victims of discrimination in health centers and even in official offices.

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