Transgender Teen Turns to Prostitution to Raise Cash for Surgery to Look Female

19-year-old turn tricks to raise cash for multiple procedures to look female.

August 26, 2011, 4:16 PM

Aug. 31, 2011— -- Vanessa, a prostitute from New York City, traveled thousands of miles to undergo surgery that would change her life forever -- transforming her body, outwardly, from male to female.

"I've been transitioning since I was sixteen," she told "Nightline" anchor Cynthia McFadden. "I don't want to go back to that awkward little boy that was shy, and hid away from everybody."

With surgery brings the promise of metamorphosis; the 19-year-old is getting a new nose, new jaw line and breast implants.

"The surgery is going to make me, I feel, blossom from a caterpillar to a butterfly," she said.

In the United States Vanessa's surgery would cost upwards of $30,000, but in Mexico, Vanessa said, the surgery would cost $6,500.

Like most transgender children, Vanessa said she has always felt very much alone. Parents who accept and support their transgender kids seem to be an exception to the rule.

"I've always been against gay people. Honestly," said Vanessa's father, Carlos. "Not for anything, it's just I didn't understand. I was born a man so I don't understand how the other sexual behave. For me, man is a man, woman is a woman, and gay is gay. For me, it wasn't acceptable."

Both of her parents said they were upset when their son told them he wanted to become their daughter.

"I was praying every day, 'God please, open her eyes, open her mind, please," Carlos said. "That's what I was asking God: Why my son? Why this has to happen?"

"I feel that I lose my son," said Vanessa's mother, Anna Maria. "I miss my son. I don't know where he is."

But it's not just the eyeliner and the hair highlights. Vanessa, who charges $200 an hour for sex, saved up for her surgery, one client at a time, from working in cheap hotels on the outskirts of New York City.

"After a while, I just learned to suck it up, and just disconnect from it completely, and say, OK it's just work," she said. "I see it as a big sacrifice I have to make, but it's worth it now."

Vanessa uses her current body to finance her new one.

"I've actually tried to look for jobs before but no one hired me," she said.

Vanessa's sister Annie said she was heart-broken when she found out her sister was prostituting.

"I remember telling her like, 'There's other ways,'" Annie said. "She would ask me, 'What way? You tell me and I will do it.' And I had no answer for her."

"I feel like there is other ways to make your living in a different way," Carlos said. "I talked to her about it. The only thing that she told me was, 'Dad, I got to do what I got to do.'"

Her father is the one who drove her to the airport when the day came for Vanessa to fly to Mexico for her surgery. It has taken a long time to come around to the idea of his son becoming a daughter, but he's doing his best.

"I got to support her all the way to the end," Carlos said. "Whatever makes her happy, it makes us happy too."

After a 14-hour plane ride, Vanessa landed in Guadalajara, Mexico's second largest city and a rising hotspot for medical tourists from around the world.

When Vanessa checked in to Hospital San Pio, a modest two story building next to a gas station, her doctor appeared to be in a hurry. The consultation was no more than 10 minutes.

"You pay me now please? $6,500?" Dr. Sonny said, which Vanessa handed over in cash.

After the doctor pocketed the money, Vanessa was whisked off to the operating room and put under anesthesia. First, Dr. Sonny put in 700cc silicone breast implants, which Vanessa hoped would take her to a D cup.

Even with five more procedures to go, Dr. Sonny said he planned to have everything done in less than two hours.

"Six surgeries at one time, it's no problem because I work very, very fast," he said. "This is my patient five today."

The doctor went to work removing Vanessa's Adam's apple, breaking and rebuilding her nose and shaving down her jaw line. After her marathon of surgeries, Vanessa was in tears.

"I'm not crying because I feel pain. I'm crying because I'm so happy," she said.

Vanessa spent the next 10 days recovering. When she finally flew back home, her father and sister Annie were waiting for her at the airport, anxious for her arrival and to see her new look.

"I missed you. I'm sorry. You look great," her sister tells her.

On the car ride home, Vanessa experienced her new chest.

"It's weird because it's jiggling and I never felt that before," she said. "I'm not used to that. The ups and downs."

Her mother was at home, waiting in the house where she raised her son, to welcome home her daughter.

"No matter what I love her," Anna Maria said. "Because that's what she need right now. Love."

But Vanessa won't be staying at home for long. She wants to have a few more procedures, including brow bone surgery and liposuction, all of which require more money. So Vanessa goes back into prostitution.

"Just one more year," she said. "I'm doing what I have to do to survive, or you know, to be what I want to be."

She'll be 20 by then, and has set new goals for herself.

"By the time I'm 20, I'm already going to have the surgery that I want." She said. "I'm already going to be starting school, figuring out my career plan, and just everything."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events