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Throughout her 20s, until just a few years ago, Ray, a bisexual, sold sex through Craig's List. She went on to modeling and fetish work. But hooking was isolating and she had a few encounters with men that frightened her. Once, a man assaulted her. And Ray couldn't discuss her work with most of her friends. Today, as founder of The Red Umbrella Project RedUPshe works to give a voice to those who are in the sex business -- prostitutes, strippers, dominatrix and fetish professionals, porn performers and "anyone who trades sexuality for money or survival," even Internet chat room "camming" and phone sex workers.

Just this week in New York's Bluestockings Bookstore, people in the sex trade gathered to read from "Prose and Lore," a literary journal started by Ray and devoted to sex workers. This edition features stories from 17 writers, three-quarters of whom are ly unpublished and developed their stories during an eight-week memoir workshop taught by this spring by Ray. One story was written by a former gay porn star about undergoing plastic surgery; another was a trans woman's experience working the street; a stripper wrote about the first time she experienced shame on the job.

Anna, a year-old retired prostitute, wrote a story, "Class Whore," about an encounter with a sugar daddy client who, like her, was of South Asian descent. The story touched on the issue of race and class in sex work. The client discovered Anna's family had come from a lower class in India, where the caste system is still powerful. He told me he knew my real name then he said my name back to me and it sounded worthless.

He's Indian and I'm Indian, but a higher caste, so it took me back to that place.

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Anna never solicited on the street, but worked independently. Still, she found having a network of other sex workers helpful, on how to negotiate a living, tricks of the trade, and getting references on high-end clients from other sex workers. She also learned how to keep herself physically safe from clients, and how to avoid police entrapment. They know we are vulnerable. Ray founded RedUP inafter seeing the complicated personal lives of sex workers she encountered on the job.

Its mission is to "amplify" the voices of these people through storytelling and the media, as well as to fight for legislative action to ensure protections and fight discrimination. The majority of sex workers are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, according to Ray. She said she is not sure why, but speculates it may be societal discrimination.

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They have had altercations with family and need to get out and make a living. It's a hot-button issue for transgender workers, who fight against the perception that "the only thing they do is sell sex," said Ray. One of RedUP's recent initiatives in New York State was to back a ban on the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution in legal cases.

Police are allowed to use as evidence in court the fact that a defendant on prostitution charges was carrying condoms at the time of arrest. The condom bill seriously affects sexual health. It keeps people from protecting themselves.

Ray said RedUP doesn't expect prostitution to be legalized any time soon -- though laws vary from state to state -- but she is more concerned about existing laws that create barriers for people to access justice. For sex workers like Anna, putting her own experiences into words has been the beginning of writing a longer memoir about her years in the trade.

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For the last 18 months, she has been out of the sex business and works as a community organizer. It meant a lot professionally and artistically. LOG IN. We'll notify you here with news about. Turn on desktop notifications for breaking stories about interest? Comments 0. Top Stories.

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