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Trying to quit sex work for love: Nica’s on-off relationship with the sex industry

Meet transgender woman Nica, 28 years old from Barangay Casambagan in Cebu City, who entered the sex industry at 17. She’s taking time off sex work because she has a partner now, and yet admitted if the time off it will be permanent.

PHOTOS USED FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSE ONLY; ALL IMAGES BY MAKSIM ISTOMIN 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.”

Nica, 28 years old from Barangay Casambagan in Cebu City, entered the sex industry at 17. “Nadala ra pud sa friends. Siyempre naa man jud nay kanang tapok-tapok ang mga barkada, dayun, mao na, ‘Hala, makakuwarta diay mo pag ingun-ana?’ Mao tu ni-try na lang sad ko, out of curiosity. So dira lang jud siya nag-start tanan (I was inspired by friends. We used to gather, and one time, ‘Oh, you can make money from that?’ So I also tried it, out of curiosity. That’s how it started for me).”

Nica admitted that at first, “kulbaan jud (I was nervous),” she said. “Pero nadugay mura ra mag wala kay gi-enjoy ra sad nako akong self ba. I mean, na-enjoy nako, then nakakuha sad kog money from it (In the long run, I started enjoying it. I mean, it is also enjoyable, while you also earn money from it).”

Not knowing of the differences between sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, Nica said, in a gist: “Ambot na unsa ko karon (I don’t know what I am now).”
PHOTOS USED FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSE ONLY; ALL IMAGES BY MAKSIM ISTOMIN FROM UNSPLASH.COM

PART OF THE SEX INDUSTRY

As a sex worker, Nica said “you get used to routines”. “Surely ang preparation nga among ginahimo kanang maligo, then make-up, then of course hygiene (The preparation I do include showering, putting on make-up, and cleaning myself).”

With clients, “usually online; before, uso pa man gud ang WeChat. Pero karon daghan na man kaayo sad (we usually find them online; those were the times when WeChat was popular. Nowadays, there’s too many of them),” she said, adding that at least she can choose who to go with since “makita man sad nako na safe ni siya kay mamili man pud kog patulan. Dili ko magpatakag patol (I can see this as a safe line of work because I can choose who to sleep with. I don’t just sleep with everyone).”

ON STAYING SAFE

There are worries – e.g. physical safety, which is why Nica said they’re choosy when picking clients. But there’s also the need to stay safe sexually – e.g. “condom jud. Kay I know for a fact nga dili man nimo makuha ang HIV through saliva. So mao na, condom jud. Kung walay condom, wala. Pass (I use condom. I know for a fact you can’t get infected with HIV from saliva. So I use condom. If there’s no condom, no sex. Pass).”

A lot – if not most – of information received about staying safe while doing sex work came from peers. “Akong rule: No glove, no love. At 17, nakabawo na jud ko ana. Akong mga friends kay older man gud nako… like murag kadto nga time, ako man baby of the group, so ma-advisean ko nila nga, ‘Ana dapat, kuwan jud ka ha!’ Pero nakuha ko lang sa likod jud siya (anal). Pero sa mouth chu-chu, wala (My rule: No glove, no love. I learned this when I was 17. My friends, who are older than me… that time, I was the youngest of the group, so they advised me, ‘This is what you do, always use condoms!’ But I only use this for anal sex. For oral sex, still condomless).”

Newer tools may exist to protect sex workers – e.g. PrEP, but “wala pa ko kadungod ani (I have yet to hear about this).” And so misconceptions exist – e.g. “With the word prophylaxis, it’s like… for dental hygiene? I’m not sure.”

There are worries – e.g. physical safety, which is why Nica said they’re choosy when picking clients. But there’s also the need to stay safe sexually.
PHOTOS USED FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSE ONLY; ALL IMAGES BY MAKSIM ISTOMIN FROM UNSPLASH.COM

TIME OFF SEX WORK

Looking back, Nica said she has “lots of questions being me”. No, she does not mean her sex work; instead, sans discourses on SOGIESC from people she considers as her mentors, she finds living as “me” challenging.

The eldest of six kids, she said she knew she was “different” at maybe 13 or 14 years of age. “At first siyempre nasuko akong ginikanan kay secretly nag-take ug hormones (At first my parents were angry because I secretly took feminizing hormones),” she recalled. “Pero nadawat lang gihapon nila (But they eventually accepted me).”

Not knowing of the differences between sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, Nica said, in a gist: “Ambot na unsa ko karon (I don’t know what I am now).” For her, without “anyone from the LGBTQIA community helping educate people like me… ingon-ani among panan-aw (this is what we end up believing).”

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But exactly because of her having a boyfriend now, Nica has taken some time off sex work… at least most of the time. “Dili kaayo ko active… karon (I’m not very active… now).”

She admitted that she doesn’t know if this will become permanent, recognizing that she earns “okay money” while doing sex work. “Kasagaran man gud, among life, go with the flow ra (Often, in our lives, we just go with the flow),” Nica said. And so continues her on and off relationship with the sex industry.

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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