ISTANBUL, Turkey — Near one of the busiest streets in Istanbul, a row of nondescript houses holds a secret unknown to most foreigners here. The houses are the work place of some of Istanbul's transgender and transsexual sex workers.
Many of these prostitutes have been forced into the trade by lack of employment opportunities. In Turkey, transgender and transsexuals are often discriminated against, and for them, stable work is hard to find.
The women who work in this series of brothels are the lucky ones. They stand in sharp contrast to the thousands of transgendered and transsexual sex workers who are forced to walk the streets of Istanbul. Outside brothels, all prostitutes are vulnerable to police harassment, sexually-transmitted infections and violence.
Police cracked down on a transgender and transsexual quarter of the city in the 1990s, though prostitution is technically legal in Turkey. The government has ceased issuing new permits for sex workers and brothels, leaving most of the industry illegal and often dangerous.
For prostitutes working in the brothels, the houses provide not only a level of protection, but also a place to reconnect. While the women compete for clients, they also form bonds among one another.