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‘I started sex work at 7 or 8’: How Mandy grew up in the sex industry

Meet Cebu-based Mandy, who started sex work when she was around seven or eight years old. Now 28, she laments the limited services available to those in the sex industry, and how they are kept there even while wanting to do more.

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.”

In the memory of 28-year-old transgender woman Mandy (not her real name), she started offering sex for a minimal fee when she was around seven or eight years old. “Kasi naglayas ako (I ran away from home),” she recalled, “at sumama ako sa mga kaibigan ko (and I joined my friends).”

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Older than her, these friends frequented the pier, where “doon sila nag-aakit ng mga taxi drivers, or mga seamen na gusto magpa-pa-massage, ganun (they lured taxi drivers, or seamen who wanted massage, or such stuff).”

Mandy recalled how, at first, “sama-sama muna. Tapos tinitingnan ano ginagawa nila (I just went with them. Then I observed what they were doing).” Eventually, “nalaman na rin yung mga gawain, so I try na. Hanggang sa pagka-try ko na mag-blowjob, ganun, natuto na kasi (I learned what they were doing, so I tried offering services, too. Until I really learned to offer oral sex, and those things).”

The eldest of two kids, Mandy always knew she’s trans. “When I was six years old, palagi po ako nakipaglaro ng mga kaibigan ko na babae. So I feel that babae na rin ako (I always played with my female friends. So I always felt like a girl).”

Coming from a broken family, she was raised by relatives. Most were accepting, considering some relatives were also LGBTQIA. But her father was never accepting of him. And this led Mandy to find what his biological parent can’t give her elsewhere. And so, yeah, the other LGBTQIA people accepted her… and influenced her to do sex work.

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In those early days, she was either pimped by her friends or looked for clients herself; these were always done at the venues frequented by the street-based sex workers (e.g. the pier). She didn’t earn much (from ₱50 particularly when she was still very young), but “it was enough to somehow support me.” Predominantly, she said, she just gave oral sex, somewhat “tolerated” by clients probably because she was so young.

Family members perhaps knew… but never really talked about this. Instead, Mandy’s constant leaving home at night was attributed to her wanting to hang out with her friends.

Mandy has also evolved, in a way: she usually sells herself now as a sex worker assigned female at birth – meaning, she passes herself off as a woman, not as a transgender person. And so her focus is on “ipit, make-up, controlling ang boses, transform na transform (tucking in the genitalia, putting on make-up, controlling the voice, fully transformed).” This has been working well for her as she said she can demand higher pay. “Yung mga presyo talaga, more on lingam, ₱1,500 to ₱2,500, or kapag sex, ₱5,000 (Usually include lingam, the rates range from ₱1,500 to ₱2,500, or if it involved sex, ₱5,000).”

There have been scares – e.g. she already had STI… though she blamed her ex-boyfriend for this. “Sa ari ko talaga kasi naging top ako dati tapos yung jowa ko, hindi ko alam marami pala siyang bakla (Right at my genitalia because I used to be the penetrating partner and my boyfriend then had numerous gay sexual partners).” Never shy when asking for help, she headed to a health facility that helped deal with the STI.

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HIV-related solutions are not always available to sex workers, Mandy lamented – e.g. pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) still isn’t widely distributed among transgender women who do sex work in Cebu City, and the limited information available are not even comprehensible to people like herself. “Out-of-school youth kasi ako, so ang hirap talaga intindihin (I’m an out-of-school youth, so I really have a hard time understanding those).”

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Perhaps not surprisingly, for transgender women in the sex industry in Cebu City, there’s trepidation when dealing with formalized service providers (e.g. health care facilities that could provide PrEP). Instead, the preference is to get whatever from informal sources, particularly peers – e.g. in getting feminizing hormones, friends become teachers (and suppliers) on what to use (usually those that worked for them are recommended to others).

Not, she stressed, because she’s against sex work, “not at all.” Instead, “nakakapagod din (it’s also tiring).”

She’s not even 30 yet, she said, but “kino-consider na akong matanda (I’m already considered old)”, and she said this is “draining”. Eventually, for Mandy, life could lead her elsewhere… though for now, this is a field she’ll continuously be a part of having grown in and into it. And so “padayon ra (we 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. 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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