Review: The Stroll


This is the story of the trans women sex workers who spent parts of their lives working the streets of New York City’s meatpacking district – an area informally know as “The Stroll.” These women, from a variety of backgrounds and of different races, each found that, as they transitioned from male to female, they lost whatever opportunities for “normal” work there were, and so found themselves strolling the streets, soliciting, in order to live.

Kristen Lovell was one of these women. She spent almost 10 years of her life there. Then she found that film-makers were interested in her story and those of other women like her. But they were never telling her story her way – it was always filtered through their lenses. So, having seen how a movie is made, she decided to do it herself. “The Stroll” is her view, as director, of her life and the lives of others who shared her experiences.

What follows is an incredible variety of women telling their stories. They tell of how they first got to the neighborhood, their first sexual experience there, and the trauma they underwent. That trauma came not just for their “clients,” but from other folks, like the security guard who would not let one girl who’d be beaten, abused and robbed, into the Emergency Room of St. Vincent’s Hospital. And there were the police, who would harass, arrest, and expect “favors.”

At one point, Kristen talks about the time RuPaul (now famous for drag queen shows) came down to the Stroll to tape what was going on and interview some of the girls. She resented the fact that RuPaul made a difficult dangerous life seem like something light and entertaining. “But I refused to let the world beat me down. Back then, we just took our punches. We’ve been taking them for decades,” Kristen says.

She, and the other girls realized that what they were doing was a dead end – many or most were homeless, using drugs, and every “john” was a potential killer. Perhaps because of that, one of their finest memories was how they stuck together when one of them was threatened.

The Stroll fell within the purview of the 6th Police Precinct of Manhattan. And some of those cops were also “clients.” Footage of the girls describing how the cops would arrest them, and of the cops describing how they arrested the girls, is presented in beautiful counterpoint. At one point, one of the girls is describing an incident when the filming is interrupted by the wail of a police car. Everyone is silent for a moment and then she says, “I hope their tires bust!”

In addition to the interviews with living survivors of the Stroll, there are also a number of fascinating vignettes.

In the first of these, Kristen relates how she met Sylvia Rivera. Rivera was one of the “old timers” and a real fighter for gay and trans rights. She had been in New York from the age of 11, and was one of the instigators of the “Stonewall Riot” of 1969. She worked with another trans activist, Marsha Johnson, to bring dignity and personal worth to the women she met on the streets. Despite this, she was often held in contempt and not supported by many in the gay and lesbian community. To them, she and others like her were an aberration when many gays were painting a picture of themselves for the straight population as being “just like you.”

Another vignette is a description of a homeless encampment that existed for a while on a dilapidated Hudson River pier. There the women could rest, undisturbed until it was time to go back onto the streets. An article describing this settlement, from a 1995 edition of the New York Times, is entitled “The Shantytown of the He-Shes.” Eventually, the shantytown fell to mayor Rudy Giuliani’s brand of policing. The pier itself is now a resplendent esplanade.

Giuliani’s years ended with September 11, to be followed by the Michael Bloomberg years, gentrification, and the dispossession of the ladies of the Stroll.

This is a fascinating look at a segment of our culture that too few people are familiar with, at least at any level beyond the lurid headlines of big city papers. In “The Stroll,” we are introduced to the human beings behind the stereotypes.

One can feel the love and see the work that director Lovell put into this excellent piece.


Director: Kristen Lovell, Zackary Drucker
Producer: Matt Wolf
Cinematographer: Sara Kinney
Editors : Mel Mel Sukekawa Mooring
Music: Jordi Nus, James Newberry
Runtime: One hour, 24 minutes
Availability: Debuts June 21, 2023, on HBO, and on MAX in conjunction with Pride Month // Premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival

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