Arvin* was 22-years old and counted knowing how to do massage and how to work a computer as his only two skills. He learned the science of kneading and stroking anatomical pressure points from working at a local massage parlor in his hometown.
He picked up the basics of working a computer and setting up online accounts from hours at the neighborhood internet café. The year was 2005 and “tech-savvy” was just becoming a word.
The skills were unrelated – or so he thought.
When he ran away from the province to escape the suffocating clutches of family and poverty, the two skills provided to be extremely useful.
“Walang-wala ako noon – pera, pangarap, wala. Kailangan ko lang maka-survive ng day-to-day.” [I had nothing then – no money, no dreams. I just needed to survive until the next day]
In Manila, Arvin’s two skills were enough for him to set up a little something to get by.
From his days at the massage parlor, he knew that some male clients were willing to spend more for a bit of “after-service” like oral or anal sex. Arvin almost always obliged. It was an easy way to earn a little money on the side.
He set up an online profile on a gay dating site as “MassageBoyXX,” advertising home-based massages, effectively eliminating the middle man – the massage parlor – that ate into his earnings.
Bookings for massage would go for Php 750 ($16). Any kind of “after service” would jack up the booking fee to Php 1,500 ($32). Arvin capitalized on his skill as a trained masseur, while others in the market could only offer sexual services and add some half-assed squeezing and stroking to pass off as “massage therapy.”
“I could make Php3,000 or more in a week,” said Arvin. He liked being his own boss and having his own time. The money was good, even if sometimes the clients were not.
“For the most part, mababait naman yun mga naging client ko, pero hindi mo maiwasan yun mga iba.” [For the most part, my clients were nice. But you can’t avoid the others.]
“Others” meaning those who would make him feel that being a paid service provider meant having him at their beck and call and made him feel small and awkward, those who were ugly, those who were old and some who smelled. The meshing of flesh, sweat, and massage oils were all in a day’s work.
Some others would pay lower than the pre-negotiated fee after service had been rendered saying, “Ay, this is all the money I have with me right now. Sorry.”
There were other occupational hazards as well like bogus bookings and pranks.
“I’d be called to go to a fictitious address that I’d spend so much time looking for or going to a hotel room where no one is actually staying.”
Still, Arvin considers himself lucky. He was never beaten up or robbed by someone who posed as a client, a hazard that actually applies to both sides. Some pose as masseurs to rob clients.
Arvin survived on a simple work ethic: provide the best massage service you can. Be nice to the clients, be honest. Take care of them; don’t take advantage of them.
Arvin says this principle first paid off when he met a European client who booked a massage.
He admits there was sex that, with the help of enhancement drugs, went on the whole night. The European became a friend and somewhat of a mentor – a relationship that Arvin keeps to this day.
The European was the one who encouraged Arvin to think about a future beyond hotel rooms and massages. He was the one who took Arvin on trips around Southeast Asia, opening up his mind and his imagination.
Then an American and his partner became regular clients. They offered to put Arvin through school. He chose to study Nursing, but stopped after the second year. “I could not stand to do the post-mortem classes, the cadavers.”
Arvin had always made live bodies respond to his touch, he did not know how to handle dead ones.
Still, the two years in school were enough to get him a job at a BPO, enough to get him out of the rotation of seedy hotel rooms, enough to stop him from watching his on-line account waiting for the next booking.
From standing above a massage table, Arvin sits behind a desk. From someone who was running away from everything and could only think of the present, he is someone who is ambitious and hopeful enough to think of the future.
Arvin, now 33, looks back at the 4 years he spent as MassageBoyXX.
“Okay lang sa ‘kin yung mag-massage. Mas gusto ko yun kaysa sa sex work, pero ginawa ko yung kinakailangan. Saka, tingin ko, massage talaga yung naging advantage ko sa mga clients.”
[The massage was ok. I liked that more than the sex work, but I did what I had to do at the time. I think knowing how to do massage was my main advantage]
He thinks of working his way up the corporate ladder and saving up enough to start his own business, to going back to being his own boss, but in a different field.
“I want to start a restaurant. I like to cook and I actually cook well,” he said – Rappler.com
$1 = Php 47
*Name of respondent has been changed.