I knew celebrating my birthday (Aug. 27th) with my sex worker friends in the streets would be a good time. Despite all their hardships, (or because of them more likely), these women know how to party, and they’re willing to do so at any hour of the day. I wanted to have a relaxed gathering during the day because I had already planned a birthday party that night. I arrived in the Centro at noon with my birthday cake and more and more women kept appearing. They arrived with big bottles of beer in their hands—my birthday definitely gave them a good excuse to drink. As is the custom here, one person is in charge of pouring beer into one glass which is passed around and around. One is expected to down the glass in its entirety before giving it back to the main server. In this case, Ginger, one of our transgender friends who works on the streets in another part of the city, was playing host. Even though these women sometimes don’t have enough money to eat lunch each day, they certainly found enough money for endless beers at $1.00 a piece.
One tradition I didn’t know about is that the birthday girl (or boy) receives the equivalent number of spanks that he/she has in years. I couldn’t believe it when my friend K. took off her leather belt and all the women lined up. They told me to stand still and bend over. I couldn’t believe it! I was laughing hysterically as each of them slapped me hard across my ass. Some of them hit me really hard! Perhaps it was satisfying for them to pound a gringa—perhaps it felt like some sort of leveling of power. Thank God they decided to stop before reaching my age—apparently I’m so old that they got bored before completing.
The other unexpected act was when I blew out the candles for my cake, two women shoved my face into it. Again, I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically. No one in my life had ever done that. I’ve seen it at weddings but not at birthdays. Perhaps it is also a custom in the U.S., I’m not sure. Then the party turned into a food fight of sorts. Once all the pieces were passed out to the dozen or so women who showed up (more and more kept trailing through the door—we were in the telephone cabins on the corner), the women flung bits of icing into each others’ faces. Then we took lots of group photos, all of us covered in icing and buzzed with beer. These women have to take each opportunity for fun seriously, because it doesn’t happen frequently. Many of the women only stayed briefly because they couldn’t take more time off from work. Despite my birthday, these women were still in the middle of a work day. I was so touched and flattered when each of them came and gave me a huge hug and kiss on the check. They all asked that “God Bless me” and wished me lots of happiness. It wouldn’t have felt right not celebrating my birthday with the sex workers. They are like family to me here and treat me as such.