In this chapter you meet Cecile for the first time, a character you will love, hate, judge, sympathise and agonise with throughout the book. There is a saying in the Philippines people use when desperate times call for desperate measures – kapit sa patalim (cling to the sharp edge). This is what Cecile’s world is all about, living on the edge in order to survive and move ahead.
Cecile’s character is based on a series of interviews with a trans woman in the Philippines who was introduced to me and was brave enough to share her story. The name Santi is someone you will meet later on, and which you hadn’t. All of them are based on real people, years of research, and to some extent, expensive interviews because I paid for their time.
Cecile squinted as she pasted a false eyelash on her left eye and frowned. She should have gone with the neon blue ones, but for tonight’s cabaret performance, these glittery pink ones would do. Looking down at her sleeveless sequined gown, she chose the white stilettos and rainbow feather boa. There, she was almost ready to face the audience. It was a 70s-themed night, and this always drew in a large crowd, both local and foreign. She was doing her Donna Summer and Barbara Streisand mash-up, and with any luck, a few private performances. Business had been slow recently, but that was to be expected, since the clubs had only recently re-opened to the public. She and the other girls had turned to private bookings and hook-ups to avoid getting caught by the authorities. Thank goodness many of the foreigners who came to Puerto Galera were not keen on following the strict rules of social distancing, but they still had to dodge the local watchdogs.
Things were looking up again and if this continued, she would have enough money to invest in a new wardrobe for Thailand. Santi had said everyone in the spa wore uniforms that were provided for, even the supervisors and branch managers, so she wasn’t worried. But if she wanted to go out at night and find some sort of sideline, she would still need to look good. There were so many stories about the Filipino ladyboys who had gotten lucky in Bangkok and Pattaya, landed a sugar daddy and were now rolling on money. The idea of being away from all the pesky relatives constantly asking for money was just too tempting. Everyone thought she was working in a call center and living the good life with corporate benefits and all sorts of allowances, so they took the liberty of sending the utility bills and tuition fee invoices to settle without even a please or thank you. Nobody knew about her secret life as Cecile, trans woman, sex worker, showgirl, stripper and webcam porn star. For all intents and purposes, Cesar was settled, financially independent, climbing the corporate ladder, and about to joint the ranks of management, which meant even more money to dole out to greedy parasitic relatives who could not be bothered to hold down regular jobs.
Cecile patted down her silicon breasts, adjusted her t-string to make sure the groin area was smooth, and the curves were right. If all went well in Thailand, that surgery was going to change her life forever. No more fake boobs, tucking and padding, and she would finally be able to buy real female underwear. She shook her head, thinking back to the days when she had to resort to duct tape, or if money was tight, masking tape, and tight binding that made her faint a few times. Some of her clients had been generous enough to provide designer underwear specifically made for trans women, but it was not a lifestyle that could be sustained forever.
There was just one last thing to do before stepping out for the evening to belt out the 70s songs. Cecile bent down and dug into her bag, pulling out a small embroidered velvet pouch that used to belong to her grandmother. Some flowers were coming apart and several beads had fallen off over the years, but it was a cherished reminder of a few happy years with a person who loved her for who she was, and never judged. Unzipping it, Cecile took out the foil, straw, lighter, and plastic bag. Folding the foil in half to form the V-shape, she placed a grain of crack in the middle, put the straw in her mouth, and lit the foil from below. Inhaling deeply, Cecile closed her eyes and let the effects of the drugs fill her lungs and penetrate the bloodstream. She could feel that expected rush coming on, beginning with the tingling in her toes and that sudden simultaneous jolt to the groin and brain. Standing up and shaking her body so that all her jewelry jangled, Cecile winked at the person in the mirror and said, “Courage and movement are my strength. I feel no pain.”
Stepping out on stage, Cecile could sense it was going to be another wild crowd. The Easter holidays always drew in people from all over, local and foreign tourists alike, either for partying, diving, snorkeling, or just enjoying the escape from urban toxicity. The Puerto Galera LGBT scene came alive in full force for four days, and it was a chance to earn quadruple the money as compared to the measly amounts that trickled in during the regular weeks. A quick hump in the bushes or a blowjob in the bathroom was never to be scoffed at, no matter sleazy or disgusting the person might be, at the end of the day, money was money. The high rollers asked for more, and Cecile was happy to entertain clients who booked her for the whole night. She charged an astronomical rate for it, by local standards, but so far nobody had turned her down. Her reputation preceded her, and the people knew they would never go home dissatisfied from a romp with Cecile. She took her time to give pleasure, and nothing was too weird or kinky for her. If the customer got off by beating her black and blue until he came all over her back, so be it. Orgies were even more expensive if she was the only sex worker on the job, since this meant service on two or three fronts. It was usually foreigners with their local partners who invited her for it, since not all the girls she worked with were into this.
Ever since she was a child and still identified as Cesar, she could command a crowd and enchant them with her voice. She was one of the gifted countertenors that flew under the radar and was never trained formally. This was her first introduction to performing on stage, always being cajoled by friends and family to sing for them. At some point, some aunts and uncles began giving her money after the performances and Cecile realised the value of this talent. From then on, she never turned down an opportunity to sing or join a talent show. Until one night when a talent scout approached ten-year-old Cesar, took him backstage, and insisted on a private performance. By the time he turned 14, Cesar had been passed around talent managers, producers, directors, supposed foreign casting directors, and a host of other people in showbiz that promised him a bright future. They introduced him to drugs at 12 to dull the senses and not feel the pain. The addiction was inevitable, but so was the craving for rough sex.
In spite of the seedy nights and unsavoury weekend trips and parties, Ceasar finished high school and even managed to obtain a college degree in communications from a reputable local college. This gave the illusion that Cesar was off to bigger and brighter things thanks to his padrino.