Working Girl

16 May

Bright white explosion as a firework goes off in the night sky.

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]MJ’s been working bars since she was fifteen. Standard shifts. 6pm to 6am. She was an Avon Lady before that, but this pays better.

She’s seventeen, now, she says, almost eighteen, and works in, or more often, outside of, a tourist bar in downtown Manila.

Nothing slick. But nothing especially seedy. It’s sort of a tent, with some wall hangings, a few tables, a bar at the back, Poker Face on repeat on the stereo, and MJ bouncing and jiggling on the pavement in shorts, vest and hightops, with a big smile and a big, big laugh.

Your drinks cost the standard. Forty pesos for a beer, or thereabouts, twenty-odd for fizzy pop. Her Red Horse super-strongs, when she joins you at the table, cost two hundred pesos. One hundred goes to MJ, one hundred to the bar.

And on that steady stream of Red Horse, a hundred pesos a pop, MJ is keeping three adults and eight children. Four full siblings. Four half-siblings. Her dad, her stepmom and, lest we forget, herself.

And hormones don’t come cheap.

“I’m a ladyboy from the Philippines!” she’ll exclaim proudly, showing off her new breasts with their surgically perky nipples. “You didn’t know?!”

MJ’s gender is a secret she shares, as a professional intimacy, with most of the people she meets. Sometimes, like tonight, she forgets who she has leveled with already. It is no news to the tall, skinny guy from Vermont she’s been eyeing for a while…

MJ has been on my case for days – weeks, if you count our last visit to Manila – to come into her bar. And I thought it would be interesting for Z to sit and talk with someone like her.

“I’ve known who I am since I was eight years old,” MJ says. “I always wanted to play with Barbies, liked pink, liked to play with girls.”

“You never thought you were gay?” I ask. She hands Z her phone and sets him up on a game.

“No,” she says. “I’ve never thought I was gay. I’ve always been a girl.”

Her stepmother didn’t take the news too well, though her dad was one hundred per cent understanding. Of course, now that MJ’s bringing home the bacon and her dad’s too sick to pedal his pedicab, her stepmom is magically more tolerant.

“She wasn’t so kind to any of us when we were little,” MJ recalls. “She was very young. Kind of harsh. But things are better now.”

I ask about her real mother.

“My mom?” says MJ. “I haven’t seen her since I was five years old. But I’m ready to find her now. She has a lot of problems. Drugs, and alcohol. Alcohol, and drugs. But I want to go and find her now. I want to talk to her. I want to know my mom…”

It appears no one knows whether her mother is alive or dead. She disappeared into the ether, leaving five young kids behind her, over a decade ago.

MJ herself seems not averse to the odd bump of speed or possibly coke. To keep her energy levels high during those twelve hour shifts, to counteract the steady stream of Red Horse which passes her lips on a good night, to keep the flag flying high. I don’t know how many of her guests get specialized services, but I’d imagine she needs a little something to help her through that too.

“Yeah,” she says, eyes a little spacy under layers of mascara, even though it’s early. “It’s hard, you know. I work until 6am, every night, I sleep all day, in the evenings I need…” She loses her thread.

But MJ is a good Catholic girl at heart. Still lives at home. Loves the family. Helps out with the younger kids, right down to the baby: she’d like Z to spend the day with her nine-year-old sister one day.

She does tour guiding as a sideline, when she can. Would like to move into tourism or business management.

But, of course, she hasn’t finished school. She’s not even close. And here in the Philippines, you need a college degree, ideally in management, to even get an interview for a job behind the counter at McDonalds or Starbucks.

Would she like a boyfriend? To get married one day? She has the answer pat. “I’m too young right now for a boyfriend. I don’t want anything serious. I just want to have fun. And I have no sex drive now, because of the hormones.”

Gay or transgender marriage is not possible in the Philippines, she explains. Plus, she doesn’t want to complete the change. “Why not?” I ask.

“God gave me this,” she says, pointing to her crotch. “I’ll take the hormones, I’ve grown my breasts, but I won’t get rid of this.”

Gender really is something different in this Catholic country. Go figure.

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One Response to “Working Girl”


  1. Dodgeblogium » BoMSing into primaries - June 9, 2010

    […] presents Working Girl posted at Travels with a Nine Year Old, saying, “A slice of life from downtown […]

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