I Have A Testimony

Tiff is a transgendered prostitute, a term she doesn't particularly like. She prefers, when speaking of her occupation, the euphemism "selling mojo."

When Tiff was a toddler, her mother would send her to the neighbor’s to borrow a loaf of bread, which would serve as family dinner. Tiff spent most her youth in care of the state though, and at the age of 14 she first traded sex for money. She has since survived, mostly on the streets, by selling sex and spice (a smokable herb coated with synthetics that induce a psychotic trip). She wants to quit selling the latter, she says, and stick to just selling her mojo.

Since she can remember, Tiff has felt like a woman in a man's body. She is now in her 20s. She has not had any surgeries. Most of her clients are married men.

Tiff could get welfare—like her relatives and friends do—but she prefers to work, as a matter of self-respect. While we talked and made photographs in the park, she dug through garbage bins and collected aluminum cans, to recycle later for cash. She also picked up scattered trash, said she likes to keep her park clean.

Tiff is still in contact with her mother, and helps her out as often as she can. Her mother is fine with the prostitution, Tiff explained, because it means money and food for the family.

Recently Tiff learned she has HIV. This is a blessing and a curse, Tiff said, because now she gets money from the state for meds, and sometimes there's a little leftover.

As the sun was setting over the park, Tiff looked at me deadpan, the light all gold around us, and stated reverently, as though speaking of some divine beauty: "I have a testimony of life."