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From ₱500 to $150: How Jam sees sex work as an answer to poverty

Meet transgender woman Jam, who started sex work at 17. Though she used to earn only ₱500 per customer, nowadays, she can make from $100… which she sees as an okay way to make a living and to support her family.

All images used for illustration only; photos by George Shervashidze 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.”

The first time Cebu-based transgender woman Jam, 23, did sex work, she was paid ₱500. “Lahat na yun. Blowjob, bareback, ganun. Pero, ano… nang tumagal, ganito ako ngayon, may inenhance na ako sa sarili ko, tas may alam na din sa lahat-lahat, so from ₱500 before, ngayon is at least $150, $100 (That’s for everything already. Oral sex, unprotected anal sex, those things. But eventually, after I underwent body modifications, and I learned the tricks of the trade, if I asked for ₱500 before, I now get at least $150, $100).”

It was nerve-wracking when she started, Jam admitted, since “hindi ko alam yung gagawin, atsaka ang sinabi lang din naman ng mga kaibigan ko na, ‘Ano lang naman, blowjob’. Papa-anal ka lang kung ayaw sa gusto mo kasi yan yung offer nila’ (I didn’t know what to do, and they told me, ‘It’s just oral sex’. You just have anal sex if you like their offer).”

But for Jam, what she gets isn’t a bad amount to earn, particularly since she sees this as a way to deal with her – and her family’s – poverty. “Seventeen ako nagsimula… due to the influence of my neighbors. My friends na hindi na minor… parang inumpluwensiyahan nila ako for good kasi para makatulong din ako, ganito-ganyan, sa kahirapan (I started sex work when I was 17… due to the influence of my neighbors. My adult friends influenced me, telling me this is for the good since I could also help deal with our poverty).”

“I didn’t know what to do, and they told me, ‘It’s just oral sex’. You just have anal sex if you like their offer.”
All images used for illustration only; photos by George Shervashidze from Pexels.com

FINDING HERSELF

Jam knew she’s transgender early, perhaps at the age of six. In hindsight, “yung mama ko ang naka-discover. Iba ako sa mga kapatid kong lalaki dahil gusto ko mostly yung mga laruang pambabae, at hindi ako sang-ayon sa color ng pang-lalaki at, which is, I like more on pink, yellow, ganun (my mom discovered. I was different from my male siblings because I liked playing with girls’ toys, and I didn’t like colors linked with boys; I preferred pink, yellow, such things).”

Jam was lucky because – while her parents were “initially shocked” – they were generally accepting of her. She credited this acceptance to having relatives, particularly from her mother’s side, who also belonged to the LGBTQIA community.

Of course, “yung papa ko, medyo shocked siya kasi sa lugar namin, yung papa ko yung pinaka… yung parang basagulero sa lugar namin. Di niya inexpect na ganito yung kalabasan ng anak niya. Tapos ayun, tinaggap din niya ako (my father was somewhat shocked because in our place he was known as a brawler. He didn’t expect that his child will turn out like me. But then he eventually accepted me),” said Jam, the third of five kids.

Jam could remember, though, that life was never easy for them. And so, while she finished senior high school, and even enrolled in first year in college, “hindi na nag-continue kasi walang pera (I stopped due to lack of funds).”

Of course, “yung papa ko, medyo shocked siya kasi sa lugar namin, yung papa ko yung pinaka… yung parang basagulero sa lugar namin. Di niya inexpect na ganito yung kalabasan ng anak niya. Tapos ayun, tinaggap din niya ako.”
All images used for illustration only; photos by George Shervashidze from Pexels.com

PROTECTING ONESELF

For Jam, there are two types of “immediate danger” in their line of work – i.e. physical harm encountered while working, and getting infected with what clients may have (e.g. sexually transmitted infections like HIV). And for her, these “go with the job”.

Too bad that she knows “no defense (for the first issue).” Instead, “you just work together”, hoping there’s strength in number.

As for getting sick, “gumagamit ng condom sa work (I use condom at work),” she said, particularly since “ayaw ko mahawa. May pamilya din ako na depending on me because I’m one of the breadwinners of the family (I don’t want to be infected. I also have a family depending on me because I’m one of the breadwinners of the family).”

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It is sad – and worth noting – that Jam, like her other peers, do not know about PrEP, which could prevent HIV infection by 99%. “When it comes to PrEP, there is kakulangan din po ng pagbigay in impormasyon galing sa mga taong may alam papunta sa mga taong walang alam (information is lacking and not shared by those who know to those who have no knowledge).”

“When it comes to PrEP, there is kakulangan din po ng pagbigay in impormasyon galing sa mga taong may alam papunta sa mga taong walang alam.”
All images used for illustration only; photos by George Shervashidze from Pexels.com

FRIENDS ARE THE CONNECTIONS

Even now, Jam’s main support system are her peers – e.g. taking feminizing hormones was taught by transgender friends, and some of them are her sources now. “Hindi ako nag-a-ano ng mga doctor, actually. Pero so far wala naman side effects nangyari sa akin (I don’t consult with doctors, actually. But so far, I haven’t faced side effects).”

It is this circle, for Jam, that could teach about better practices to help sex workers like herself. Obviously, this is premised on them “to be taught more” since “if it is good for me and for my work or my job, then why not? We just need to also know a lot more.”

But support, she said, isn’t always forthcoming to people like her. And so “kami-kami na lang (it’s just us).” That’s all in the life of “mga gaya naming (people like us) who are trying to make a living sa paraang ganito (in this way).”

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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