“Maulawon man ko (I’m actually shy),” said 21-year-old RJ San Pedro*. Slumped on a well-used dark-upholstered sofa in a gogo bar in downtown Davao City, he had on a yellow singlet/sando, cut-out jeans, what looked like knee-high black female stockings behind knee pads, and black cowboy boots that had numerous scratches in the front parts.
And as he talked, RJ’s left hand would graze his crotch, while his right hand would – at times – go inside his tight shirt, raising it to show a somewhat skinny frame (his “poverty abs”). “Gitun-an jud nga dili maulaw; pero gatuon pa gihapon ko (I had to learn how not to be shy; but I’m still learning).”
Whether he is really shy or not, and whether this is just his “act” is arguable. But at least RJ “looks” this part. Compared to the other much-older gogo boys, he looks his declared age of 21, even with his not-too-well-done tattoos on his right arm (a lame attempt of immortalizing on his body some Polynesian design), and another smaller tattoo of a star just above his right eyebrow (he said it is to “takluban” or cover up a mean scar his sister gave him by hitting him hard with a “kutsara” or spoon when they were still kids). He would occasionally touch his tummy, saying “wala pa ko abs. Maulaw ta (I don’t have abs. It embarrasses me).”
In a low voice (with his voice often swallowed by the loud music), RJ would ask if, maybe, “maka-order mu’g beer para sa ako (you can order beer for me).” If the beer is just ordered at the bar, a bottle only costs P65. But apparently, if a beer is ordered through them, a bottle of beer will cost P300 – and P140 will go to them. By the way, if the beer is ordered through them, the customers can grope them as much as they want to – at least until the beer is finished.
Even when denied, he stayed seated. That was, after all, the “dynamics” – for them to stay for as long as possible with a customer/group of people, hoping to get whatever amount they can in whatever way. And so he still looked eager as he openly shared his life story; his “sob story”, if you will – which he said he didn’t mind sharing or, for that matter, being shared.
“Bisag unsa (Whatever),” he said with a shrug and a smile. “Istorya man lang na (It’s just a story).”
RJ wasn’t always a gogo boy.
“Taga-Makilala man ko, sa North Cotabato (I’m originally from Makilala in North Cotabato),” he said. “Nasaag ba (Literally: “I got lost”; though contextually: “I wandered away”).
RJ is one of four siblings. “Naa ko sa tunga (I’m a middle child),” he said. Only the eldest (the one who gave him his scar) is married, and is therefore already living away from the family. Still, “wala man gapangayo ug kuwarta sa ako-a ang ako ginikanan (my parents do not ask for money from me),” said RJ, who stressed that “ako kaugalingon ako bantayan (I look after myself).”
He did the “rounds” usually taken by “mga wa ka-eskuwela (those who don’t have education),” he said.
He was 14 when he started working, helping out in a construction site. After that, “daghan na gi-agihan (I’ve done a lot already),” he said, from “construction worker hangtud (to) waiter(ing).”
In his last job, RJ was supposed to work as a waiter, but because of the restaurant’s lack of staff, he also had to help out in the kitchen, do the dishes, et cetera. “All-around jud,” he said. “Inig uliay sa gabii, lata ako kamot. Usahay, mukurog gud (When I went home at night, my hands were well-worn. At times they would shake).”
In that restaurant, he was earning “usa ka gatos usa ka adlaw (P100 per day).”
A ‘DIFFERENT’ PATH
He had been unemployed for a few weeks when he passed by “kining (this) bar,” he said. There was a handwritten post in front of the wall, saying “gapangita sila’g mutabang (they’re looking for a helper).”
RJ applied, ending up with a “higher” position as a gogo dancer because of his looks.
The “audition” wasn’t sleazy, RJ said. He was just asked by the hetero-identifying male owner [“Army man daw siya sauna (He said he worked for the Army in the past),” RJ said] if he can titillate people by dancing naked. When he said “testingan eh (I can try),” he was accepted.
In truth, “dili gani ko kahibalo musayaw (I don’t even know how to dance),” he said, “pero matun-an man daw na (but I was told that that can be learned).”
The others who are in the same profession longer help the newbies. In RJ’s case, they taught him some of the dance moves, provided some of the costumes, and taught him the tricks of the trade [e.g. “Kung mulingkod ra ka, wala kay kitaon (If you just sit, you’d earn nothing)], as well as safer sex practices. So, yes, while “naa puy selos-selos, pero mas mu-suporta jud (there are times when jealousies happen, but we’re more supportive of each other),” RJ said.
It was also RJ’s co-dancers who told him of the possibility of going beyond the job description – i.e. having sex with customers, and not necessarily with women (considering he is hetero-identifying).
At that point, he already had sexual experiences with girls, but not with other men.
The first time “it” happened with another man, “wala ra (it was nothing),” he said. “Naay lahing laki, gusto sex, nag-sex, nibayad, human (There was another man, he wanted to have sex, we had sex, he paid, and it was done).”
No, RJ stressed, “wala man ko nanluod. Sex ra man to (I didn’t feel disgusted. It was just sex).”
This (the sexual) part of his job doesn’t happen often, though. And “dili man pud puwede mag-sex diri sa bar (you can’t have sex in the bar).”
Instead, his job is dominated by: 1) “serving” the customers, “para mu-order sila’g daghan (so they order a lot); and 2) dancing to entertain the guests.
ALL ABOUT TITILLATION
In the bar, the 15 dancers take turns showing off – RJ is the fourth to dance two songs. The first dance is almost always a prep to the second dance – RJ, for instance, stayed fully-clothed as he swayed to Jessie J’s “Flashlight”. After the song is played, he left the stage to go to a dressing area – a stall, really, made of plywood from Cut My Plastic, standing right beside the stage – only to come out with some of his clothes taken off. This time, only wearing black Warren briefs and his knee-high black stockings behind knee pads and black cowboy boots, he swayed again, this time to Michael Bolton’s “Go The Distance”.
When it was his turn to be onstage, RJ – like the other dancers – didn’t even seem to care that he was dancing almost naked in front of people. Instead – almost narcissistically – he kept looking at his reflection on the glass wall encasing the back wall of the stage. It was almost like he was dancing for himself. That or he’s still only “rehearsing”, watching his dancing to see how else he can do so pleasantly.
RJ swayed; did some grinding; slid on the floor while gyrating; and then – with his hands doing circular moved over his head – did more grinding. Oh-so-familiar steps long associated with male gogo dancing in the Philippines…
The progression in nudity actually continues when the dancers have more sets over and above the two allocated to them. This happens only when there are lots of people in the bar, so that the dancing doesn’t stop, therefore necessitating more sets, with the latter sets seeing the dancers further undressing. The underwear gives way to fabrics or whatever props that attempt to cover hard-ons; and then much later, only hands alternately covering the genitalia.
As soon as they leave the stage, though, the dancers again put on some clothes – or at least put on what they had before they stripped everything off.
The dancers also ask the customers if they want to try the VIP treatment. For P1,600, the VIPs are taken to a room by “tulo, upat ka laki (three, four of the boys),” RJ said. Inside, “musayaw mi para sa customer. Pampautog ba (we dance for the customer. We make them horny).”
Again, RJ stressed “wala iyot diri (no sex happens here).” It is all “pampautog (making people horny).”
The dancers also always encourage customers to consider going inside the VIP rooms because “mas dako amo share (we have bigger share).” Alas, he admitted “lisod pud; dili baya gamay ang P1,600 (it’s not that easy; P1,600 isn’t a small amount).”
Without all the add-ons (e.g. their share from the beer if they are able to make customers order through them; or their share in the VIP rate), “P75 per day lang amo bayad diri (we just get paid P75 per day),” RJ said.
MAKING A LIVING
Returning to his seat after dancing, he received the tip given him with a wide smile, inserting the peso bills inside the right pocket of his tight shorts – unlike the others who inserted their tips right inside their underwear. He gave a furtive look at the bar, where the sole bouncer was located – as if to make sure no one was watching him – and then in a low voice, gave his mobile number. Earning outside the premises is “mas maayo (better),” he said, since the bar won’t take cuts. Sex isn’t necessary, “puwede pud gud ila-ila ra (it’s okay to just get to know people).”
Tips aside, and considering the small amount he earns from his work (which he said barely covers the P800 he pays every month for his housing, as well as the other necessities), RJ is first to say he doesn’t see himself in this line of work long. “Mutigom lang tingali (Maybe I’ll just save),” he said.
He doesn’t know, though, how long he will be working as a gogo boy. “Stay put pud uy,” he laughed.
No, his family back in Makilala – which is less than two hours away by bus from Davao City – doesn’t know what he’s doing. Maybe, he said, “makasab-an ko kung mahibaw-an (I’ll be reprimanded if they knew).” But since “dili man pud sila muadto ning lugara (they won’t go to a place like this),” RJ doubts they’d know what he’s doing.
And no, RJ said, “dili man sa maulaw ko (it’s not that I’m ashamed),” he said, since “wala man ikaulaw sa akong ginahimo (there’s nothing to be ashamed of with what I’m doing).” For him, “aron dili na lang ma-tsismis ba (it’s just to avoid gossipmongers).”
Then, as if to stress his point, RJ said: “Diri man ko mabuhi, unsaon man (I make a living from this, so what)!”
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ALL IN A DAY
Around 1:00AM, the waiters in the bar move around to remind the customers of the “last orders”. And then at 2:00AM, everyone is ushered out of the place.
The gogo boys stay over for some time – at least to “clean up”. They gather their props, discuss plans for the next day (e.g. going to the gym together, dance rehearsals), pack up… and then head out.
Some have families to go home to – i.e. wives and kids. But some, like RJ, can choose to: 1) meet private clients; 2) go out with friends/other gogo boys to party; or 3) just head home to sleep.
Often, RJ said, “uli na lang ko. Itulog na lang ang kakapoy (I just head home. I just sleep off my tiredness).”
The day for RJ starts again after lunch – usually 4:00PM or so, when he has to prepare again to go back to the bar. He’s usually there “mga 6:00 kung mu-praktis; o 7:00 kung trabaho ra (around 6:00 if we have to rehearse; or 7:00 if I just have to work).”
He may complain that “gamay lagi ang kitaon (I don’t earn much),” his one oft-mentioned complaint in his line of work, but RJ isn’t going anywhere soon. “Gatuon pa ko nga dili maulaw (I’m still learning how not to be shy),” he said with a smile, so for now, “diri sa ko. Tan-awon lang gud uy unsa mahitabo sunod (I’ll stay here for now. I’ll see what happens next).” Because for now, “ayos ra pud ni (this isn’t too bad).”
*NAME CHANGED AS REQUESTED BY THE INTERVIEWEE TO PROTECT HIS PRIVACY