There is an assumption that male sex workers are different from women. When you listen to some discourses, female sex workers are portrayed as victims or very vulnerable while male sex workers are just ignored.
It is not just because of anti-sex work feminists who analyse prostitution as violence against women and therefore tend to make male sex workers invisible. I think even in our movement people think that men are stronger and are not as much concerned with what the movement does.
I think it is true that in western countries male sex workers are much less criminalised. Because sex work is seen as a woman’s job, and that male presence on the streets at night is not considered a public nuisance, the police tend to ignore us. This is no longer true when you consider all the countries which criminalise homosexuality. In these countries female sex workers are more often part of the hetero-normative sexual subculture, they’ve got a “normal” role in society even if they are socially excluded as sex workers, while male sex workers are seen as a danger which corrupt the decent moral values. It doesn’t mean that female sex workers don’t suffer repression. They do. But they may risk less and be left alone.
The idea that men are stronger erases their experiences of violence and abuse. Men tend to be less likely to talk about the abuse they suffer. They are often less organised than women and there are fewer organisations and projects which provide them with support. They might be welcome in general sex worker organisations, but many of them are still women only, or don’t see men as a priority.
For example, a study published last year has found something which surprised many, but which I didn’t find that surprising. Almost half of the children involved in prostitution in New York City were boys. People forget that about one third of homeless youth are LGBTQ. Many queer kids have to leave their family very young and find a way to earn a living. Many young gay men are likely to do sex work to be economically independent as soon as they can.
The gay community might see them as a sexual fantasy, but in the same time despise them as uneducated, potential thieves, lazy and stupid. Many gay men want to have sex with you but certainly not having a relationship with someone they might be afraid to introduce to their friends and family. Many gay men struggle to be normal and will do what it requires to appear normal. A boyfriend who’s a sex worker doesn’t fit in that category. But to be honest all that is the same for women. I just want to explain that the gay community is not necessarily a welcoming space of solidarity for male sex workers like some would have thought.
A lot of the health projects focus on health and HIV. But interestingly we better know the HIV prevalence for female sex workers than for male sex workers. Of course, women are more numerous so they represent a bigger target group for the governments, especially when they are also a target for rehabilitation programmes since at least the Victorian age. Also, male sex workers are categorised with the MSM = Men having Sex with Men. The problem is that the MSM category means that middle class gay men control the organisations and the funding and don’t necessarily prioritise or even address the issues encountered by male sex workers.
We don’t even know the epidemiology. But everything leads me to think that the HIV prevalence among us is higher than among female sex workers or among gay men in general.
Male sex workers can look hot in their adverts, with muscles and all, but in reality, they are not all these very well off business entrepreneurs. Men have gender privileges in the system, but their class or race or sexual orientation might put them in a position of being dominated, which many male sex workers are. If people think female sex workers with always in mind the image of the most desperate situations, they forget for example that most female escorts charge more and earn more money than male escorts.
I am not saying all that to create a hierarchy of oppressions. I don’t believe in that. I just want to show that some assumptions on male sex workers can be wrong and that we may all have issues which must push us to remain together as a community.
Whatever our gender identity is, we need solidarity.