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Easy money… somehow: Nikka’s introduction to the sex industry at 17

Meet #transgender woman Nikka, 22 years old, who became a sex worker when she was around 17. “It started with the encouragement of friends,” she recalled, adding that even now, her peers – not “proper” service providers – are the go-to when talking about sexual health needs of those in the sex industry.

Images used for illustration purpose only; all photos by Maddy Freddie from Pexels.com

This is part of #KaraniwangLGBTQIA, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBTQIA people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

Transgender woman Nikka, 22 years old, became a sex worker when she was around 17. “Nagsugod tungod sa encouragement sa friends. Kanang… kuwan… gidala ra sad ko. Sa ilahang Afam. And then kuwan… naabot sa punto nga nakakuwarta ko, na-amaze ko kay mao ra diay ni, kay makakuwarta diay ka dali-dali. Push (It started with the encouragement of friends. They took me with them. I went with them when they went to a foreign client. And then… I reached a point where I earned, and I was amazed that this is an easy way to make money. So I persevered)!”

That time, Nikka earned ₱2,000, which became the basic amount paid by foreigners who hired (and continue to hire) her, with the amount easily going to “as high as” ₱3,000. Filipino clients, of course, pay less (even as less as ₱500) since “walay kuwarta (they don’t have money),” she laughed.

Knowing of the risks related to sex work does not automatically mean Nikka constantly practices safer sex. “Naa say part nga wala sad jud, nga wala nag-condom. Dili ganahan sila ug condom. Laban.”
Images used for illustration purpose only; all photos by Maddy Freddie from Pexels.com

GROWING UP TRANS

Nikka was 13 when she knew for sure she’s transgender.

Sa kanang sanina, outfit, bet nako mga munyika, mga Barbie. Then sa akong mama sad, kay mananahi man akong mama… mao tu siya, kanang na-adapt nako ang mga gapatahi ug girly kay ako sang suot-suoton (With my clothes, I liked wearing those similar to dolls, Barbie dolls. With my mom as well, since she’s a seamstress… I got used to trying the female clothes sewn by her for her female clients),” said the youngest of seven kids.

Both her parents never said anything about her being transgender, focusing – instead – on making her finish her schooling (she’s Grade 12 now). And “nalipay ko ani (I’m happy with this).”

SEX WORK IN CEBU

With her peers influencing her to become a sex worker, it should really come as no surprise that most of what she knows related to the sex industry also came from these peers. They even have a group chat (GC) in Messenger, where “i-announce sa among group chat nga naay possible seminar para sa learning (they announce that we have a possible seminar so we can learn).”

This could also explain why Nikka said she trusts LGBTQIA community leaders more – e.g. a local transgender community leader, Mommy Repos, gives them lectures on safer sex.

It is, nonetheless, worth stressing that knowing of the risks related to sex work does not automatically mean Nikka constantly practices safer sex. “Naa say part nga wala sad jud, nga wala nag-condom. Dili ganahan sila ug condom. Laban (There are times when I really don’t use condoms. That’s when clients don’t like it. I continue)!”

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With her peers influencing her to become a sex worker, it should really come as no surprise that most of what she knows related to the sex industry also came from these peers.
Images used for illustration purpose only; all photos by Maddy Freddie from Pexels.com

IGNORED POPULATON

Sex workers – for Nikka – continue to be largely ignored by services providers, including those supposed to reach out to them. In the distribution of pre-exposure prophylaxis in the en tire Cebu Province, as an example, “feel nako, lisod manguha ug supply sa PrEP. If wala kay kaila jud kaayo… maglisod kag kuha kung if wala kaayo kay access nga duol nga kuhaan, ingon-ana (I feel it’s hard getting PrEP. If you don’t know anyone…. you’d have a hard time getting supplies, particularly if providers are inaccessible).”

This is, surprisingly, even if Nikka herself has a neighbor working in the city’s health department.

“I feel it’s hard getting PrEP. If you don’t know anyone…. you’d have a hard time getting supplies, particularly if providers are inaccessible.”
Images used for illustration purpose only; all photos by Maddy Freddie from Pexels.com

As part of a largely ignored population, Nikka thinks that – moving forward – this reliance on “the available”, i.e. her peers, will be “what’ll be normal.” “Nadawat na namo ni (We’ve long accepted this),” she said, “samtang padayon sa pangita ug kuwarta (as we continue looking for ways to make a living).”

The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan completed BA Communication Studies from University of Newcastle in NSW, Australia; and Master of Development Communication from the University of the Philippines-Open University. He grew up in Mindanao (particularly Kidapawan and Cotabato City), but he "really came out in Sydney" so that "I sort of know what it's like to be gay in a developing, and a developed world". Conversant in Filipino Sign Language, Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, and research (with pioneering studies under his belt). He authored "Being LGBT in Asia: Philippines Country Report", and "Red Lives" that creatively retells stories from the local HIV community. Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism, and Art that Matters - Literature from Amnesty Int'l Philippines in 2020. Cross his path is the dare (guarantee: It won't be boring).

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