Male prostitution: the other side

You can learn everything you need to know about gay male prostitution from movies. Mysterious Skin tells us that guys only become prostitutes because they’ve been sexually abused. They’ll probably be messed up on drugs Basketball Diaries-style, possibly homeless a la My Private Idaho, or maybe even a fading but well-endowed porn star aka Boogie Nights. And around Oscars time, they’ll probably be all four at once.

Sure, these guys can deliver emotional monologues on the state of humanity, and the over-wrought look of emotional trauma as a they turn another trick might send a chill down your spine, but keep in mind, this is the same industry that asks us to believe that every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings. So it begs the question: is male prostitution really as desperate as Hollywood likes us to think it is?

“Although there are some people in the sex industry who turn to drugs, it’s only a minority,” claims Chad, a Sydney-based escort. “And there’s plenty of other people in the world who turn to drugs to deal with psychological issues, not just sex workers. It’s just another way people try to stigmatise the industry.”

Frustrated by misconceptions in his line of work, Chad approached Sydney gay magazine SX and now writes a regular Sex in the Cityem>-style column that explores issues relating to the sex industry, breaking down the subject’s taboo while including safe sex information and answering commonly asked questions about escorting, the most common being: why?

Jacob, a 24 year-old former sex worker from Melbourne, started pretty unceremoniously. “I was curious where the male prostitutes were on the streets, so went ‘round there – which led to me getting a job that night. A guy came up to my car and said, ‘Come back to my house, I’ll pay for you’ and I was like ‘yup – sweet!’.”

Jacob’s choice may sound like a passing fancy than a decision, but he’s adamant that for all prostitutes the decision is, “One hundred percent yours – there’s so many other different alleys you could go down instead of prostitution.”

That bravado remains unchallenged by a lot of male sex workers, but it could be simple lip-service. Those aiming to truly enter the industry are more attracted to the anonymity of the brothel.

“We do ask what reasons they have for being an escort, which is usually money,” says Ivan, manager of Melbourne’s largest gay brothel. “But a lot of them really are just doing it for the experience so they can check it off their list of things they’ve done. It’s also ideal for students, as if they don’t get a client for three or four hours, that’s three or fours hours of study instead of flipping burgers at McDonald’s.”

He then pauses for a moment as if listening to a silent question, and blurts, “But we don’t hire Asians. Anyone who wants an Asian can just go to Star Hotel and pick one up. So we don’t hire them.”

Another party caring for the welfare of Melbourne’s sex workers is RhED, an outreach program based in St Kilda which operates from a harm minimisation approach, providing practical and realistic health information and support (including tips for novices, such as, “Save your money - you too will get ill, burn out, get old or get fired one day”).

As an affirming final thought, RhED comforts freshman that, “the only thing wrong with sex work is society’s negative, hypocritical attitude towards it. You deserve as much support for your career choice as Mother Theresa does for hers.”

Societies attitude is fairly well ingrained, as Chad soon discovered after starting his column. “I talked about the positives of sex work, like the opportunity to travel around the world, and one guy wrote in and said that my column was helping to glamourise ‘prostitution’, as he called it – a word I don’t like.”

A rose would still be rose by any other name, and the term prostitution would seemingly be applicable for escorts and sex workers. But as Chad explains, “We’re not selling ourselves in desperation, we’re providing a service. It takes a lot of energy to be someone’s escort or someone’s companion, rather than ‘prostituting’ – which can mean giving up yourself in a purely sexual way.”

A technical disclaimer, perhaps, but indicative of the sex industries efforts to sway public opinion. The spin doctors have been bought in to clean up the image (if not the industry), but in the court of public opinion, they’re still fighting an uphill battle. It’s been said that prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, and fighting centuries of prejudices won’t be won over by a fresh coat of paint and some decent PR.

In 1949, the profession got a pretty decent bitch-slap from the United Nations. Admittedly a toothless tiger, the United Nations adopted a convention stating that prostitution is incompatible with human dignity. It took them a while. Prostitution has been traced as far back as Babylon. A large brothel found in Pompeii attests to the widespread use of prostitutes in Rome around the turn of the century, and it’s documented that during the Middle Ages, while all forms of sexual activity outside of marriage were regarded as sinful by the Catholic Church, prostitution was tolerated because it was thought to prevent the greater evils of rape and sodomy.

So just as prostitutes of both sexes became a staple fixture of the modern landscape, male prostitutes only recently became a regular character in literature and movies. As late as the 60s, the gay hooker has been mostly stereotyped as a sexy but tragic figure. Troy Gurr, a seven-year veteran of the video industry member and now editor of gay newspaper MCV says, “It’s a slight against the gay community. Gay hookers wind up in films like My Own Private Idaho. Straight-male hookers are American Gigilos. It’s another form of gay-bashing. Killing us with sex and drugs.”

“If you’re a prostitute, you’re looked at as the lowest class level in society,” says Jacob. “A gay prostitute is even lower. It’s almost like it’s expected of us. Like people are gonna say ‘well, I guess that was only a matter of time’.”

There are no definitive figures, but a recent report in The Sunday Age cited that about 80% of brothel and agency workers were women, 10% were transsexuals and 10% men – so it’s no surprise that when most people think of a prostitute, they automatically assume the feminine gender. As such, there is very little research or understanding of the male sex-worker.

Chad confirms this with a perplexed smile.

“Male sex workers don’t easily fit into the equation, and no one has known what to do with us beyond the recognition that we exist.”