A Winnipeg prostitute who is featured in a local art exhibit is facing deportation to a country he hasn’t lived in since he was a boy.
Jammy Reyes has built a following on the popular website Xtube.com. His personal story of drugs, crime, life on the streets and now, possible deportation, illustrates the contradictory attitudes that Canadian society has about poverty, prostitution and porn.
“I treat Canada as my country,” says Reyes, a thin, boyish 24-year-old who came to Winnipeg from the Philippines when he was 11 with his sister and aunt. “I don’t see myself being thrown into another country.”
When Reyes was 16, he dropped out of high school and fled his family home. “I was curious about having sex with guys,” he says. He went to Assiniboine Ave, long known as a gay cruising ground. “That’s where you start off and that’s where you start learning,” he says.
Reyes met a couple of guys named Sweet Pea and Little John. “You should sell yourself,” they said. “You’re young and cute.”
Reyes tried ecstasy. Then, shortly after he turned 18, he got addicted to crack cocaine and crystal meth. “That’s when I turned really bad,” he says.
In order to feed his addiction, Reyes needed more money. He started stealing clients’ credit cards and threatening his aunt. He spent 15 months in jail and six months in rehab, and is almost finished a two-year probation.
Reyes’ aunt, who has a restraining order against her nephew, never applied for him to become a Canadian citizen, nor did Reyes. Last month, he faced a judge to plead his case against deportation.
“I’m just so scared to think about that,” says Reyes. But he doesn’t believe he should be sent back to the Philippines. “I did something bad but they were petty crimes and I did my time,” he says.
Reyes is returning to class next month, to finish his high school degree. He eventually wants to enrol in a culinary arts program. In the meantime, he’s still struggling with drug addiction. “It takes time for people to change,” he says.
He also wants to build on his Xtube fan base. “I’ve always wanted to be a porn star,” he says. “It’s a fantasy for me. I like being complimented. It’s a self-esteem boost.”
Starting this Thursday, Reyes is featured in a Winnipeg art exhibit called 100 Stories About My Grandmother. In the show, 100 male prostitutes from three different countries — Canada, the United States and England — tell stories about their grandmothers, to illustrate the fact that people who work in the sex trade have families just like everyone else.
Peter Kingstone, the creator of the show (who also serves on the board of Pink Triangle Press, which operates Xtra.ca), interviewed Reyes a couple of years ago while Reyes was living in Vancouver. Kingstone didn’t know Reyes was back in Winnipeg — or about his possible deportation — until he was contacted by Xtra.ca.
“I think it’s horrendous to send someone who’s been here since the age of 11 back to a place he doesn’t know,” says Kingstone. “He spent over half his life in Canada. He fell into what the justice system considers illegal acts, but sending him back to the Philippines wouldn’t help him, them or us. Canadians break the law all the time and we don’t send them away. That’s not how you build a community.”
Kingstone, who got the idea for his art exhibit because his grandmother was a prostitute, supports Reyes’ sex work. Mainstream society frowns on prostitution, he says, because most prostitutes aren’t middle-class. But many of their clients are.
“The middle class is quick to jump on this issue without getting to the root of the problem,” he says. “We have to realize that we’re all complicit. We don’t want to know our young sex trade workers. There’s the odd one or two that we want to have at our parties. But we don’t want it to be our son, or our neighbour, or anyone we know.”
Even though, Kingstone points out, middle-class professionals are buying sex.
He’s pleased to hear that Reyes plans to go back to school. But he is also supportive of his desire to keep working as a prostitute, if that’s what he chooses to do. “Whether he’s going to school, working at 7-Eleven or continuing to work in the sex trade, those are all things we need in our community,” Kingstone says.
When asked about Kingstone’s exhibit, Reyes says, “I don’t see what relates grandmothers to prostitution.” But he’s looking forward to attending the opening of Kingstone’s exhibit this Thu, Aug 20 at Winnipeg’s aceart gallery, on the second floor of 290 McDermot Ave.
Reyes could learn his deportation sentence at any time. If the judge rules he has to leave the country, Reyes will be escorted back to the Philippines within a week.