Sex work has been known as, “the world’s oldest profession” throughout the era of human civilization. However, even until today, societal and cultural level of acceptance towards sex workers has always been of prejudice and social stigma.
In Singapore we rarely hear voices from our local sex worker women on why they choose to work in the sex industry. For that Project X initiated a personal interview with a cisgender sex worker to share her personal experience on her decision of choosing sex work as work. Her only request is that we change her name as she doesn’t want her only child to know what she works as. So this the interview we had with ‘ALIA’.
Tell us about yourself ?
I’m ALIA a Singaporean PR here, age 30 years old and I’m a single-mother of a teenage daughter. Originally I come from a very rural country side in Indonesia, after I had married my ex-husband he suggested that we will be living and raising our family in Singapore. I met my ex-husband in Batam Indonesia where at the moment I was working as a cashier in one of the malls at Batam. As I was raised in poverty and the way of understanding life was very simple, the first time I met my ex-husband and the way he managed to capture my heart just made me fall in love with him. So at that moment, he proposed to me back then I just agreed thinking that my future ahead will look brighter as I had felt back then that he was my saviour. (See how naive I was back then thinking everything was so simple).
What lead to your decision to become a sex worker?
Where I interviewed Alia
It was the moment when I started to live on my own as my ex-husband had voiced out his intention to divorce me and stop giving me any more wife maintenance, which actually I could have said it make no difference whether he give or not as he only give a sum of $100 or maybe less depending on his liking. And when one of my siblings was diagnosed with kidney failure, which requires a lot of money on medical treatment, my family depended solely on me for the fees as they were thinking I was leading a good life with my Singaporean husband.
With the marital problem I am facing and adding my own family who are depending on me and where that period of time I myself was having a very tight financial situation till I could not offered to pay for my own rental room, it just click in my mind why not I try working as a sex worker since I had recalled how the ladies back home whom had been in the sex industry is leading a good life.
How did you know about Geylang and how you start your sex work?
In my own home town, I was already been exposed with the women who are in the sex industry as they are the ones in my village who seem to have a lot of money and leading a good life compared to us who depend on a normal job and be paid in small sum of salary to survive.
I used to work in one of the factory called Motorola when I was still beginning as a wife just to find my own pocket money and on top of it I still could be able to send some money to my family back home. So it was during this period of time when my working friends were sharing about Geylang and the stuff their husbands does while in Geylang, that’s how roughly I had understand what Geylang is all about.
So without thinking twice on the consequences of working as a sex worker and the stigma that I will be facing I just went ahead with the decision. One night I just took a taxi and told the taxi driver to bring me to Geylang where the men can find women to be with. Since I still have my Indonesian accent and with my broken english way of asking the taxi driver to send me to Geylang, I assume he must have thought that I was already a sex worker cause when I had alight from the taxi area I realise the lane he drop me is full of other Indonesian sex workers too.
How long have you been doing it? Since you are a freelancer was it easy for you?
I have been in this trade for the past eight years since 2007, the first few years while I was still started to work it was sure a rollercoaster ride for me. It was never what I had imagined or thought it will be, that moment my understanding was that I just could enter the trade easily and could just clinched any deals with the customer that I prefer or I’m comfortable with. I had never thought that I could get problem with the pimps who have their own area to let their women stand and as a freelancer we are suppose not stand or step near their working area. And when I try to work in the area where the local sex worker are standing some of the sex worker is not pleased having me around them as they still have regard as an Indonesian sex worker even though I told them that I am a Singaporean PR. Since I’m surviving by my own without anyone to inform me how the system in the sex industry works, I just learned through the hard way and from the mistake that I made.
Have you ever had any experiences that made you fear for your safety?
If you ask about my fear regards on my safety, the answer are I always have fear every time when I come to work even till today that fear is still in me. The fear of getting caught by the anti-vice, having customer who could be very violent suddenly when inside the room, not knowing that I had unintentionally hurt another sex worker feeling, if my ex-in laws or my daughter would come to know the work I am doing and other factor too.
What steps do you take to stay safe?
After working in sex industry for so long I had manage to understand the different character of customer that I had encountered, I had learn to master the art of deception when trying to clinch a deal or a customer who are trying to outsmart me in my own game. I will be quite selective on taking a customer, if the customer are quite picky or demanding I would just reject them even though some of them willing to pay extra for not using a condom (Choiiii only I don’t want to be infected with any sexual disease). I had practice safe sex from the moment I had my first customer, and would go for a regular check up on my health. And before I started my session with the customer I will look out for symptoms especially on their penis to see any obvious sign of the man could be infected with STI and if they do have it I will reject them on the spot. And I will go to the brothel or the hotel which the owner had recognize me so if I do face any customer who are taking advantage I could ask them to help.
Do the people in your life know that you’re a sex worker?
Of course and definitely no, I would not want any of my family member to know that I am a sex worker. I’m still in contact with my ex in-laws, I still respect them as they have been the one who been taking care of my daughter ever since I had moved away from their family home. As I was granted a joint custody on my daughter, and when my ex in-law had realise that their son had not been a responsible husband and father during the marriage and even after the divorce my ex-husband just went M.I.A leaving all the responsibilities of paying the alimony money and taking care of our daughter to his parents. Due to the closeness that I had with my ex in-law even my family back home still now have no clues what I am working as in Singapore, they assume that when I return to Singapore is to help out with my ex in-law family business.
Do you see yourself doing this forever?
I’m not so sure, I’m just scared of thinking for the future ahead. When I first started doing sex work, I had never thought of the consequences even the simple thing of one day what If my daughter question me or get to know what I do. The only thing that was running in my mind that moment was on how could I earn money which I could help my family back home, and be able to put food on the table and paying for my rental room. I am targeting for another ten years more for me to be able to make money, so that I could be able to retire from doing sex work. And could be able to spend more time with my daughter and my family members back home but I’m doubting that my daughter will want to follow me. I don’t think that she could adapt to spend time at the village yet to stay with me permanently in my hometown.
What are the biggest benefits and drawbacks of your job?
The biggest drawback that I face while doing this job is not be able to share my inner thoughts or feelings regarding the displeasure that I had encountered with the customers or even with other co-sex worker. If I had share my thought people will think that I’m boastful or may even find that I may have forget where I am standing since I had choose this job so I should have been accustomed with all the situation that needs to be face in sex work. The thing that they seem to forget is that as a sex worker I still have feelings and emotions, and could not handle it well when things become too much to focus with.
After being in sex work for about eight years now, the biggest benefits I had gained is to be able to provide a better living condition to my family back home. Where all the hard earned money I work for I had invested well on buying land, building my own house with better facility far different from the way I used to live in and putting aside for my daughter’s education fund even though my ex in-law do contribute on her schooling.
Looking back on the way I started as a sex worker who is so naive not knowing of anything and the struggling of surviving the odds, and to see the achievement that I had now does give me a sense satisfaction of knowing that my will of determination has paid off.
Where Alia works
Lisa is the Associate Program Coordinator here at Project X since January 2015. She has been involved in what she loves to describe as ‘A Professional Entertainer’ for seven years. Through her line of work, she has had the opportunity to meet many different people and thus allow her a wider knowledge of different perceptions of life.