03/01/2015 09:12 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

Trans Woman Opens Up About 'Survival Sex': '$500 Came Very Fast'

There were few options left for Sasha Washington, a trans woman living in New York, to get the money she needed to survive. So at the age of 15, she was forced to turn to "survival sex."

Washington, who is now 28 and no longer homeless, opened up about her destitute past to HuffPost Live's Josh Zepps on Friday. She was first introduced to survival sex, in which the payment typically involves cash or shelter, by a friend. When Washington found herself without any resources in New York City, she couldn't refuse the opportunity.

"She showed me what to do, how to do it, and $500 came very fast, less than 30 minutes," Washington said.

Washington said many people think sex work is about someone standing on a corner waiting to be called upon; but she also used the internet and chat lines.

"It's just about knowing your gut and your intuition and your energy and feeling the vibe and asking questions. I'm the type of person, I asked a lot of questions before I get involved," Washington said.

She later recounted a near-death experience she had roughly three years ago when a man asked her to perform oral sex on him for $40. At the time, she was on mental health medication, she hadn't eaten all day and she thought it would be quick. He drove her to his house.

"I wound up realizing that I was giving this guy oral head for two hours and thirty minutes and he's not ejaculating yet, so I need to go," she said. "He didn't want me to go and he tried to kill me. So he left the room and went in the kitchen, came back and had the biggest knife ... and he tried to stab me in my chest. Instead of him stabbing me in my chest, he took ... [the top of] my wedding [ring] finger off."

The nightmare continued and the man gave Washington a choice: either he kill her or she let him penetrate her, which she never let clients do. She "sacrificed."

"Then I ran out. It was very risky. I could have been one of the trans girls that could have been dead and nobody would have known about it, you know?" she said.

When Washington finally escaped outside, she "kissed the ground."

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  • A person's identity is their own to decide
    If someone tells you they are a “he”, a “she”, a “they” (which some genderqueer people opt for), use that pronoun. Some people might even refer to themselves as an “it”, but definitely avoid this unless a person has specifically asked. You do not decide a person's identity, they do, both because it’s their right and because they are the only people that can ever truly know. Respect their wishes without question.
  • If you're unsure how to refer to someone, just ask
    If you really don't know, the best option is to just ask. Dancing around the subject can be irritating for a transgender person. Think of it like asking someone’s name: until you ask what it is, it’s fine for you to not know! If you’ve not had an opportunity to ask yet, “they” is a good general purpose pronoun to go for. Definitely don’t resort to “it”, “she-he”, “he-she” etc. as most people find these names horribly degrading.
  • Be careful when talking about the past
    When you're referring to things in the past, never say things like "when you were x gender", or "born a man/woman". Most transgender people feel like they have always been the gender they have come out to you as, but needed to come to terms with it in their own way. Instead refer to the past without referencing gender, for example, "last year", or "when you were a child".
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions
    Each person is different, so won’t want to talk about it at all, whereas some might enjoy the opportunity to discuss it. The worst thing you can do is be awkward about it; just ask them if they want to talk about it! At the same time, don’t ask questions that would be strange to ask a cis person. Transgender people and cis people should be treated the same – don’t start conversations about their bodies, for example, that wouldn't be normal to discuss with your cis friends.
  • Forget stereotypes
    kristin_a (Meringue Bake Shop)/Flickr
    Never call out a transgender person for behaviour which isn’t stereotypical for their identified gender, for example, if your trans-woman friend decides she doesn’t feel more comfortable in trousers sometimes. Gender identity is much more than just the things people do and the way they dress, but it’s not uncommon for transgender people to feel pressured into following stereotypes to “prove” themselves to their friends.
  • Respect their privacy
    anna gutermuth/Flickr
    This one should be obvious, but never out someone unless they’ve made it clear they are openly transgender. It’s up to the individual to decide when they are comfortable coming out to people, and it is possible for them to be out to some people, but not others, so don’t assume that because they’ve come out to you there’s a free pass to tell everyone about it.
  • It's okay to make mistakes
    Although it is important you try your best to respect a person’s identity, you are only human – if you've known your friend a long time, you'll likely have a lot of habits to break, including a change of name, pronouns, etc. As long as you’re trying, transgender people normally don’t mind. Sometimes they might point out that you’ve messed up, and that’s fine. When they do, measure the tone of their voice: if they are annoyed about it, calmly say sorry and try to ensure it doesn’t happen again. But equally, if they seem happy, don’t make a massive deal of it.
  • Cross-dressing
    A cross-dresser is just someone who dresses in clothes stereotypically associated with the opposite gender: cross-dressing does not imply anything about a person’s gender. Eddie Izzard, for example, is a straight cis male who loves his makeup and dresses. Don’t say a cross-dresser dresses in “women’s clothes” or “men’s clothes” – if a male likes to wear dresses that he owns, he’s wearing a man’s dress because they are his. And do not assume that a person's gender correlates with their sexuality - it doesn't.
  • Get the terms right
    Try to avoid the term 'transvestite' as no one knows what it means. Technically, it just means 'cross-dresser', but it has been misused for a while now. 'Sex' is what body you have whereas 'gender' refers to a person’s identity. Other than the fact it is fairly common for a person’s gender to match their sex ('cis'), the two things are otherwise completely unrelated. 'Genderqueer' is a broad term that covers people that don’t fit into the stereotypical gender binary – that may be because they don’t feel they have a gender at all, they feel that they fit into another, third, gender or that they flit between those options, making them 'genderfluid'. 'Transgender' is someone who identifies with a gender other than their birth-assigned sex. A 'Transsexual' is someone who has physically changed their sex.
  • Don't know? Don't worry!
    If you see someone out in public and you can’t figure out what gender they are, just don’t worry about it! Definitely don’t have a loud conversation discussing what “they might be”, and absolutely don’t try to peek under their skirt or into their shirt to see what 'parts' they’ve got. Yes, some transgender people really do have to put up with that sort of thing.