Ten-ten* was only 14 when “may naka-una sa akin (someone had me – sexually – first),” he said. He had, at that time, a 17-year-old friend, and “sinama niya ako sa pamamakla** niya (he brought me with him looking for gays who would pay for sex).” It wasn’t a bad experience, he said; in fact, “nagustuhan ko pa nga eh. Tapos may kinita pa ako (I even liked it. And then I also earned).”
That exposure to having sex with other men in exchange for money became a “regular habit” for Ten-ten, who is now 18. So “regular” that he even introduced his elder brother, Tam*, into sex work.
“Nakita niya na may kumukuha sa akin (He saw guys pick me up),” he said. “Nakita niya rin na may kinikita ako. Ayun, sumunod na siya (He also saw me earn from it. So he followed suit).”
That was when Tam was 15 years old. Admittedly better looking than his younger brother (“Kahit mas malaki kargada niya sa akin (Even if he has a bigger genitalia than I do),” he laughed), it is now Tan who gets frequently picked up. Though – this is worth stressing, according to both – not that this matters, as there’s no rivalry between them at all. “Kanya-kanyang specialization yan (Everyone has his own specialization),” Tam said.
Neither of the two taught their younger brother, Tonio*, to follow suit, as he is now also selling sex at 15 (the same age when Tam started, though a year older than when Ten-ten started).
REALITIES OF LIFE
Grabbing a burger in a hole-in-the wall burger joint in Mandaluyong City, we came across the brothers who were on their way to a computer shop to play DOTA (Defense of the Ancients), a free-to-play multiplayer online battle arena video game. They were, technically, not working; but they were having second thoughts with proceeding to the computer shop, and so ended up in the joint; and the chat-turned-interview-with-consent ensued.
Ten-ten is actually “only” a half brother of Tam and Tonio; they all have the same father. But their father now lives with Ten-ten’s mother, along with 13 siblings. Adding Tam and Tonio’s two other siblings, “18 kami lahat magkakapatid (there are 18 of us siblings),” Tam said.
They’re not well-off, exactly, with all parents only able to take in odd (and often menial) jobs. But relationship-wise, “hindi kami tinuruan magalit sa isa’t isa (we weren’t taught to hate each other),” Tam said. “Kalahating kapatid man yan, kapatid pa rin (Even if he’s just a half brother, he’s still my brother).”
Both families live close to each other in Mandaluyong.
And this is where, at night along Barangka Drive, the brothers work.
No, they don’t necessarily work together. They are “tropa (belong to the same posse)”, but they also have other friends who are also “namamakla (actively search out gay customers).” There are others like them there, too, since the area is now littered with “gaya namin (men like us),” Ten-ten said.
There’s no remorse, with Tam saying with a smile “trabaho lang (it’s just work).”
The money they earn also comes in handy. For Ten-ten, it helps him buy “mga bagay-bagay (some stuff),” he said, from clothes to shoes or whatever. But there are also times when it helps with their respective families. “Kanina (Earlier today),” Ten-ten said, “‘yung kinita ko P300 binili ng bigas (the P300 I earned was used to buy rice).”
“Nakakatulong din (This also helps),” Tam said.
Their rates aren’t flat, since “lahat napag-uusapan (everything can be discussed),” Ten-ten said. “Basta huwag bumaba ng P300 (So long as the money given is no less than P300).”
The biggest money either of them got for sex work was over P1,000.
The rates also largely dictate what acts are being offered; though usually, these acts are limited to: 1. being fellated, 2. “romansa (in this case, foreplay)”, 3. and being the top in anal sex. No, they don’t necessarily fellate; and no, they definitely will not get anally penetrated. There are also “limits” to choosing clients, with neither willing to accommodate “matandang-matandang-matanda na (those extremely old),” as Ten-ten said, and “mga unhealthy, tulad ng matabang-mataba (those unhealthy, like someone morbidly fat),” added Tam.
These are, however, only true to Tam and Ten-ten. In 15-year-old Tonio’s case, “di namin alam. Di naman siya nagkukuwento tungkol dito (we don’t know. He doesn’t share to us his sex working experiences).”
Neither Tam and Ten-ten would mind if a client hired both of them at the same time [“Nakikita ko naman siya hubad (I see him naked),” Ten-ten said. “Sabay pa nga kami mag-shower (We even shower together).”]; but they’d draw the line in being asked to have sex with each other. “Kung ganyan, mabugbog ko pa (If the client is like that, I may end up bashing him),” Tam said.
There are dangers in their line of work. Ten-ten, for instance, lamented of clients who “escape after the act”. One time, he recalled, after having sex, the customer pretended he needed to go to an ATM machine. But while crossing the street, “tumakas agad siya (he took off).”
Tam said there’s not much they can do about this since “hindi naman puwede hingiin ang pera bago mag-sex (we can’t ask for money before the sexual act),” he said. “Iniisip nila, tatakasan namin sila (Customers think we’ll just get the money and run away).”
There are also law enforcers who tend to be abusive. Ten-ten claimed that he was once apprehended in the guise of “drug use”.
“Na-tokhang na (They said it’s part of ‘Operation Tokhang’),” he alleged, referring to the infamous drug war of the Rodrigo Duterte administration. “Kinuha kami ng mga kasama ko. Sa opisina nila, pinaghubad kami. Pina-drug test. Tapos nang wala nakita, kinuha na lang nila pera namin, alahas namin, tapos pinakawalan din (They took me and a few friends. They brought us to an office where they made us strip. They had us take drug tests. When they didn’t see anything wrong, they just took our money, our accessories, then released us).”
Still, there’s no fear in doing what they’re doing. As Tam said, “lalaki din naman kami. Kung darating sa away, makikipag-suntukan kami (we’re also men. If it came to that, we could fight, too).”
Ten-ten is proud to be known by his clients for being “istrikto sa pag-gamit ng condom (being strict with using condoms),” he said.
He said no one really taught him about safer sex; but he knows “mahirap magkasakit (it’s difficult to be sickly).”
Incidentally, the 17-year-old who introduced him into this life already passed away.
“Nabalitaan ko, umuwi sa probinsiya. Nagkasakit daw. Tapos ayun, namatay (I heard he went home to the province. He got sick. And then he died),” Ten-ten said. “Baka ano na yun… (Perhaps it was THAT disease),” he added, alluding to HIV.
Tam said he’s the same, i.e. strict with condom use. But when jibed by a former client he barebacked (i.e. had sex without condom), he just laughed it off.
Perhaps owing to his youth, Tonio is less strict on this, maybe even unable to negotiate with clients.
As an aside, the main mode of transmission of HIV in the Philippines now is through male-to-male sex (721 of the 750 cases reported in December 2016 by the Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines). With 26 cases of infection happening every day, those involved are also becoming younger, with 29% belonging to the 15-24 year age group.
All of the clients of the brothers are gay (some closeted, others out in the open). And all of these clients found them on the streets of Mandaluyong. They are, simply, now freelance sex workers.
The DOH, by the way, reported that in December 2016, 9% (66) of the reported cases engaged in transactional sex. Most (92%) were male whose ages ranged from 19 to 72 years (median: 30 years). Thirty-four (34) males who engaged in transactional sex were the ones who paid for sex. As defined, people who engage in transactional sex are those who report that they pay for sex, regularly accept payment for sex, or do both.
Both Tam and Ten-ten dread that day when their parents would know of their sex work. But both of them said they’d just “eh di harapin kung malaman (face it when it happens/cross the bridge when they get there).”
Tam also fears that a future GF will know of his history; something that Ten-ten scoffs at since he said his GF knows of what he’s doing. “Wala naman nangyayari sa amin kaya naghahanap din ako ng lalabasan (We haven’t had sex yet, so I also need sexual release),” he said. At times, he added, the GF is even the one to answer the Facebook messages of would-be clients; “tumatawa lang siya (she just laughs this off).”
Ten-ten is, for now, just “going with the flow,” he said.
Tam said that he may likely stay in the sex industry “hangga’t may kukuha (as long as someone hires me),” he said. Or if “kailangan ng pera (if I need money).”
By the way, he once worked for a company that produces furniture using fiber glass; he had to quit after only a week because the working conditions were unsafe [“Dami kong sugat sa salamin (I has lots of wounds from the glasses),” he said]. He may eventually look for a “regular” job; a more “socially acceptable” job, he said, but “tingnan lang natin (we’ll see how things go).”
Perhaps it is Tonio’s youth that’s limiting his perspective, but his plans are more immediate – e.g. be able to afford playing DOTA, buy “mga gusto-gusto (what I like)”, and so on.
Since none of them had education, offering sex has become work for the brothers – still stigmatized, thereby forcing them in the shadows; and yet now a regular source of living for them.
And so ang pamamakla ni Tam, Ten-ten at ni Tonio continues…
*NAMES CHANGED AS REQUESTED BY INTERVIEWEES TO PROTECT THEIR PRIVACY; AND ALSO BECAUSE THOSE WHO ENGAGE IN SEX WORK IN THE PHILIPPINES NOT ONLY CONTINUE TO BE STIGMATIZED BUT COULD ALSO BE HELD LEGALLY LIABLE
** “PAMAMAKLA” IS THE TERM USED BY (USUALLY) MEN WHO HAVE SEX WITH MEN (MSM) WHO SEEK GAY MEN TO HAVE SEX WITH IN EXCHANGE FOR A PAYMENT (CASH OR SERVICE, THOUGH MORE OFTEN CASH). IT BASICALLY MEANS “TO ACTIVELY SEARCH FOR A ‘BAKLA (GAY MAN)’ TO EARN FROM HIM AFTER SEXUAL CONTACT”