MEDELLIN, Colombia — Violeta and Gia Gomez were brothers by birth. Now they’re sisters by choice.
The siblings work together as adult webcam models in Colombia's booming internet porn business, which offers trans women better jobs, higher salaries and safer working conditions than any other industry in the country. That may sound like a ludicrously sweeping statement to make, but the live cam industry is the only sector of the country's economy that has opened its doors to trans women and welcomed them in.
Critics hate online porn for being exploitative and vulgar, but for a segment of the population that has been routinely exploited and violently marginalized forever, webcam jobs can seem mild by comparison. And it pays better than just about any other job available to them.
“I have a friend who finished all her schooling and was totally qualified to be a business manager but couldn’t get a job because she is a trans woman. Now she also works in webcams,” Violeta told me. “Many trans don’t get other work opportunities, so they take to the streets, look for work as a hairdresser, or become a webcam model, which has become the most normal job for us. We don’t get many other opportunities to grow economically.”
Violeta, who works under the screen name Violetqueen, cams on six adult websites from a studio in Medellin, one of Colombia's two porn hubs. Between Medellin and Cali, Colombia's adult cam industry employs some 30,000 models —including thousands of transgender women, according to industry leaders.
Violeta’s webcam studio, one of 400 in Medellin alone, employs 20 trans women, most of whom make equal or better pay than the female or male models. Violeta says she earns $5,000-$6,000 a month — an amount that would be unthinkable for a transgender person in any other legal line of work in Colombia. The 27-year-old used to work as a seamstress, earning a monthly salary that she can now haul in a single day of doing private shows on the web.
Violeta, who identifies as a "boy" in the house but a woman in public, thinks the only reason more trans women haven’t joined the industry is because they don’t have studio contacts or because they’re unaccustomed to working a regular job and would rather ply the streets.
But there’s also a lot of taboo around the industry, she says.
“People think it’s prostitution, but it isn’t,” she said. “Our mother was against this – we had to explain it to her.”
In reality, the webcam industry gives many trans women a safer alternative to prostitution — and, in some cases, a way out.
“It’s a lot safer to interact with a computer screen than getting picked up on the street by a real person who makes you do what they say to get the money that they’re offering,” says Sara, one of AJ Studio’s top trans models who cams under the name KendraSexyHot. “There are lots of illnesses that you can get on the street. Lots of things can happen— drugs, violence. But here in the studio, it’s just me and the computer screen. No one touches you. No one does anything to you.”
In addition to offering trans women gainful employment, the adult webcam industry also creates a work environment that is fully supportive of gender transformation.
Sara says she entered the cam industry as an 18-year-old “boy.” Six years and five surgeries later, she’s a woman and a top-earning model. The more she transitions, the more she earns.
“The income I earned from camming helped me to pay for the surgeries and make the transition the way I wanted to,” Sara told me during a recent interview in Cali. “I used to work as a hairdresser, but I wasn’t earning much, just enough to get by, but not enough to pay for my surgeries. And I didn’t want to prostitute myself in the street.”
So Sara worked hard, saved money and got a loan from the studio to pay for her surgeries.
“It wasn’t like the husband of the Kardashians who decided he wanted to become a transsexual and had the money to pay for all the surgeries in one day,” she said.
Sara says before getting a job as a cam model, she never imagined that one day she would be able to transition so fully to a woman. She could barely make ends meet on her hairdresser’s salary, so transformative surgery simply wasn’t in the cards. Now she feels sexy, beautiful and happy about her transition and work.
“I am trans, people think I’m a girl. A lot of people don’t believe it because they say I’m pretty,” Sara said. “But if I weren’t working here, I couldn’t have done it.”
RELATED: Fusion explores the increasingly diverse ways people are consuming – and producing –porn, from GIFs to live “camming” to teledildonics. Watch our original investigative documentary, Miami Porn: Sex Work in the Sunshine State, a look inside the world of South Florida’s booming adult entertainment industry: