WEIGHT: 53 kg
Services: Massage, Fetish, Naturism/Nudism, Domination (giving), Spanking (giving)
Chinese workers panning for gold, California, circa Later that year—or early the following year, records vary—a Chinese woman from the port city of Guangzhou set sail on a steamboat headed for San Francisco. Ah Toy was only the second Chinese woman to land in San Francisco, the first being the servant of a trader who had arrived a few months earlier. Although Ah Toy had the bound feet of an upper-class woman, she traveled alone, and arrived in San Francisco aged about twenty, with no means of supporting herself other than her own body.
I learned about Ah Toy while researching a story about a prostitution raid in Florida in , during which all the massage parlor workers who were arrested were either immigrants or migrant workers, all from China. Some posted bail and were released; others were transferred to immigration custody, where they waited to be deported. The customers who were arrested were all men, mostly white. All were let go without a citation. Along the way, I learned that anti-immigration legislation often ends up doubling as anti-prostitution legislation, as it is often women—frequently women of color, including those who are undocumented or in otherwise precarious positions and are locked out of traditional labor markets—who enter into sex work.
I immediately took to her, in part out of professional interest, but also for personal reasons. People of color live in a world that was built without us in mind; whenever we see representation—in history, media, or art—it is hard not to feel intensely curious. Eventually, she set up a shanty on Clay and Kearney Streets, in modern-day Chinatown. There, working out of a shack that was four feet wide and six feet deep, Ah Toy began offering her services to miners, becoming the first recorded Chinese prostitute in the new world.
By all accounts, she was beloved. Ah Toy had arrived in San Francisco just as California was becoming a state, in that interstitial time before the introduction of laws that would establish structural bias against women and people of color, and before the traditional order, religious and social, that pertained elsewhere in the US could assert itself. Though their power would diminish with the closing of the frontier, women, and women of color, prospered—for a time.
In the rough and rowdy San Francisco of the Gold Rush, women were an uncommon sight, and some were able to use this to their advantage.