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How Cebu-based transpinay Terra discovered sex work through her friends at 16

Cebu-based transgender woman Terra started sex work at 16, no thanks to peer pressure from friends she considers as family (with her biological family abusing her). “I’m staying here for now,” she said. “We survive anyway, so just continue.”

PHOTOS USED FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSE ONLY; ALL IMAGES BY Mike Von (@thevoncomplex) FROM UNSPLASH.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.”

Terra, now 23, was 16 years old when she started doing sex work. “Sa akong mga amiga man; murag na-peer pressure pud ko ba (It’s because of my friends; my peers pressured me).”

She recalled when she started accepting payment for sex. “Naa nay mupara nako. Naa nay musitsit. Mga daddy-daddy, naay anak. Unya gikan silag trabaho (Some guys would stop me. They’d call me. Daddies with children. They usually came from work).”

Usually, she said, they give her ₱300 to ₱500, depending on “kung bet jud ka nila… daghan man kaayo mi ana pero kung bet jud ka nila, mas dako (if they really like you… there are many of us so if they really like you, in particular, they give a bigger amount).”

LIVING AS TRANS

Terra always knew she’s transgender. “Seven pa ko nabal-an nako nga bayot ko. Kanag hilig kog Barbie dolls, mga paper dolls, make-up, dress, ingon ana (I was seven when I knew I’m effeminate. I liked playing with Barbie dolls, paper dolls, put on make-up, use dresses, things like that).”

She recalled not being allowed to go out until she professed she’s a man.”Kinahanglan kung mugawas ko… magsulti ko nga lalaki ko para makagawas ko. Kulatado ko. Tuk-on ko. Unya kailangan magdugo akong baba bag-o ko makagawas (Whenever I went out… I had to tell them I’m straight for me to be allowed to go out. I was abused. They choked me. My nose had to bleed before they allowed me to leave).”

Terra is still not fully accepted; and she – particularly – has no intention of telling them she’s a sex worker, knowing things could get worse for her at home.

But this is also why she prefers being with others like her, “ang bag-ong pamilya (my new family).”

Terra uses condoms to protect herself (though only for anal sex, and not for oral sex), particularly since “naa koy nadunggan nga namatay sa HIV, pero dili ko kaila sa pangalan sa namatay. Mahadlok jud ka. Kabawo na ka, HIV is non-curable baya.”
PHOTOS USED FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSE ONLY; ALL IMAGES BY Mike Von (@thevoncomplex) FROM UNSPLASH.COM

PEERS IN LIFE

With other transgender sex workers influencing her to enter the sex industry, these same people continue to be Terra’s “guides”, so to speak.

Most of what she knows about HIV, as an example, as a work-related risk comes from her peers.

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Naa man mi GC. Dili lang sex worker; ang uban bayot ra, uyab-uyab, naay partner, ana. Dili kaayo mi mu-discuss sa HIV. Naa mi sa more than 30 (We have a group chat in Facebook. Not all are sex workers; some are gay, their partners, and so on. But we don’t discuss HIV that much. There are over 30 of us now),” Terra said, adding that at least she knows that “HIV is usa ka virus nga malaganap sa usa ka tawo. Mubalhim sa usa ka tawo once you commit sexual intercourse (HIV is a virus that takes over a person. It transfers to a person through sexual intercourse).”

And no, she has yet to hear about pre-exposure prophylaxis as a tool that can also prevent HIV infection including among sex workers, though all of her peers didn’t know about PrEP either. “Kung naa ni siya sa botica, makatabang. Kunwala, dili jud para namo (If it’s available in pharmacies, it could help. If not, it can’t help us).”

Usually, she said, they give her ₱300 to ₱500, depending on “kung bet jud ka nila… daghan man kaayo mi ana pero kung bet jud ka nila, mas dako.”
PHOTOS USED FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSE ONLY; ALL IMAGES BY Mike Von (@thevoncomplex) FROM UNSPLASH.COM

FORWARD VIEW

Terra is in a relationship now, and they’ve been living together for “four months already,” she said. He knows “unsa akong work (what I do for a living)” but “di na mogamit ug condom (we don’t use condom anymore).”

Her partner, nonetheless, has yet to get tested for HIV, and “straight man siya, walay plano pa-check (he’s heterosexual, and he has no plans to get tested for HIV).”

Now and then Terra still heads home, but her life nowadays mainly revolves around her new “circles” – i.e. her partner, and her sex work colleagues/peers.

And for her, “diri lang usa ko (I’m staying here for now),” she said, unaware of when she may consider other options in life. “Mabuhi man ta, so padayon ra (We survive anyway, so just continue).”

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. 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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