It’s 2003 and Nayra Berrios is 17 years old. But that doesn’t stop her from going out to the club. That night, there was a performance.

They’re on the dancefloor when the curtain rose and a woman emerged, wearing little more than a green cape and iridescent pasties. The crowd went wild.

Berrios: Cuando se hace así, se quita todo esto que en ser tetas y todo y desde que se desnuda. Y ustedes todos – ¡ahhhh! ¡Pero, esa es una mujer! ¿Qué hace aquí po’?

(She took off everything, got undressed, and I was like, what’s a woman doing here naked? And you were all like – ahhhh! But, that’s a woman! What is she doing here?)

But Nayra was confused. After all, it was supposed to be a gay club. And that wasn’t a drag queen.

Berrios: Me dicen nena…es un trans que es un trans, es un transexual. Y por qué es tan difícil? Esa palabra, qué es eso…Era ella, eras tú antes y yo. O sea que yo puedo ser como ella?

(They told me girl…she trans…she’s transgender…and I was like what is that? That word is so difficult. And they said that she was like you before. And I was like, so I could be like her?)

And that’s how Nayra learned the word transgender. At a gay club in San Juan.

A year later, Nayra called her entire family over to her uncle’s house for a “surprise”

Berrios: ok, mami, papi, junté a toda mi familia en casa de mi tío porque tenemos que ir pa allá todas y yo vengo que las voy a dar una sorpresa.

(Ok mami, papi, I got my entire family together in my uncle’s house…I was like we all have to go there because I have a surprise for you.)

While they gathered on the street below, she came out on the second floor, wearing a blonde wig and black outfit.

Her mother accepted her. At the time, her stepfather didn’t.

Berrios: mi mamá me dijo que eres mi hija y todo. Pero él es el que me mantiene. Sori ya tus cosas están abajo porque yo me levanté cuando me levanté, ella ya no tenía nada en mi cuarto, o sea, ya el viejo se había encargado de sacarme todo y ponerlo en mi carro.

(My mom said you’re my daughter and everything. But he’s the one who takes care of me. Sorry, your stuff is outside…because I got up and when I got up, there was nothing in my room. The old man had taken everything out of my house and put it in my car.)

She had to leave home. She lost her job at a restaurant soon after. After two weeks sleeping in her car, she approached a group of trans sex workers who’d supported her transition.

Berrios: Dormí como dos semanas en el carro. yo veía se puteaba o no puteaba porque me daba miedo, pero a última hora. No, no, no puedo seguir durmiendo en un carro ni, ni, ni durmiendo en cualquier poste, gasolina o en cualquier paseo.

(I slept for like two weeks in the car, deciding whether or not I would do sex work because I was afraid up until the last moment. But then I was like I can’t keep on sleeping in a car, nor in a gas station or wherever).

She was afraid, but she felt she had no other choice:

Berrios: Me gané mis primeros 100 dólares con el primer carro que monté y ya me sentía rica. Me monté con el otro 70 may wow! Y al otro día ya, ya tenía ya mi apartamento y todo.

(I earned my first 100 dollars with the first car that I got in and then I felt rich. I got into another with 70 dollars and I was like wow! Within a few days, I had my apartment and everything).

Her first car earned her 100 dollars. Then 70 dollars and within a few days, she had her own apartment.

And that’s how Nayra began to do sex work. 17 years later, she still makes her living through that work. She has always seen her work as a job of survival. A last resort, she says for many trans women, she says, who can’t find a job anywhere else.

When Nayra isn’t working, she likes to go to the beach. Preferably Coney Island and preferably alone.

Nayra: Llegó allí con mi bultito; mi toalla. Yo no necesito a nadie para disfrutar en este momento de estar ahí en el agua – de ver el agua – y de sentirme serena.

(I arrive there with my little bag. I don’t need anyone to enjoy that moment of being there – seeing the water – and feeling like a mermaid).

She doesn’t need anybody to enjoy that moment…in the water…seeing the water…and feeling like a mermaid. At 35, she goes almost everywhere alone

Nayra: Yo siempre estoy sola, me voy para mi citas sola. Yo me voy para el parque sola allá. Para el cine sola. Me voy a comer sola.

(I’m always alone, I go on dates alone, I go to the park alone, to the movies alone, and out to eat alone).

On dates…to the park…to the movies…and out to eat…She’s pretty much always been that way

Berrios: Nos tenemos que amar nosotras y nada más tener a los hombres para sexo y tener una buena amiga siempre a tu lado para cuando lleguen a vieja, tu me cuidas y yo te cuido.

(We need to love ourselves and only have men for sex and a good friend, always by your side, so when we get old, you take care of me and I take care of you).

We need to love ourselves, she says, and only have men for sex. Plus, a good friend who’s always at your side: so when we get old, you take care of me and I take care of you.

In 2012, Nayra began to hear rumors of a woman on her way to Puerto Rico. She was beautiful, they said, but as a fellow a trans sex worker, she was poised to steal a lot of their business.

So, when Gabriela arrived from New York, Nayra avoided her. Even when they were working outside of the same club.

Until one day, they found themselves smoking togethering at a mutual friend’s house…Gabriela turned to Nayra and said

Berrios: Tú vas a ser mi hija. No vas a estar así. Te voy a meter hormonas mañana.

(You’re going to be my daughter. You won’t be like that. I’m going to give you hormones tomorrow.)

You’re going to be my daughter. At the time, Nayra was struggling with her hormone regimen. She would start and stop, each time putting more stress on her body. The next day, Gabriela took Nayra out. For years before, she would only wear makeup at night.

Berrios: Después de ahí cambió todo. Cambió mi forma de maquillaje, cambió mi forma de vestir. Ya estaba hormonizada porque ella ya me tenía toda la semana y todos los días compartía.

(After that, everything changed. I changed my way of doing makeup, I changed my way of dressing. I had hormones because she had me every day and shared every day.)

But from there, everything changed. And in 2014, when Gabriela announced her plan to return to New York, Nayra asked to go with her.

Berrios: Llega ese mismo día me abrieron la página El Backpage para ese tiempo y ya a punto el vino, el primero vino, el segundo vino, el tercero, vino el cuarto y ya está aquí para abajo trabajando en internet.

(I arrived that same day and opened that page of Backpage at the time and that was it, the first came, the second, third, and the fourth and there I was working via the internet).

On her first day in New York, Nayra put up an ad on Backpage, a defunct website where sex workers published their services. Soon after, her first client arrived. Then, the second, the third, and the fourth.

On a normal day, the intersection of 82nd Street and Roosevelt Avenue is filled with people. commuters, open-air preachers, and street vendors selling elote, churros, and kebabs next to chain restaurants and mom and pop bakeries. Blocks away from 82nd Street station, a sign commemorates Julio Rivera. His murder in 1990 sparked the first Queens Pride Parade in Jackson Heights, Queens

ARCHIVE FOOTAGE FROM FIRST QUEENS PRIDE PARADE: Queens has finally come out of the closet

The neighborhood has been a center for the LGBTQ latino community for decades.

ARCHIVE FOOTAGE FROM FIRST QUEENS PRIDE PARADE: Sabemos que vivimos muchos latinos gay y lesbianas en Queens. Este es el momento con esta parada de venir y salir del closet y decir que somos latinos y gay (We know that a lot of gay and lesbian latinos live in Queens. This is the moment with this parade to come out of the closet and say that we are latino and gay.)

Since she moved to New York, Nayra has lived in Jackson Heights. One afternoon in 2017, she went with a friend to a follow-up appointment at Elmhurst Hospital. Together, they walked up 82nd Street to eat at McDonalds. There, all day, a man had been harassing passerbyers. He saw Nayra and her friend.

Berrios: El buscaba problemas ese dia

(He was looking for problems that day).

He was looking for problems that day. He yelled that he wanted to kill them because they were trans. Everything happened quickly

Berrios: Se paró todo el 82. No podías pasar ni los carros, porque todo el mundo se paró. Se filmó en las cámaras casi 2,000 personas alrededor de nosotros y ninguna hizo nada. Solamente grababan con su celular viendo la pelea como el hombre peleaba con dos transexuales.

(All of 82nd street stopped. Not even the cars could pass because everyone stopped. The security cameras filmed nearly 2,000 people around us and no one did anything. Just filming with their cell phones and watching the man fight with two transgender people).

All of 82nd Street stopped. A mass movement in the intersection formed a circle with Nayra, her friend, and their attacker in the middle. And no one did a thing. Just watching and filming the fight with their cell phones. He broke Nayra’s leg, but he was never charged with a hate crime. The prosecutor told Nayra…

Berrios: para que no nos pasara eso [a las mujeres trans], pues que no saliéramos de nuestra casa.

(for this not to happen [to trans women], we shouldn’t leave our house.)

For this not to happen to trans women, he said, they shouldn’t leave their house. It was during a press conference about her attack that Nayra met Lorena Borjas and Liaam Winslet. Lorena’s often been called the ‘the mother of the trans latinx community’ in Queens. Liaam is now the director of the nonprofit Lorena founded. It’s a hub for the trans and LGBTQ community in Jackson Heights. During the press conference, Lorena went up to Nayra, asking her what she needed.

Berrios: y de allí, de ese mismita día, yo no me volví a separar de Lorena ni de Liaam.

(and from that day, I wouldn’t separate again from Lorena nor Liaam).

From that day, she wouldn’t part again from Lorena nor from Liaam. After volunteering at the group, Nayra is now a staff member, leading their sex work 101 project and providing outreach to other sex workers in Queens.

ARCHIVE: Lorena talking about CITGny (and to have a group, we are now 470 registered trans women)

When Lorena passed away from COVID-19 in March 2020, it was a tremendous loss for the community

Berrios: Yo digo que ella ya sabía que ella se iba. No sabía que se iba a morir en estos años, pero sí que se iba a retirar. Porque ella nos cogió a cada una del colectivo y nos hizo y nos puso aquí para eso mismo.

(I think she knew she was going to go. She didn’t know that she was going to die in these years, but that she would retire. Because she chose each one of us at the collective and she made us and she put us here just for that.)

In a way, Nayra thinks Lorena chose her and every other person who now works, because she knew they could continue her legacy when she wasn’t there.

Lately, Nayra has been transitioning out of sex work and into activism.

Berrios: Quisiera que ya que estamos en el 2021 ya nosotras estamos más visibles o quiero que para las que vengan después de mí, ya tengan para dónde ir, que puedan trabajar en biblioteca, que puedan trabajar en guiándose guagua de metro en el tren donde sea, que tú a una que diga que tienen que que la gente nos vea ya no solamente como las trans putas

(Now that it’s 2021, I want us to be more visible. I want those who come after me to have a place to go, so they can work in libraries, they can drive the bus or the metro, or wherever. So that people see us and don’t see trans people only as sex workers)

She wants the people who come after her to have a place to go