Dear Straight People,
The LGBTQ+ community isn’t the only marginalised group in Singapore.
Sex workers are one of the most marginalised communities in not just Singapore, but in the world. The only time sex workers get any media attention is when things like rape, drugs or murder are involved. I’m not sure about you, but I’m getting pretty tired of seeing them portrayed in such a negative light.
In an effort to challenge misconceptions and raise money for Project X (rights-based sex worker organisation), here are 16 inspiring stories from current and former sex workers based in Singapore!
1. Sandhiya, 40
I actually came from a family of ministers. My aunts and uncles are all pastors and worship leaders so it was pretty difficult for me to transition. To them, it was the ultimate betrayal. They couldn’t understand why I was transitioning and would quote paragraphs to me from the bible telling me how transitioning was a sin.
When I came back home from a long holiday, the doors were locked and the padlocks were changed. My mum told me to leave because things at home were becoming too difficult.
Many years later when I got involved in an accident in a temple, I was asked to call my next of kin but I didn’t know who to call so I called my mum and told her I was burnt and surprisingly she came everyday to visit me with food. She told me go back home after I was discharged. Our relationship has improved now and we are all more like friends.
When my pastor uncle came by, he told my mum it was time for them to accept me. He said if they don’t accept me, the public wouldn’t accept me either. Slowly, she started accepting me but she would still try to maintain a strong front of not accepting me. But she actually bought me a bra and even started using my cosmetics.
Before, she would normally call me by my birth name but once when we were outside, she called me Joe and told me it was because that was a unisex name. I didn’t want to show her how touched I was but deep down, I was actually jumping for joy.
2. Sonia, 31
I BTO-ed and bought a flat recently.
They waived off the minimum age for me because I fall under the orphan scheme. This is one of the biggest achievements of my life. For normal people, it is so easy for them to buy house. For people like us, we have to rent all of our lives. It was an emotional moment when I first collected the flat cert.
3. Sherry, 25
People always question me and doubt my ability. They thought I will be doing sex work for years and years. My biggest achievement was to change my own and other people’s belief that I would forever be stuck in sex work.
If you were to ask me 5 years ago what I would be doing now, I wouldn’t have believed that I would be working as an activist with Project X and talking to members of the public and educating them about sex work.
I hope to empower sex workers because I don’t want them to go through what I did. I hope that their future would be much brighter and much more secured because unlike me and my fellow friends, there was no Project X before to advocate and educate us about our rights.
4. Qistina Asyurah aka Echa, 37
I am a very good cook and my goal is to actually open my own Muslim food stall soon. I come from a family of good cooks.
Right now, I am actually saving up. My signature dish is the Ayam Lemak chilli padi. My friends would often come over and ask me for my Ayam Lemak chilli padi. My own brother and sister actually became partners and opened up a stall. So I thought if they can do it, then I can do it too.
5. Louise, 50
I proved to my family that sex workers don’t have to work as sex workers for the rest of our lives. I stopped doing sex work when I was 35.
When HDB announced the single scheme where singles can buy a house when they reach 35, that’s when I decided to stop sex work to build up my CPF so I can get a house. I upgraded myself by taking computer courses and I got my first job working in a hotel.
Now I work in a call center and I have my own house. My family has welcomed me back so I am very happy with my life now.
6. Nicole, 23
”I was lucky in many ways to find true love. He was 28 when we met. It was 4 in the morning when he came up to me and said “ You are by far the most beautiful woman I have ever met.” So we went for a drink then went back to his place.
I thought that as soon as I entered he was gonna rip my clothes off but he did not. He was like ‘you sleep on this end I sleep on this end and I’m like okay…beautiful woman don’t want to touch (laughs)’. He was a true gentleman. He will not touch a woman unless a woman consents.
One week after I met him, I told him if he kept doing this he is gonna be broke. He said it was fine because he likes me. I said if I was going to be his girlfriend he has to pay for my life and he said fine. Then he took me off the streets and paid for pretty much my whole life. I dated him for 3 years then he took me out of Singapore to Dublin.
I stayed in Dublin with him for two years. All my friends said we were like David and Victoria Beckham because we were so together. Everything I did, I did it with him. Like this interview for example, he would have just been sitting down quietly in the corner watching us if we were still together.
He wanted to marry me. But I didn’t want to marry him because I was not a woman yet. I was 19 when we broke up because I cheated on him. I don’t know if I loved him enough but if I could have turned back time, I would have changed the fact that I cheated on him.
7. Mellyana Natasha, 18
When I first started, older trans sex workers would try to bring me down. They will say things like my make up is not nice or that I am too fat and tell me to go home.
But I was so stubborn and I refused to go home. No matter how others try to bring me down, whether it’s my size or appearance, I always try to be confident. I always try to think positively and remind myself that I am a diva. That’s why I think it’s important to show my face for this project to show that I am a confident proud trans woman.
8. Mellyana Natasha, 18
My two girls are just entering their teenage years. They have no clue that their mum is a sex worker. I don’t want my daughters to know. But I always ask myself for how long can I keep my my little secrets from them.
It’s tiring you know. I had to pretend for the past 10 years. When I go to schools to meet up with teachers, I am afraid that I will meet my male clients which has happened before.
But I cannot be hidden for so long. Because nobody will understand our stories if the person telling the story never reveal themselves. I think it is quite sad to realise that society will continue to think negatively of sex workers and perceive sex work as something that does not require any skill or knowledge.
9. Shezzy, 21
I had my son when I was 16. He is now 5 going on 6.
I broke up with the father while I was pregnant. He was very useless, didn’t want to work, didn’t want to do anything. I thought I could raise a child by myself but I was imprisoned. He was a baby when I went in.
When I came out, he was already 5 years old. My mum showed me so many of his growing up pictures and I became so angry at myself for missing out on so many important points of his life.
At times, I feel like giving up. I feel like my son is already happy without me so what’s the point of me staying around.
10. Rebecca, 21
I like watching pimple popping videos.
It’s so fucking weird but it’s so satisfying to watch them come out. One of the YouTube channels I’m subscribed to is Dr Pimple Popper. I feel very gross revealing how much I know about her channel but there are actually different types of pops and she categorises them. I think the blackhead ones are particularly shiok.
Maybe I should use this to screen tinder dates. Ask them to binge watch pimple popping videos with me and those who stick around are the good ones (laughs)
11. Scarlet, 21
I play Overwatch everyday. 3 to 4 hours a day.
I’ve only started really gaming with Overwatch. I used to play Counter Strike and League of Legends. But Leagues of Legends is so toxic. And in Counter Strike, I keep getting headshot.
I started playing Overwatch when it was still in its trial phase. I think I was one of the pioneer batch for Overwatch.
People will say things like ‘Your team carry you ah’ or ‘You can’t DPS’. I know this happens to everyone but when you are a female, people will say that females shouldn’t game like how females shouldn’t drive. Females get a lot of shit for doing things that are generally considered to be for men.
12. Ivie, 27
I tried to leave him 3 times. I came back 3 times. The last time was when he broke my finger.
I was 25 when I met him through Facebook. I have this fetish for bouncers. Less than 2 months into the relationship, he became abusive. Every time I left him, he tried to find me. He would stalk me everywhere and he even leaked my nude photos for revenge. But I would come back every time because he would say sweet words to me.
The final straw was when he broke my finger.
My uncle said if I were to go back to him, the next time it will be me sent home in a coffin. I had to go through therapy and surgery. It was a very painful experience.
13 & 14. Lynae 40s and Vanessa 23
We only met a week ago but since then, we have been very close. She had been in need of help for months so Project X contacted me to help her.
When I first met her, she was so visibly upset so I took care of her. I keep a lookout for her as she is very inexperienced. I have been doing this for 15 years and I have helped many sisters out before. Give them advice on what to look out for and which customers to avoid. These things all come with experience. So it’s very important to seek advice from someone more experienced.
15. Marishka, 40
‘I miss the old days when Sembawang music center was still alive, when ION orchard was just a field with trees, when life for me was so much more free and easy.
Back then, I didn’t have much money but life was so much more fun. I didn’t give a damn about the world and did whatever I wanted. I lived life day by day and lived in the moment.
Now, I don’t feel young anymore. I have to be more focused and everything I do, I have to think twice. Now everything is very difficult for me. I have a lot more emotional baggage now.
16. Shalina Nadhirah, 18
I come from a family where if you want something, you have to work for it. My family is very strict, I don’t get pampered. Like when I was young, if I wanted something, I will help out at my Aunty’s store.
Even today, I still have to work for everything. I’ve met all types of customers – violent customers, customers who try to rape you, customers who leave you out in the middle of nowhere.
I even once met a customer who tried to kill me. He was angry because he didn’t know I was a transgender so he tried to kill me by choking me. I pretended to die and once he let go of me, I took my heels and smacked him and ran out of the house.
Photos by Audi Khalid and Ng Yi Yang
Sex Workers Are Human Too
Just like you and I, sex workers too deserve human rights.
Kudos to Project X, the first and only rights-based sex worker organisation in Singapore, for fighting for sex worker rights in Singapore.
Support Dear Straight People On Patreon
Contrary to popular belief, content creation takes up considerable time, effort and resources. Support Dear Straight People and our mission in producing LGBT+ content by joining us on Patreon!