‘I remember I would often dream of something better, but deep down I always knew it was a dream’

The Green Men by Tiarna. She says: “One night I wanted to take my own life but instead I used a knife and what paint I could find to paint the ghosts that haunt me.”

Trying to write this is difficult. I never really thought I would but Wahine Toa Rising and Aunty have supported me to be free of a life I never dreamed I could be free from.

You see, when I was twelve, I was selling myself to men on the streets in New Zealand. I will not say which street. It was a street where many of us congregated and soon realised we could make money for doing what we were already being forced to do for free.

I am not sure you can imagine what it is like to have your head forced down on top of a man’s dick. Night after night… How many times this happened in a night depended on how many people were over or how drunk they all were.

Let us just say it’s gross and disgusting.

They would force my head so hard I would vomit in my mouth. It would splatter everywhere. But the men did not care. They just told me to open wider. I would vomit like this, three or four times. Sometimes I would choke – not only on them, but on my own vomit.

Not a great start to life for a child.

Anyway, I started hanging out on the streets to escape my nightmare of a home. But unbeknown to me, the streets would be even scarier – but at least the men paid.

Flower by Tiarna. “I feel this is how others see me – just a small part of me. If only they would take the time, they would see there’s so much more than what’s on the surface.”

I remember the first time a man put his penis into my ass. Fuck it hurt. It was like someone had sawed me in half with a rusty old saw. All I wanted to do was cry but I had already learnt at 12 that crying just turned the men on more and then they would be nastier and more aggressive. So I did not cry. Not until I was alone, and no one could see. Tears were a sign of weakness, and weakness on those streets, meant death.

It was not fun; I was not there because I wanted to be there. I just had nowhere else to go. Home was just as bad. The streets were more home to me because there were others there, who understood, who got me, you know. They did not judge me or spit on me, they were my brothers and sisters. If one of us was in trouble, the others were there. It was a better family than the one I had.

Once I hit 18, I thought I would have enough money to get my own place, but I was wrong. No one wanted to rent to a young, coloured woman, who had no references, no legit job, and no payslips. So, after all those years on the street, this is where I stayed – couch surfing where I could, hotels mostly. By the time I paid for the hotels, and food, clothes, and shoes, there was never much left.

I remember I would often dream of something better, but deep down I always knew it was a dream.

I remember thinking that was it for me. That was where I would be forever, and that was where I would die. Then a friend was talking about a new organisation they had heard of that wanted to support people like me who were in prostitution. I did not believe it. I had been on the street for over 10 years when I heard this and no one had ever wanted to help, not us coloured girls anyway. The white ones, yes, everyone wanted to help the white ones – as if they were more deserving than us, more valuable somehow.

But what the hell! I messaged anyway. And a lady messaged back.

I did not want to talk on social media, so she sent me her number and showed me how

I could talk to her through WhatsApp. My phone was not very good, so she organised for me to pick up a phone from a local retailer near me so I could chat to her when I needed to.

She was kind but I still did not trust her. But it was nice to be able to call and talk to someone who was there. Even though she was just a voice, she never once judged me or told me what I needed to do like a lot of organisations would. She just listened. To be honest, that was all I wanted and needed, and it was awesome to have that. Some days I felt like I had a mum, or what I thought a mum would look like.

Life was not easy, but I had learnt when I was being fucked to take myself ssomewhere else…

 

Places I dreamt I could be if I had been born into a different skin, a different time.

 

Detail of a flower by Tiarna. She started painting when she was still on the streets and wants readers to understand that she had nothing apart from what she could scavenge from skips and the gutter. One of her artworks is painted over an old canvas she found in a bin.

It would be another year before I felt safe enough to ask her to help me get out, to be free…

A man who had been coming to see me regularly, asked me to dress up in school clothes. He said he missed the way I was when I was 12. It was more of a turn on, he said. His happy place was a lot happier when I was younger. He said I was coming up to my use-by date, and all I was good for was fucking and once I was not good for that anymore, I should just go and kill myself because no one would want me – not even if I offered it for free.

It was not until he said that, that I realised these guys were creeps. My skin literally crawled. I felt like I had just woken up from a deep sleep, realising the life I had been living was pure and actual hell. I just did not want to be amongst all these creepy men anymore. I had had enough. He was right in a way. I would rather be dead than have to fuck one more guy to survive.

I call the lady on the other end of the phone, Aunty, because I respected her and trusted her.

She asked me what three wishes I would ask for if she had a magic wand. I said (1) to get me out of this hell hole, (2) to go to school, and (3) to get a real job.

 

I had tried to leave lots of times, but I never had enough money or food. I always had to pay for hotels because I never had a home, so I always had to go back. Sometimes it felt like a trap.

Aunty was amazing. I reckon she did have a magic wand. She gave me the numbers of some people I could turn to – and even though I hated talking, they were different. I was able to put my feelings and emotions into art. I am not bad at it either, I have found.

It really helped me. I have never liked talking. It is too easy for others to twist your words. This is why this is so hard to write. But I trust Aunty that she won’t use it for the wrong things.

She sent me food vouchers and found me somewhere safe to stay. It has not been easy. I have gone back. She has been so patient, and always there. Never pushing, just supporting. I always said to her I wish she were closer or had a refuge. I think I would have left earlier if I had had somewhere to stay, and she was not too far away.

But I have done it. I am studying school stuff. It’s so boring but I know it will be helpful. I didn’t think I could do it, as I had no money for books, or study equipment or anything. That’s when I felt the pull to go back.

But Aunty paid for everything or Wahine Toa Rising did. She said that as long

 as I was working on myself and trying, really trying, to love myself and my life, she would always be there to help me out. She helps me budget, and I took her zoom shopping so she could show me how to shop healthily but within my budget. Plus, I now have a job. A real legit job, and I am still staying somewhere safe. Some days are still hard, but it helps knowing someone is always in my corner.

No one had ever said that I was not a sex worker. I had always been told that now I was over 18, it was choice and an empowering choice at that. Now I know it was never a choice. An empowered choice, how? How is choosing to sell myself for sex to strangers as a child vs being fucked at home by so called family for free a choice? What choice is that?

I never had a choice.

Then suddenly the moment I was 18, it was “sex work”. I still did not have a choic

e, because it was the only life I had known. It was all I was trained to do.

How ironic my training to be a sex worker was being raped everyday as a child to the point I had to leave home and be on the streets. Instead of going to school, I went to rape school every day. Rape school where I was taught how to be the best fuckable, rapeable schoolgirl. Rape school and graduation at 18. I was now a sex worker. Cheapest on the block.

Wow what an experience! What every little girl out there wishes they could be and do.

“Completely Authentically Me, Beauty, Chaos, Winding, and Free” -Flower by Tiarna

Craziest thing here in New Zealand, it is all pretty much legal unless of course you are a little white girl – then watch the police and governments lock up the creepies. No such attention for us coloured ones. No one came to help me or ask me if I wanted to escape. No one even came to ask how old I was. The only ones who came up to me were the men who wanted me for sex.

I am just grateful I am out. Aunty reminds me it is one step at a time. She explains it like an AA program. One step. One day. One second, if needed.

As long as I am moving forward, even if it is only every second… I have to remember that I am free and every second I am free is amazing. Hard, but amazing.

I know it won’t be easy. Every time I feel down, all I want to do is go back. Crazy how I didn’t like it there but somehow, I felt safe there too. I like where I am now, but I am also not used to it. I am used to sleeping on the floor, or smelly hotel rooms.

But here I have a really big bed, clean sheets and soft blankets, and pillows, so many pillows. I love it but I also wake up feeling scared and wondering where I am. In these moments I want to go back. I am lucky I have support and someone to talk to even when its late. Many women don’t.

Prostitution when you have been doing it as long as I have becomes addictive like a drug. It’s a bad habit – but one that was the only one I knew. For so long, life without violence was unknown to me. And sometimes it feels scary to know I am safe and sometimes my head tries to tell me otherwise.

I hope I never go back; I won’t say I won’t. But I can say I will try not to and I will always seek out someone to talk to if I ever feel like I want to.

But for now, I am thankful and grateful I have someone who knows and cares.

Thank you, Aunty, and Wahine Toa Rising.