It’s a rather odd question to ask yourself, what happens to sex workers when they retire? One French photographer wanted to know. She’s hoping that her new book will be part of the answer.
Bénédicte Desrus spent six years trying to answer the question of what becomes of sex workers after they stop working, while documenting the Casa Xochiquetzal, a home in Mexico City for retired sex workers.
What Desrus saw prompted her to chronicle the lives of 26 retired sex workers in a book called “Las Amorosas Mas Bravas,” or “The Toughest Lovers.”
Desrus first came to Casa Xochiquetzal on assignment for a women’s magazine to take the owner’s portrait. Two years into the project Desrus asked Celia Gómez Ramos to join.
Together, through a combination of photography and storytelling, Desrus and Ramos share the day-to-day accounts of each of the women living in Casa Xochiquetzal. The former prostitutes ages range from 55 to as old as 86.
This is María Isabel.
Courtesy of Benedicte Desrus
María Isabel in her bedroom at Casa Xochiquetzal, in 2013. The former sex worker, who grew up in Michoacán, Mexico, ran away from home at the age of 9 where, according to the photographer, her father “used her.”
When she got to the Mexico City bus station, she met a woman selling tamales who offered her a home and education.
María Isabel nearly finished her studies to become a teacher, but when her caretaker died, she became a sex worker at 17.
She now reads, writes poetry, embroiders, and makes earrings and bracelets.
This is Paola.
Courtesy of Benedicte Desrus
Paola is seen here as she puts on makeup before going to work in 2008. When this photo was taken, she was one of the youngest women at the shelter and still worked the streets.
Desrus’ new book has their complete stories, along with the stories of the other 24 women.
Fusion spoke with the photographer and writer duo and they shared with us what they hope people will take away from reading the histories of these women.
“We would like to transmit the strength and wisdom that these women have, and also to make these women visible because since they have seen everything, we don’t want to see them and they are true survivors,” said Ramos.
“What I see is that there are several rings of prostitution and people put everyone in one group, and I think that this book is important to first to make [the women] visible and second to make them understand the stories behind these women,’ said Desrus.
The residence was opened in 2006 and is the brainchild of Carmen Munoz, a former sex worker herself who petitioned various governments and agencies for decades before finally getting the facility by the municipal government.
More than 250 women have now been helped by the unique facility. Casa Xochiquetzal is a civil association and is funded publicly by the municipality and also through private funds. It is the first project of this nature in Latin America.
You can now view an issue preview version for part of the book.
Credit: Jonathan Muñoz