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Starting sex work for 200 pesos: How necessity drove Lexy to sell herself in Mandani, Cebu

Meet 18-year-old Lexy, who was exposed to sex work when she was 15 as a way for her to “help even in little ways.” She doesn’t know how long she’d continue doing sex work, and so this is life for her now, at least until she ascertains “asa ko padulong ani (where I am eventually headed).”

Photo for illustration purpose only; all images by Marlon Alves from Pexels.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.”

Eighteen-year-old transgender woman Lexy was exposed to sex work when she was 15. Living with her mom (who’s separated from her dad) as the third of five kids, she was aware of how impoverished they were even then. And so she knew, too, of the need to “mutabang sa gamay nga paagi (help even in little ways).”

Lexy recalled a neighbor asked her if “kabawo ko mublowjob (I knew how to render oral sex)” for ₱200. But then “iya kong gipatalikod. Ingon ko, ‘Hala unsaon ko nimo?’ Ana siya, ‘Unya na ha kay akong butangan ug laway.’ Wala ko kabawo unsaon niya. Mao tu iyang gisuwod. Akong gitangtang kay nasakitan ko. Mao tu, na-virginan ko. Paghikap nako sa akong kuwan, naa jud dugo (he made me turn around. I asked, ‘What will you do to me?’ He said, ‘Just wait, I’ll lubricate you with saliva.’ I didn’t know what he was doing. But he penetrated me. I pulled away because it pained me. That’s how I was devirginized. When I touched myself down there, there was blood).”

Lexy recalled, too, that since the act was “not completed”, the guy just walked out. “Wala ko niya gibayran (He didn’t pay me).”

But that gave Lexy the idea that she can earn from rendering sexual services.

Even now, her usual clients are blue collar workers (e.g. drivers, construction workers), picked up in Mandani in Cebu, not too far from bai hotel.
Photo for illustration purpose only; all images by Marlon Alves from Pexels.com

By the time she was 17, “naa nay bayad tanan (all sex acts were paid already)”, with her fee ranging from ₱200 to ₱800. “Unya pinakadako nga prize nako, ₱2,000. Kuwan to, taod-taod na. Chinese. Blowjob ra sad (The biggest amount I received was ₱2,000. That was a long time ago. From a Chinese guy. Just for oral sex).”

Even now, her usual clients are blue collar workers (e.g. drivers, construction workers), picked up in Mandani in Cebu, not too far from bai hotel. “Dira mi mag-atang kay going man ko sa akong mga amiga, laag-laag. Mao dira mi nagsugod nga na-harbat na ko (That’s where we wait for clients, when I go out with my friends. That’s also where I started working the streets).”

And just like other trans women sex workers in her circle, none know of newer ways to protect themselves from getting infected with HIV – e.g. pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
Photo for illustration purpose only; all images by Marlon Alves from Pexels.com

While doing sex work, Lexy’s peers (e.g. fellow trans sex workers) are her “family”, so to speak. She – like the friends she hangs out with – fear HIV, for instance, since “kuwan siya nga sakit, makatakod, makamatay jud siya nga sakit (this is an illness that’s infectious, and which could kill).” But most of what she knows about HIV, and even how to avoid getting infected with HIV, are not from so-called experts, but sourced from others like herself. “Mag-istorya man jud mi para sa among kaayuhan. Kung naa nay mag-cheka nga usa ka bayot, kanang malingaw man mi sa topic, magtapok mi. Kanang, ‘Hoy duol mo diri yads kay kanag dapat safe jud ta nila, dapat mag-condom jud ta. Para way matakdan na sira nimo.’ Kay mao ra man kalingawan sa mga bayot sad. Kanang cheka-cheka (We talk about things that are good for us. When we gather, we talk about topics that interest us. Like, ‘Come together, sisters, and talk about how we can be safe by using condom. This way, no one gets infected.’ That’s how we pass time. We talk).”

And just like other trans women sex workers in her circle, none know of newer ways to protect themselves from getting infected with HIV – e.g. pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). “Nakadungog na ko. Pero nakalimot ko. Di nako ma-remember (I heard about it. But I forgot. I don’t remember).”

By the time she was 17, “naa nay bayad tanan (all sex acts were paid already)”, with her fee ranging from ₱200 to ₱800.
Photo for illustration purpose only; all images by Marlon Alves from Pexels.com

Lexy doesn’t know how long she’d continue doing sex work. Mainly, she said, “naa pa may kita (I still earn).” Plus, she added, she has yet to check her other options. And so “ingat ra (I just take care)”, she said, meaning now and then when there are assumed risks to what she’s doing, “muhunong ko (I stop), only to eventually return to “padayun ang kita (continue earning).”

This is life for Lexy… for now, perhaps, or at least until she ascertains “asa ko padulong ani (where I am eventually headed).”

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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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