This is part of “More than a Number”, which Outrage Magazine launched on March 1, 2013 to give a human face to those infected and affected by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the Philippines, what it considers as “an attempt to tell the stories of those whose lives have been touched by HIV and AIDS”. More information about (or – for that matter – to be included in) “More than a Number”, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (+63) 9287854244 and (+63) 9157972229.
It was only earlier this year when George*, 18, noticed being sickly. “Two weeks ko gi-ubo, gihilantan (I had cough for two weeks, I had fever),” he said. His boss in a massage parlor teased him to get himself tested for HIV because, “sulti siya, AIDS na na (he said, that’s already AIDS).”
And when he did get himself tested, “positive jud (it turned out positive).”
George was originally from Misamis Oriental. Initially, “istambay lang (I was just idle),” he said. Then “nag-offer man si ate nga mu-trabaho sa spa (my sister offered for me to work in a spa).”
George studied massage therapy from TESDA, though he also picked skills while working where his sister was working. “Nakatuon pud sa trabaho mismo (I also learned right from actually working),” he said.
Even then, George said it wasn’t always easy. “Lisod pud (It’s also hard/difficult), he said. “Naay client nga kana lang gusto [There are clients that just want that (i.e. sex). Sultian nimo nga diri lang ko taman, masuko. Sultian ko nga bayaran ra ko (When I told them that I have my limits, they got angry. They told me they’ll just pay me).”
The first time he crossed the line between massaging and offering sex work was via a handjob/masturbating a client. “P500 gibayad niya (He paid me P500),” he said. “The first time, I was thinking, humanon lang, bahala na (I’ll just have to finish this).”
Two weeks after that first client that asked for “extra service”, another client asked for sex. “Pero within two weeks, nag-huna-huna ko, part of the job ra ni (But within the two weeks, I did some thinking, this is just part of the job).”
George also had to change his was of looking at the act. “Dili man sa wala ko choice, pero gi-enjoy na lang (It’s not that I didn’t have a choice, but I just learned to enjoy it too).”
Then in August last year, George moved to a city, where he continued working as a masseur.
The offering of extra services is a given in the industry, said George. Particularly in their case, “ang boss nagsulti nga ihatag ang gusto sa client (The boss said for us to give everything the clients demand),” George said.
George admitted that at times, the sex with the client can be okay. “Giganahan na ko sa trabaho (I learned to enjoy my work),” he said.
This is because, as a self-identifying gay man (which is uncommon in the industry with more hetero-identifying men only in this for the money), George said that there are clients “who aren’t that bad”.
George, of course, always knew of his sexuality – “I started young; 11 years old pa lang ko, naa na nag-blowjob sa ako-a (I was only 11 and somebody already gave me a blowjob),” he said.
Since he is working, though, more important for him than the sex is “it’s good to have money.”
This is because “commission-based diri; 30% amo-a (we earn by commission; we get 30%).” This means that since a massage costs P200, the masseur only gets around P60.
With the extra services he offers, George said he could easily earn from P1,800 to well over P3,000 per week.
“Kasagaran, BJ lang (Often, I just give head),” he said. This is included in the massage service already, so that – since a massage goes for an hour, the actual time spent on massaging is “siguro 40 minute ra (maybe only 40 minutes).” The rest is “pagawasan sila (to make the clients orgasm).
Unlike other masseurs who are firm about their rates, George said he doesn’t have fixed rates. “Dili ko kabalo mag-haggle (I don’t know how to haggle),” he said. And so he just relies on the “kabut-an (kindness)” of the clients. “Kung pila ihatag nga tip, ayos ra (Whatever amount they give as tip, that’s fine).”
By now, “di na mayhap pila niagi sa akoa (I can no longer count how many men passed by me),” he said. “Daghan na jud (There have been many already).”
His family members know of his job and what it entails. “They asked me: ‘Okay ra man kaha? Mabuhi man kaha ka?’ I said: ‘O, mabuhi ko.’ So okay lang (‘Are you okay? Does it allow you to support yourself?’ I said: ‘Yes, I survive.’ So it’s all okay).”
Work-wise, not much has changed since George tested HIV-positive. He still works 12 hours a day, with is day usually ending well after midnight. He knows – as he was told when he got tested – that this is not good, “pero trabaho baya ni (but this is work),” he said.
In hindsight, “I think nga ako ex ni-infect sa akoa (I think I was infected by my ex-BF),” he said. “Murag (Maybe/It seems likely). I was 12 when I had my first fuck with him; he was 20. Gikan siya Cebu ato. So one week siya ni-visit, every day, mu-sex mi (He came from Cebu then. So he visited for a week, and every day, we had sex).” That BF is “dead now.”
George said that with all his clients, he was also “always safe”, so he was “sure nga dili sa ilaha ni nakuha (I didn’t get it from any of them).”
Looking back isn’t as important as looking forward for George, though. “When I tested HIV-positive, feeling nako mamatay na ko (I felt I was going to die already),” he said.
But then he gained better perspective. “Ako nahuna-huna, tarungun na lang nako tanan; ayuhon ang plano (I thought, I will have to fix everything; make better plans),” he said. “Bata pa kaayo ko (I’m still very young).”
And so he is now focused “first on my health.” “Positive lang ko. HIV lang siya (I’m only HIV-positive. This is just HIV),” he said. “Dili patay dayon (I’m not going to immediately die).”
The plan is to access treatment (ARV), and maybe “continue changing jobs, and even going back to school.”
If there’s a lesson he learned from what happened inhis life, George said it is to “just be careful. Know that everything has limitations,” he said. “Dili man sa gamahay ko (It’s not that I have regrets). But it still serves as a lesson. Everything is a lesson.”
*NAME CHANGED AS REQUESTED BY THE INTERVIEWEE TO PROTECT HIS PRIVACY