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    Issues for Male Sex Workers by Vic St. Blaise
    As submitted to The San Francisco Task Force on Prostitution

    A Male What?
    Men are as much a part of the sex industry as women, and while we are at it, let's not forget our transgendered co-workers. As the task force member 'representing gay male sex workers', I offer my observations and theories involved in my participation in the task force, sex work, and the sex workers' rights movement. Men in the sex industry and the rights movement must be prepared to face homophobia and invisibility in addition to the traditional ignorance of and hostility toward the profession.

    Women and Children First
    Most people, if not all, when they hear the word 'prostitute' automatically assume the feminine gender. This is understandable to a point. I am sure there are many more women in prostitution than men. If we accept that around 80 to 90 percent of the population is heterosexual, and that in general women seldom use the services of prostitutes, then it stands to conclude that the majority of customers are heterosexual men.

    Unfortunately the development of the arguments for or against prostitution and studies on prostitution have until recently continued on a gender bias, with no concern for men involved in prostitution, either as workers, or more glaringly, as clients. Policies, services, research and rhetoric have chosen to participate in the battle between men (clients, cops) vs. women (prostitutes), instead of looking at prostitution as a ubiquitous ingredient of the human experience.

    This bias is a by product of sexism in our society that oppresses women at every turn. Those who are against prostitution see the profession as yet another example of violence against women by men. Prostitution advocates see sex work as a way for women to empower themselves, at the expense, literally, of men. Sex workers of other genders do not fit easily into the equation, and no one has known what to do with us beyond the recognition that we exist.

    Another part of the problem of sexism is the assumption that men in the industry do not need protection, rights or support. Since men cause all the problems in prostitution, what do male sex workers have to worry about? Surely a man would not attempt with another man the same shit he tries with women. Again, the narrow men vs. women model of prostitution ignores the other combinations, but the erroneous assumption that guys can handle themselves is reflected in the amount of services and education geared toward men in the industry.

    What precarious support there is exists in the form of rescuing boys, since the rescuing of children shares similar popularity with the rescuing of women. Recently a network called CASH, Coalition Advocating Safer Hustling, grew out of an AmFAR grant set up to study the prevention of HIV/AIDS among male sex workers. The original constitution was amended, in part to accommodate the cries of protest from agencies that felt the organization presented a too strong pro-prostitution message. Because there are so few organizations that work with male sex workers, CASH toned down its press, if not its intent. Although it includes transgender sex workers in its charter, CASH continues to struggle to maintain a healthy number of participants.

    Homophobia and Sexphobia
    I have encountered what I perceive to be homophobia among members of the task force as well as prostitute advocates, and sexphobia among gay men, in addition to whorephobia from all angles. Because a male prostitute is such a new animal to many people, those of us who are out and have opinions are easy targets for criticisms based on partially processed assumptions about being a man, being a queer, and being a whore.

    Personally I take most of it in stride. I have been fortunate. No one becomes understanding of issues of those different from themselves overnight, and most remarks I let pass without audible comment. If I had to point out every gender biased comment made during the task force meetings, or at COYOTE meetings for that matter, I'd have no voice left. Besides, I have found others willing to correct the non-inclusive statements of others for me, and I see that as an encouraging step.

    However, homophobia has darker manifestations for men in the industry. The obsession in this society of labeling based on who you have sex with has resulted in many problems for those who do not conform. Just ask any bisexual.

    The man who has sex with men for money but is not gay is another creature who, because he doesn't fit in any of the existing structures, gets placed in whatever cage is left over in the What Are You? zoo. Because sexual identity is such a charged absolute, and because the ramifications of not picking the right answer, these men are in a service and support twilight zone.

    The gay community doesn't want them, the sex worker community won't touch them. The guys don't want to be labeled homosexual, they're just having sex with other men. Many outreach workers complain that male street workers are an extremely hard to reach population, in part because of the sexual identity issue. In AIDS services this is a crucial crack in the system.

    The Invisible Men
    Chances are when walking around Polk Street you figure you could pick out the hustlers. But is that guy over there a hustler, or a pan handler, or a drug dealer? Is he a combination? Is he just hanging out waiting for some buddies to show up?

    Unlike women who work on the street, there is not a highly recognizable uniform for the men. The clothes I wore on Polk were the same ones I wore to my day job and to the task force meetings. Such a nondescript ensemble would do for any of the activities taking place on the street. No mini skirts, no lipstick, no fishnets. We could blend in easily, but you say to yourself, "I know one when I see one." Maybe.

    Again because of sexism in general and gender bias in particular, men can and must act differently from our female counterparts when on the street. For reasons I don't completely understand, an initial response of indifference, which can be done with little effort (or noise), is more effective than trying to grab the attention (more effort and noise) of the available johns. The latter works for my female friend on Geary, or for the guy down the street selling drugs, but it would scare away my potential johns.

    When statistics, one of my least favorite entities, are slung around the prostitution rink, I duck. If statistics of arrests of prostitutes involve men at all, it is usually to show a bias against women. Women are arrested, men are not, or not as much, more proof that prostitution is stacked against women. There is a term for this kind of faulty deduction, but it escapes me.

    Unfortunately, the law does not discriminate. The police may, and we'll get to that, but male sex workers are no less susceptible to the law than female. The first state prison sentence under the recent mandatory HIV testing law went to a man. True, women arrested as prostitutes outnumber men arrested as prostitutes, and I have my theories.

    Again, I would bet my next month's salary that women in prostitution outnumber men vastly. Women are more in demand and can make much more money than men can on the street, where most arrests take place. Men can raise their price by becoming an indoor 'escort'. This involves more work to set up, but if I can charge a client $100 in my home, why would I want to be haggled down to $40 or less on the street?

    A woman has more incentive to work outdoors. She has a steady supply of potential clients, even if she is not getting a lot of money per client. Compare the size of the strip on Polk to the areas of the Tenderloin, the Mission and Hayes Valley and you will see that there is no reason for any comparison between gender in prostitution arrests.

    That is not to say that sexism plays no role. In a society where a man can walk about without a shirt, a women who appears sexually knowledgeable is a beacon. Sadly, to many she is a threat to civilization and must be controlled. Couple this with the homophobia entrenched in law enforcement and it is easier to guess who will be picked off the street first, a sexily attired women or a homo who might have AIDS.

    Mass media echoes the same reluctance to explore the male sex worker. How many films can you name involving female sex workers? How many male? I commend whoever put forth the effort to get Joseph Kramer to testify before the task force, otherwise finding evidence of male sex work would have been limited to my testimony at the 'Let's Get to Know Each Other' special meeting on November 29th that most task force members missed.

    To harp just a little more, I was disappointed but not surprised by the lack of interest shown toward me by the mainstream media. Here I was, an active working prostitute who was not in jail or hooked on crack, someone who went about his business without causing crime rates to rise in his neighborhood, someone in good health with an optimistic outlook on life, someone who contributed to his community.

    Not one interview, not one question. No one wanted to hear what I had to say about anything. To be fair, I did receive lots of support from certain individuals, especially from those on the Legal and Fiscal Impact Committee. I actually felt listened to, and that was great. But when I testified before the city supervisors before my appointment to the task force, I did so envisioning how I was going to explain things to my mom when she saw me on television or in the paper. There is a term for this kind of faulty deduction, and it still escapes me.