“[…] It was very dangerous. The nightlife is not for everyone and from working in that environment, you understand that the world has many sick and violent people. The money was fast and great but I hated every moment of it.
“Sleeping with someone you are not attracted to or your spirit just does not align with was a haunting experience…”
Wired868 highlights the day-to-day lives of everyday persons in Trinidad and Tobago in our ongoing series entitled: ‘A day in the life…’ Today, we talk to Louise, a former sex worker who was once part of the infamous ‘Murray Street’ group:
What can you tell us about yourself?
I was born in a small village in St Vincent in the year 1953, March 30. I am the eldest sibling of five children, and I am a mother of five children. My eldest is 50 years and youngest 30. I was a sex-worker and call girl for over 10 years in Trinidad.
What was your childhood like?
Hard, extremely hard. As the eldest sibling, my mother forced me to drop out of school at 13, so I can find work and take care of the household. I loved school as a child! I was so angry when I was forced to leave school, I was such an intelligent child.
I did not get to attend secondary school; I did not get a fair chance to be fully educated, and up to this day it still affects me.
What made you migrate to Trinidad?
I came to Trinidad for a better life. My mother forced me out of her house at the age of 15 years, so I had to fend for myself. At 18, I already had two children: a boy and a girl. My first-born son was conceived through rape, and my second was conceived through an abusive relationship.
Back in the 60s, we did not know about abortion clinics. We lived in the countryside and when you lived in the countryside of St Vincent, you did not know nothing besides planting in the garden [and] cooking… You know, housemaid duties.
Many of my friends from the village told me about their experience visiting Trinidad. They worked on the port in St Vincent, so they will often be back and forth delivering and picking up goods from Trinidad. One day I visited my friend on the port. I packed a duffle bag with all my clothing, I got on the boat and that is how I made it to Trinidad.
At first, I was two-minded to stay. I went back to St Vincent about three weeks after and my mother told me I did not belong here, I should go back from wherever I came from. She even put my children against me. I really thought about it; but after so much pressure, I came back to Trinidad.
How long have you been living in Trinidad?
Over thirty years, I have two children that are Trinidadian citizens. One is 30 years of age, and the other is 40 years.
How did you venture into the sex-work industry?
When I migrated to Trinidad, I remembered seeing ladies in their nice nurse uniforms going to work, I remembered telling myself: ‘Yes Lou, I could see myself being a nurse!’
I did not have much education and I was not qualified enough to work in the health sector, so I got into care-giving for the elderly for a few years until I could make enough money to pay for private classes and build myself up. Back then, the government did not offer free reading and writing classes, so you had to pay for everything.
Paying rent, utilities, buying groceries and sending money to support my mother and children back home in St Vincent; there was always a setback to pay for private classes. It was hard. I did not have any friends or family to help me.
I eventually met a nice Trinidadian man and soon I got pregnant with my daughter. The relationship did not last, and later in my pregnancy, I discovered he was married. I was a single parent once again, this time in another country. I lost my job at that time due to complications with the pregnancy and I did not have any benefits because I was not a citizen.
The bills were piling up and I had to support a new baby and two kids and my mother who was taking care of them. I had to find a quick solution.
I moved in with an ex co-worker because I could not afford to continue paying rent. She was such a lifesaver. After moving in, I remembered for a couple nights I saw her sister dressing up and leaving [the house at] late hours of the night in what we called back then ‘skettel’ clothing.
I did not want to ask my ex co-worker about her sister’s whereabouts because they’ll say I am intruding in their business, but one particular night—I will never forget, she was dressed in a red, revealing outfit—I finally get the courage to asked her where she goes in these outfits. And she looked at me and said ‘Murray Street’!
So, how did you become involved?
A couple weeks after my baby was born, my ex co-worker and her sister and I were talking and she was telling us how much money she makes. I made a joke and said that I wanted to start because I needed some money to buy milk, pampers and clothing for my baby, and she just gave me the encouragement to do it.
One night I asked someone to watch my daughter and I went with her just to see the operations. There were so many women, all different kinds—and men as well, dressed in female clothing and heels on the streets bravely. Some would hide when strange cars passed but the others did not care at all.
I sat in the park opposite the street and I just watched. Her sister introduced me to some street workers. They were very friendly and shared some tricks to make money and to keep myself safe.
Did you immediately start after being introduced to this lifestyle?
Not immediately. But when I started, it was only for a short period to secure some fast money to take care of my newborn and send items to my family in St Vincent. I was able to make a good amount of money to put myself back on my feet. I made enough money to pay for an apartment and stand on my own feet again.
I eventually got through with a cleaning job at a popular guesthouse, and I decided to let go of the street life. That did not last long after the boss man tried to sexually assault me. I would see him doing it to the other female workers, and they allowed him to because they wanted to stay employed. This man was disgusting; sometimes he would spit on the ground and call someone to clean it.
I could no longer tolerate that, I left after he forcefully tried to have sex with me.
Can you tell us about your experience as a sex-worker on Murray Street?
(Long pause) It was very dangerous. The nightlife is not for everyone and from working in that environment, you understand that the world has many sick and violent people. The money was fast and great but I hated every moment of it.
Sleeping with someone you are not attracted to or your spirit just does not align with was a haunting experience. God knows each time I did it, I thought about my children each step of the way. It was nothing but sacrifice to make ends meet.
You meet all types of people, and you never know what you are getting yourself into when you jump into a vehicle with a stranger. It was just scary but I kept a brave heart and mind.
How did you keep yourself safe?
I would walk with a dagger on me at all times. If any of us were entering a vehicle, we would take notes of the car number in case something happened. We had a special motel we would take clients and I would only use protection I brought. You could not trust those men; they would bring their own protection and poke holes [in it] to put you at risk. I learned that on the streets.
Were you afraid of contracting a sexually transmitted disease?
Yes, of course. I used to do my routine checkups at the clinic regularly, and I never ever had sex without condoms. Ever! I was always in control and made sure I allowed myself to see what was happening. I did not take drugs when offered, neither did I allow myself to drink or take drinks from anyone.
Do you know anyone with HIV/AIDS on Murray Street?
Yes, that is why I was careful. There were street workers who knew they were infected and continued to work as normal—not a care in the world.
What were your worst experiences as a sex-worker?
I had a few bad experiences. I was robbed at gunpoint, twice. Strangers in vehicles would pass while we were out on the streets and they would pelt us with rotten eggs.
One night I was at home, I was down and out and I needed necessities for my children. I had a bad feeling about going. I did not follow my mind, and when I got on Murray Street, a bus with police surrounded the area and picked up every person standing on the corner.
They carried us to the Woodbrook Police Station and I was locked in a cell with about seven other women for hours. They told us we were staying in there until the next Monday. I kept thinking about my children and my citizenship problem. I thought about deportation, who would take care of my babies? I was really scared.
I remembered sitting on the ground in the cell and talking to God, praying for a miracle. A few hours later I was released; that was the work of God!
Were there any good experiences?
I made many friends working on the streets. I met some really nice and polite men, a few big local celebrities that became friends. I also met many foreigners from different countries. Foreigners were often kind and just wanted to pay for companionship instead of sex.
Were your children aware of what you did?
Yes, I made sure they knew. I never wanted to hide from my children because of the fact that if something happened to me out there, they would not have been as traumatised; and I wanted them to know so they would not follow my footsteps.
I wanted the best for them; I wanted my children to make better choices than I did. I talked to them every day. I am an open and frank person; I wanted them to understand my decisions and that mommy was doing it to ensure they had everything they wanted and deserved.
When did you retire from sex-work?
Probably around the year 2006-2007. That was shortly after my last daughter was out of secondary school, and they were able to take care of themselves.
Would you say your choices affected your children?
I would say no because I was very open with my children. My first Trini-born daughter is married with children. The second one is working and traveling to different countries. My children back in St Vincent are married as well with children.
What is life like now?
Well, it is very quiet. Sometimes boring, but I rather it this way. All my children are big now and on their own, I talk to them every day. I do not see them every day, but I am fine with that. I like my peace. (Giggles).
If you can change anything from your past, what would it be?
That I kept on a path of bettering myself first. I fell in love quickly and made decisions that kept me back in life. I do not regret my children but I did cut myself short in life. I did not get to further my education and to this day it is still very embarrassing.
It is a constant struggle to not be able to read my bible when I want to and now I feel like it is too late. All my life has been dedicated to taking care of my family first; by the time it was time to take care of myself, there was too many complications. My work is done, and I was able to take care of my family. I am still proud of myself no matter what.
What would be your advice to young women?
Stay in school, and obey your parents. Parents should also talk to their children because I wish mine did. I probably would have been better off.
I know curiosity and boys can stray the mind but boys would be around forever. Your education is far more important than anything else.