Bianey García arrived in New York City from Mexico in January 2005, 14 years old, alone and without a warm coat. “It was difficult getting here with no family,” she said. “When I got here, I didn’t have anything.” A year later, she was homeless in an expensive city, and still living as a boy.
Then there was a man, she said. He brought her to a restaurant in New Jersey, she remembered, giving her chocolates and flowers, “telling me that he loved me, that he’d do everything for me.” She fell in love with him. She was living on the streets and in the subways, so when he offered her a place to live as his partner, “I thought, ‘Why not?,’ to feel safe, protected — but it wasn’t real.”
“At that time, I was scared of being deported, I was afraid of being arrested because of living in the street,” García, now 28, said. Yet the man coerced her into having sex with other men for money, she said, and giving the money to him. He threatened to call ICE on her if she refused.
García planned her escape from him, saving money from trading sex on the side, not telling him. Being on her own was hard, too. After she transitioned at 18, she had trouble finding other types of work as a trans woman. “I ended up doing sex work again,” she said. “I needed it to survive.” With that came the threat of police.
She recalled a warm night in 2008, on Roosevelt Avenue and 86th Street in Queens, when she was arrested for the first time along with someone she was dating.
“I was walking with my boyfriend,” she said, “and then an undercover police car stopped in front of us, and [the officers] pushed me to the ground and take my purse. They search my purse, they found condoms, and they used that as evidence of prostitution. Even when they was arresting me, my boyfriend told them we were in a relationship, and they don’t care. They said [to him], ‘You have to go, or you’ll be arrested.’”
That night, “I wasn’t doing sex work,” García said. While her boyfriend searched for her at the 110th Precinct, she was locked up in another jail. (A police spokesperson told The Appeal they could not find a record of her arrest.) After a few hours, she was released, and ultimately, the charges were dismissed, she said.
But the fear of arrest remained and became part of García’s reality. It stood in the way of the life she envisioned in New York. “The police act like we are nothing,” she said. It made her feel stigmatized, disbelieved, and ignored.
García wants more for herself and for other people in the sex trades, she told The Appeal. She is part of a new coalition that seeks to decriminalize sex work, one that has gained unprecedented momentum, and today, launches officially as Decrim NY.