There was no denying the frosty temperatures as bitter winds whipped our faces and intermittent snow drifted down. As we marched the nine blocks to the Albuquerque Social Club, there was some chatter among us but mostly just the chattering of teeth. Filing into the club, signs still thrust in front of us to make an impact on just one more set of eyes, we began to gather in the back bar and, after a few minutes to settle, we started to gather around the pool table that serves year after year as the site for our candlelight vigil.
Standing shoulder to shoulder, the shared body heat left us warmed and forgetting the cold outside. Sera explained to the group that we would each take a few names and read them aloud as we lit candles. Unfortunately, we always have more names than candles and each flame serves to honor four, five, or more sex workers this year. I’m never quite sure when it is as we circle round the table reading names, that the voices begin to crack and people start groping for hands to hold for support. Maybe it starts with the very first name.
Once each candle is lit, we offer the group a moment to list their people–their friends and family members that are sex workers who are loved and worried after or who have already fallen. Then a collective moment of silence followed by hand squeezes and half hugs before we settle in for some conversation that dances the lines of solemn expressions of mourning, loss, grief, worry, and anger until it reaches the point of camaraderie and laughter and hope.
This year, amid friends and allies and fellow sex workers, we experienced an abundance of emotions. We had some new faces that brought their stories and drank in the love and fellowship. For me, this event serves as two vital parts of my subculture–honoring our dead and connecting the living. My deepest desire each year is that we have fewer people to mourn and more people stepping out of the cold to stand and fight and love with the living.