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Collective Coping Strategies of Transgender Sex Workers in Urban Turkey
Violence, discrimination, and financial insecurity are the problems sex workers struggle with globally. Particularly, the least protected individuals, such as transgender sex workers, are targeted with these threats disproportionately. Relying on others for support is a survival imperative in marginalized, high-violence, or low-income communities. However, while coping with common external threats, the challenges internal to a community might affect supportive relationships. In urban Turkey, the site of this research, transgender sex workers also have restricted access to formal protection mechanisms, for the criminalized street-based sex work creates barriers between workers and state authorities. Sex workers experience physical and psychological violence and financial insecurity in their day-to-day lives. Furthermore, the informal sex industry entails competition for income and clients and fights over spaces. In this study, I explore network-based coping among workers. I also examine whether the co-existence of threats and competition creates a dilemma between solidarity and conflict and hence undermines the creation of support networks. The study is based on ethnography and semi-structured interviews (August 2017 - January 2019). The findings suggest that workers collectively cope with threats. However, the scope of support networks depends on the form of threats. Informal support networks have complex patterns because support exchanges are domain-specific. Solidarity and conflict co-exist. The separation between finance and safety-related matters helped them to form strong solidarity to protect themselves from violence and kept competition under control. I discuss the implications in relation to their constant struggle for space and the precarious conditions the criminalized sex work entails.