Rolly, 21, has been “walking” the streets of downtown Cebu City as a freelance sex worker for “duha na pud ka tuig (two years now),” he said. “Nisugod tu pag-gawas nako sa preso; two years pud ko sa sulod (It started when I went out of jail; I was also inside for two years).”
Rolly travels to the city from Pardo, which is at the outskirts of Cebu City, to “stroll-stroll lang gud sa Cebu (take a stroll around the city).” He said it’s rare for him not to encounter other men – gay-identifying, bi-identifying or even heterosexual-identifying – who “mamiga (flirt)” with him, ending up asking for sexual contact. And when they do, “palipay na ta (we have fun).”
At first look, Rolly doesn’t look like many of the stereotypical sex workers – and he is first to admit this. “Mura ra ni-laag (I look like I’m just going for a stroll),’ he smiled. “Dili mabal-an nga ga-trabaho diay (No one can tell I’m working).”
Standing at only 5’5”, Rolly’s arms are fully tattooed. He doesn’t dress to impress; instead, “mura ra mu-basketball (I look like I’ll just play basketball).” Both his ears are pierced (he has flesh tunnels). “Barkada lang ang dagway ba (I just look like a buddy).”
Rolly’s approach is also somewhat simplistic, and even very straightforward. “Mangutana lang ko kung gusto nila palipayun nako sila (I just ask them if they want me to make them happy),” he said. “Kung musugot, istorya dayon sa presyo (when they agree, we discuss the price).”
Clients then bring him to venues – e.g. lodges or inns – where the sexual act happens. “Kung mahuman na, uli na ko (When the act is done, I head home).”
In a night, “okay na ang usa (one’s enough).” Because for Rolly, what’s important is just to “kakita ra ta ba (make a living).”
Rolly said he isn’t new to male-to-male sex at all. “Niadtong Grade 6 pa ko, ako teacher naka-una sa ako-a. Ayos ra man to kay gihatagan ko niya’g taas nga grado. Hatag pud siya ug P500 kung tsupaon ko niya (My Grade 6 teacher was my first male sexual partner. That wasn’t bad since he gave me good grades. He also gave me P500 everytime he fellated me).”
This transactional approach sort of left an impression on Rolly – i.e. that “ma-gamit pud nimo ang sex aron manginabuhi (you can use sex to make a living).”
Unlike establishment-based sex workers (e.g. masseurs who offer “extra service”/sexual favors as an add-on to massage), being a freelance sex worker isn’t always easy, admitted Rolly.
For one, “iwas-pulis jud (we avoid law enforcers),” he said; though this isn’t always easy since “naa man pulis mugamit sa amo-a (there are policemen who hire us, too).” He added that problems arise “kung masuko sila kay dili sila ganahan sa imoha, dakpun ka nila (if you annoy them somehow, they detain you).”
On getting detained, though, Rolly said he isn’t afraid, since “gikan na man ko sa sulod. Dili ko ganahan mubalik didto, pero dili pud ko mahadlok (I already came from inside/prison. It doesn’t scare me, but I don’t want to be back inside).”
It is also because of his exposure to having been jailed that makes Rolly fearless. “Dili pud ta mahadlok sa customers. Gikan na ta sa sulod; kahibawo ta muprotekta sa atong kaugalingon (I don’t fear the customers. I’ve already been in prison; I know how to protect myself).”
Rolly was sent to jail, by the way, because of murder – i.e. he used to belong to a gang that had a member of an opposing gang killed.
It also helps to be aware. In Rolly’s case, “kahibawo ka asa mga customers ga-adto. Kahibawo ka unsa ginasakyan sa mga bayot nga customer – kasagaran silver na ila sakyanan. Ug kahibawo pud ka kinsa ang mga pulis aron malikayan ba. Kana tanan makatabang sa imoha (you know where the customers gather. You also know what prospective customers use as transportation – often, they use silver vehicles. And you also know who the law enforcers are so you can avoid them. These things you need to know to protect yourself),” he said.
Second, in his experience, “daghan customers walay kuwarta (a lot of customers don’t have money/don’t pay well).” Almost always, Rolly only asks up to P300 for “full service – romansahun ang customer, palipayon ba (I romance the customer – I make him happy).” But “kasagaran, manghangyo man sila; P200 lang daw o P100 lang. Dawaton pud nako kay kuwarta pud baya to. Pero dili ihatag tanan. Sa P100, sila na lang mutsupa sa akoa; dili na kayo ko mulihok (often, they haggle; they only pay P200 or P100. I still accept the job since I can still earn. But I don’t give them everything. For P100, I just let them fellate me; I don’t do most of the work anymore).”
Since Rolly is also from Pardo, where people do not earn a lot, “abi nimo gamay lang na nga kuwarta? Dako na na uy! Katabang nap alit ug sud-an (you think that’s just a small amount? That’s already a lot! That can already help buy viand).”
Also, as the eldest of four (whose parents only take odd jobs), “basta makatabang, mutabang ta (if we are able to help, we help out).”
Third, Rolly said there are customers who ask to be unsafe. And while “wala man nagtudlo sa akoa tungod sa safe sex, pero kahibawo gud ta nga nay AIDS ba (no one taught me about safer sex, but we all know about AIDS),” he said.
And although Rolly himself never brings with him condoms and lube, “dili ko mulubot kung dili safe (I don’t have penetrative sex when it’s not safe).” He added that he also hasn’t met someone who wanted to penetrate him, so he doesn’t know how he’d react if he encountered one who’d ask him to bottom.
For now, Rolly said that “wala koy plano unsa mahitabo sa akong kinabuhi (I have yet to plan my life).” And so he doesn’t know how many more years he’d work the streets – and not just of Cebu City, since he also already worked the streets of Metro Manila in the past. But for now, “lipay ra ta. Kung nay kita, maayo ra (we just enjoy this. And if there’s money to earn from it, then it’s all good).”