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Trans Sex Work and “The Stroll”


PARK CITY, UTAH – JANUARY 23: (L-R) Matt Wolf, Ceyenne Doroshow, Mel Mel Sukekawa Mooring, Kristen Lovell, Sara Kinney, Zackary Drucker, Carey, Olivia Streisand, Cashmere, Tabytha attend the 2023 Sundance Film Festival “The Stroll” Premiere at Prospector Square Theatre on January 23, 2023 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Jim Bennett/Getty Images)

By Katie Small

No history of New York City’s Meatpacking District is complete without a detailed account of an area formerly known as the Stroll, where trans women of color once sought the only employment available to them: sex work. Premiering Monday night at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, The Stroll details the history of the neighborhood’s inhabitants and the hardships they faced.

The women who worked the Stroll carved out a sisterhood on the hostile city streets, protecting each other from constant threat of violence. Their camaraderie provided a singular sense of community, while the presence of Black trans women who were visibly expressing themselves empowered more women to transition. The Stroll was a sole source of belonging and inspiration for young transgender women, even if the reality of sex work was often a terrifying act.

Women on the Stroll were arrested sporadically in the ’70s and ’80s, at a time when police, both on duty and off, were some of their most regular clients. But targeted policing tactics in the 1990s led to harsher sentences for prostitution, effectively clearing out the Stroll and paving the way for the extreme transformation of the Meatpacking District into an expensive neighborhood lined with luxury apartments and high-end restaurants.

Competing in the U.S. Documentary category, The Stroll reflects on how both the physical and cultural landscape has changed. Filmmakers Kristen Lovell (who worked the Stroll for a decade) and Zackary Drucker (Transparent producer and The Lady and the Dale director) examine the neighborhood’s gentrification and the resulting dispersion of a once tight-knit community.

Keeping the spirit of sisterhood alive, the filmmakers invited 15 members of their cast and crew onstage during the post-premiere Q&A to share in the moment. It was an emotional one for the cast, who were seeing the documentary for the first time. They expressed their gratitude to Lovell for creating a safe space for them to be vulnerable and share their stories.

Drucker emphasized the need to destigmatize sex work. “Sex work is such a crucial component of our survival and has been for centuries. Trans people have not been able to seek legitimate employment, and you see that in the 18th century in New York in newspapers, trans people were arrested as sex workers,” Drucker continued. “And we have miraculously survived by operating in underground economies. But in the last 10 years, this era of trans visibility, respectability politics has just erased sex work from our community. It’s such a crucial component of our story,” Drucker said. 

The Stroll was acquired by HBO prior to its Sundance premiere; the filmmakers are grateful that it will be able to reach even wider audiences, and encouraged viewers to share it with their family and friends.

PARK CITY, UTAH - JANUARY 23: (L-R) Zackary Drucker, Ash Hoyle, and Kristen Lovell attend the 2023 Sundance Film Festival "The Stroll" Premiere at Prospector Square Theatre on January 23, 2023 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Jim Bennett/Getty Images)

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