The expansion of sex work (or harvat in Cebu) in the Philippines has surfaced transgender (TG) escorts and online-based sex workers (SWs), who are generally exposed to health risks such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV/AIDS. Recent Philippine Integrated HIV Behavioral and Serological Surveillance (IHBSS) 2011 showed Cebu City having the second highest HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men (MSM) (i.e. 4.7 percent); which TG women are included. Due to the lack of social recognition of TG women, combined with the stigmatisation of SWs, this leads to discrimination, violence and health risks among TG women SWs. Hence, it is important to look at their gender identity and self-description; context and nature of sex work involvement; and their perceived/experienced occupational risks.
The method used was face-to-face in-depth interviews with fifteen (15) TG women SWs in Cebu City as identified by the researcher. Content analysis was used for qualitative analysis of transcribed interviews. The findings revealed that TG women SWs do not necessarily identify themselves as TG but see themselves as women expressed in different modalities, but commonly undergoing body modifications (i.e. hormone pills, collagen injections). Economic benefits and sexual enjoyment gained are the main motivations for TG women SWs, which is related to greater preference for foreigner clients and “versatile” sexual role. Escorting has the most economic benefits, followed by online chatting and online harvat. Lastly, there were lesser experiences of occupational risks (i.e. health, abuse, legal) than what they perceived.
The study concludes that perceived/experienced risks associated with sex work are not merely occupational, but are also behavioural and gender-based. As such, sexual behaviour and not their occupation as SWs make TG women at risk to STIs, HIV/AIDS. Hence, HIV education and prevention strategies should be client-specific to address health needs of the general TG women population.
- Sex worker