Disclaimer: In Real Life is a platform for everyday people to share their experiences and voices. All articles are personal stories and do not necessarily echo In Real Life’s sentiments.
I was studying away from home, and I wanted to gain work experience in a part-time job
Imagine it is 2001, and you’re a young Malaysian 19-year-old boy, studying abroad and away from home for the first time. As is tradition with every university student, you’d start looking for a part-time job.
I saw the sign hanging from a lamppost, looking to hire “Voice actor & Phone operators,” on a part-time basis. I made a note on my Nokia 3310, and called them that afternoon.
My footsteps led me to a seedy and rundown-looking building in what I would later learn was the Red Light District. Surprisingly, the receptionist was polite and I waited only about ten minutes before I got called for my interview.
The interview was short and to the point: I was given a piece of paper, with twenty sentences and phrases written on it, and told to speak them out loud.
I was very confused about the number of times I had to say the word “banana” in those twenty sentences. I paused in confusion after the line “I wanna eat your big banana.” I thought I was going to be selling fruit.
Image via Pexel, edited via Canva
One particularly memorable phrase that sticks in my mind to this day is, “What is the height of the shelf when you’re lying down?” I found myself wondering if I was selling the contents of Mr. DIY or Daiso over the phone.
Somehow, I managed to get through all the lines without stammering or laughing. A few days later, I got a call.
“We like how you spoke those lines. Congrats! You got the job.” I was ecstatic.
Then Mr. Denham (not his real name) explained what the job was.
“You will be a phone sex operator for gay men. Your job scope is to pick up the phone and chat with men who want to vocalise their sexual fantasies with you.”
My knee jerk reaction was “But I’m not gay!”
He laughed, a deep baritone chuckle and said in the sassiest of voices, “Honey, most of us aren’t!”
Why I decided to take the job
I found out later that I’d got the job because I was the only candidate who had managed to get through all the lines without breaking character. There were at least a dozen other applicants, but the moment they giggled or guffawed, they were turned away.
Keeping a straight face (or voice, in this case) is the key to making it work on the phone, because that’s all the caller has to go with: Your voice.
I mulled this job offer over for a couple of days, vacillating between “There’s so much money!” and “I’m not gay! I can’t! I don’t know how to do this,” and of course, “If I do it for the money… Does that make me some sort of…audio prostitute?”
A part of me still couldn’t believe I was considering doing this. At one point, I went back there and dragged Mr. Denham out for a cigarette so I could ask him, “HOW do you do this sex talk with men? Doesn’t it make you… uncomfortable?”
“You get used to it, or you quit,” He said.
The honesty of that was a slap in the face, but looking back, he was right. You find a way to just deal with it, or you move on to another job.
I took the job because it paid ridiculously well by even today’s standards. I could make about RM4.00 a minute when on call, and I spent an average of 25 minutes of every hour on shift talking. So, I could make RM100.00 per hour! Starbucks paid RM7.50 an hour. You do the math.
What the job was like
Image via Pexel
Sex work of any kind has always attracted the fringe elements of a society. From the marginalized LGBTQ, to the disowned and disposed. People don’t last long doing this kind of thing. Truth be told, I outlasted quite a lot of people. Some didn’t make it through a single shift, some gave it up after a few weeks.
Most people got out of the job after a few months, and some made it through the interview but once they knew the truth, turned down the job.
What I got besides weekly pay was an eye-opening education in the multilayered complexity of human sexuality. Imagine the most lurid kind of escapist fiction you can think of. Now imagine that as an audio-driven fantasy, with the caller as the star of the show, and you as the narrator or supporting character.
My colleagues and I pretended to be anyone and anything over the phone. We were all predominantly straight, but we could turn into gloriously purring and panting bottoms in the blink of an eye.
My creative muscles got a workout here, because I had to come up with a number of different characters or personas I could “wear” within the first seconds of picking up a call, depending on what the caller wanted.
What they wanted depended a little on their preferred language – English was a breeze, and I learned the language of love (French) very quickly so that I could keep earning.
I created a roster of voice ‘personas’ that I could put on at the drop of a hat
Image via Google Images
Phone sex is about selling an audio fantasy. So you learn quickly what somebody wants, based on the context clues during our first few interactions.
I began building my cast of characters using movie character cliches of the best and worst sorts. Of course, it helped that I could put on a very convincing American accent, borne of watching too many American movies and TV shows.
Here are some of my most requested-for personas:
“Khan” — The commanding, burly, taciturn, gruff rough-and-tumble guy was all about first dominating and then riding you hard and making you bite the bedsheets harder. Based on the tougher-than-granite, muscular, strong character with calloused hands. Think leather chaps with a spike studded collar.
In the middle, you had “Grandalf” – the compassionate, loving and gentle yet firm, and somehow incredibly supportive father figure who takes things slow, lets things build-up, and ensures that everyone has an incredible experience. Based loosely on the fatherly image portrayed by Gandalf (before he leaves the Shire).
There were a large number of throwaway characters that never made it beyond two or three uses for those more uncommon three-way calls. Among the many others was the vivacious Drag Queen Priscilla, a confidently fabulous desert drag queen, and Leslie, the sissy over-sensitive submissive boy.
Image still from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
The Lonely, The Stray and the Closeted
These calls were all work and no play, and of course you got paid. Then there were those calls, that were the reason people sometimes just walked out half way through a shift, perhaps to never return.
They started with, “I just…wanted someone to talk to.” It was almost always the lonely guy, stray guy, or the closeted guy. These were the men who had no one in the real world to talk to, or be with.
These calls were like going on a date with the shyest of people, then prying and prodding to get them to open upon even a little bit. The stories go from the heart-breaking, “I’m lonely and just want to hear a human voice,” to the tear-filled, “I’m 18, gay, depressed, and want to die. I can’t talk to anyone about who I am. The other kids and my parents will also beat the shit out of me. My life sucks.”
Image via Unsplash
Every operator has the international list of suicide prevention and support hotlines next to their phone. That list does get a work out.
I do what I can to make them feel better, just by listening to their stories of abuse, fear, isolation and loneliness. These calls were easy money. Just listen. But these calls also always end with the awkward, “You’re not alone. Good luck. Good bye.”
Cue the walk outside, while “Hello, Darkness my old friend” loops in your head. You smoke a cigarette – a bad habit I got working this job – and engage in a period of self reflection, as to whether you can continue being an audio-whore because the money is so good or whether to find a more legal line of work – at Starbucks maybe.
At the time, I didn’t think too much about this. It was haunting, and a bit scary. But as time wore on, I realized there was a grimy, darker side to life for those whose sexual orientation diverges from “normal.”
I thought I had it tough as an 18-year-old virgin, with only two girlfriends and a rejection. But after hearing their stories, I realize that the LGBTQ Community could get killed, just trying to live their lives, be happy and find love. Screwed up ain’t it?
Image via Pexel
You’d hear them, on the phone, moments from it… and CLICK! Sometimes you would actually hear it followed by the CLICK! Rarely, you’d hear everything and then, “That was great. Thanks. CLICK!”
Post-nut clarity – the enjoyment and enthusiasm last until the moment of release ends, only to be followed by immediate shame, instant guilt and possible self-revulsion.
This brief moment of clarity leads to rapidly closing browser tabs, deleting your browser history, keyboard sanitization, and for those who are extra paranoid, returning the “special” SIMcard to its hiding place.
It is rare for it to be a three-way call between me and a couple livin’ on the edge. With most callers, the comedown is a reality check of “what the HELL am I doing?!” They suddenly remember that they are paying RM9.00 per minute to a disembodied voice.
In the end, I didn’t regret the experience
Image via Pexel
The world around us has long commodified a woman’s sexuality. Look a certain way, dress a certain way. Be desirable, attractive, advertise, promote and sell. Any woman will tell you that always being the object of desire is pretty bad, and that’s true.
Meanwhile, men are socialised to say “I want you” not “Do you want me?” In the sentence “I want you” men are always the subject, never the object.
Weird as it was, to sell myself as a gay so desirable that other men would pay to talk to me, was a certain unfamiliar, strange, and undeniable appeal to being the commodified object of desire.
Maybe it’s only because it was a novelty for me, but then, there is value in new experiences.
I held the job for a year, working nights and weekends because I could fit my hours in and around my classes with ease. But I never told anyone what the job was. This I think, was a function of my childhood and upbringing.
I was never the religious sort, but growing up, there were always jokes about the “pondan,” and of course, my generation grew up with the Anuar Ibrahim jokes about “Soto Mee.” Homosexuality was always something vaguely evil, and sinful.But the specifics, the Why’s of it were never explained.
Did it make me hesitant to take the job? Absolutely. Did I take the job? Absolutely. The way a society treats its poorest members is a measure of that society as a whole. Since there are still people treating the LGBTQ community as a fringe element, making them the butt of crass humour, and targets of violence, I actually understand why Ultron (a Marvel Avengers supervillain) spent two minutes on social media, and decided humanity had to be exterminated.
He condemned our society that looks, talks and acts one way because it’s expected to, and fails to care about everyone who makes up that society. I’m not saying I agree with him. I’m saying I understand: We’re the butt of the joke.
For more stories like this, read: Being A Sugar Baby Saved Me From Becoming Broke During The Pandemic. Now, I Make 6k A Month And Safewords and Spankings: What It’s Like Being A Dominatrix In Conservative Malaysia.
Edited by Gabriel Gan.
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