Philly Transgender Sex Worker Jara Krys on Life, Fame, and Advocacy

Our editor chats with the transwoman trying to change the way we view sex work in America.

Photo provided by Jara Krys.

Photo provided by Jara Krys.

Over the past week, Jara Krys, a Las Vegas native and transgender sex worker studying at Penn, made headlines across the country for her candid openness about her taboo profession. Though she’s been profiled in two local publications, once her story went viral on Buzzfeed, the consequences of her immediate fame made her refocus her personal priorities, career goals, and advocacy efforts.

I have interviewed you before, and now you’ve gone national after this week’s Buzzfeed feature story. How has life been since this story came out?
It was in July when I realized what I wanted to do in the next phase of my career. When I was on the road with an old friend of mine, we were discussing branding in this diluted adult entertainment industry. I wasn’t happy with my stage name, and after a week of discussing names it finally dawned on me. The moment I chose my new alias was the moment I realized what I could do with it: an online persona, an online sex store, a brand.

Since then I have saved up funds to pay for my final surgeries before going national with my new identity. I also grew great friendships that would help me fuel my career in the new brand. Being only six weeks post-op I am still not making public appearances, but at my three-month mark I will begin the next phase of my brand with photoshoots, videography, and branding merchandise.

Does the attention make you more cautious or selective in the clients you deal with or public venues you visit?
This is a very interesting question considering that only two days ago one of the largest escort websites in the country turned against me. They had received a lot of complaints because I named them in the article, and as a result they decided to cut ties with me and bar me from their services. Speaking with one of the employees I personally knew, I was told that the company “did not associate themselves with prostitutes.” In our industry, prostitute is an extremely derogatory term. In fact, that company still referred to women like me as “shemales.” So, in a way, you can say that the industry has turned against me. I am no longer given those venues to find clients, so I have been forced to stop escorting.

Of course I always deal with anxiety after an article about my lifestyle is published, but what do I expect from wanting to make a tangible difference? I have learned a lot of lessons from the backlash of the attention: Not everyone who says they are on your side has your best interest in mind. I have to be a lot more cautious with anyone I deal with — friends, clients, even business partners outside of the adult entertainment industry.

I noticed that you are more open about some of the hardships of doing sex work. How has that reshaped your own goals in succeeding in the profession?
Opening up about the harsher things in my work has definitely fueled the flames of my activism. I always worry that I will go too far, that I will slip up and hurt people, perhaps even disappoint the communities I’m intersected with, but that is exactly what resonates with them. I don’t think people realize how much of my life I put on the line being this open. I can never have a normal job. I can never be respected in government work. I can never erase a history that is seen as taboo in our country. But being part of Wharton is what gives me hope. I am studying to be an entrepreneur, and with the struggles I have endured, I believe that is the only way I can succeed in an oppressive world that wishes to silence me.

When people began to turn on me, it made me realize how many systems of oppression are truly embedded in our society. We have the oppressive government that perpetuates violence, poverty, and incarceration among transgender sex workers. We have the oppressive society which uses stigma, abuse, and a blind eye to murder our sisters. We even have systems that pretend to be on our side, but are only taking advantage of our lucrative jobs, ready to throw the book at people who step out of line and ask for too much. Never settle for being a second-class citizen, no matter how many times you are beaten down for standing up — I will always be standing with you.

Since you’ve been getting major press, has Penn reached out to you and do you plan to continue your studies there?
No, they have not reached out to me. I have spoken to my adviser in the university and she has reassured me that this has nothing to do with Penn, nor will they have issue with any of the press I have received. If that were not the case, Penn would have reached out to me the first time I broke my silence in a Daily Pennsylvanian piece published in October of 2014. I am no longer going to continue with the Huntsman program as the program is not supportive of my lifestyle nor my approach to my studies, but I will continue to study in the Wharton School of Business, concentrating on entrepreneurship. I would rather surround myself around a group of advisers that care about my well-being, rather than the amount of money my deceased parents will not donate.

What did Buzzfeed leave out that you wanted others to know about you? I noticed that they didn’t write much about your personal advocacy ambitions.
Obviously I have faced a few hurdles in my life — for better or worse — they have shaped the person I am today. When I hear from people that they view me as a role model, I immediately fear others going through what I’ve been through, and for many transwomen out there I have had it easy in my life. That scares me, and when I hear the language and violence thrown at transwomen, sex workers — I worry for the people who have yet to grow a thick skin. Maybe they can’t handle that abuse, maybe they can’t pull themselves through another turmoil. That is why I do what I do. I have had people all my life who, out of jealousy, would belittle my dreams as a mere cry for attention. If it takes crying, then I’ll fill a river as long as I can make a tangible difference.

I want to be an icon for the transgender movement, for the sex worker rights movement. Most of these disenfranchised people don’t have the luxury, the privilege, to speak out, so it is my duty to be that advocate. I will do it through YouTube. I will do it through sex-positive, trans-inclusive businesses. I will do it through nonprofit work. I have a lot of business ventures planned in the years to come, and I hope speaking publicly will help me achieve those goals.