Mike Crawford is a sex worker, sex workers’ rights activist, and occasional writer. He tweets about sex work and social issues, and occasionally posts pictures of whatever record he happens to be listening to at the moment.
It’s All Greek to Me
Sex work is a female-dominated field, so much so that the existence of male sex workers is often omitted entirely in any discussion of the topic. I hope that offering some perspective on being a male sex worker will not only be informative, but will also highlight the very troubling, highly-gendered way common arguments and tactics are used to advance the prohibitionist agenda.
There is less stigma associated with being a male provider
This should hardly be shocking as there simply is no “fallen man” trope to link to male prostitution. Sure, sex addiction has become the new go-to for men to hide behind when they’re [often literally] caught with their pants down, but the thought that sex could truly “ruin” a man is laughable in all but the most fundamentalist of circles. No matter how much organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD attempt to whitewash the LGBT image, sex workers have a long and rich history in our culture. Sex workers were instrumental in the Stonewall Riots; we marched in the first Pride parades; Go-Go boys have long been a fixture in our bars; we even have a unique vocabulary dedicated to the various types of sex workers and clients. As a percentage of our total population, more of us have also participated in sex work – even if informally – often as a means of survival when abandoned by parents after we’ve come out. In general, sex work in LGBT culture isn’t a shameful secret; it’s a fact of life. That having been said, because sex work continues to be viewed in a very heteronormative way, the unique needs of LGBT providers are often left unconsidered. Whether it’s outreach services or policy discussions, LGBT sex workers continue to be underserved and often unrepresented.
The money is in catering to male clients
From porn to prostitution, the best way to make a living as a man in sex work is almost invariably by catering to a male client base; there’s a reason straight hustlers have been around forever, and there’s a reason straight guys perform in gay-for-pay porn. Whether it’s the result of socialization, arousal and desire patterns, concerns for physical safety, or – my guess – a combination of all three, most women don’t purchase sex. More and more women are viewing porn, however, so I’m interested to see how this dynamic might shift in the future.
The logistics are a bit … different
The proverbial money shot is pretty aptly named when it comes to male sex work. Whether you’re in the penetrative or receptive role (or both, or neither) on a call, your clients most likely want the full show. When coupled with the need to maintain a steady erection, let’s just say the performance pressure can be fairly intense. A certain, now ubiquitous, little blue pill can often provide the assistance needed to get the job done, but one can build an immunity to these meds over time so that’s an ongoing consideration. Our clients’ desire for us to climax is also a natural limitation on the number of bookings most of us can do in a day. True, occasionally you can fake it, but more often than not, you can’t – no 76 clients per week for me.
Male sex workers are not immune to abuse
I’m a small guy: 28” waist and weighing in at a whopping 140 pounds fully clothed. When people contemplate sex worker safety, they understandably tend to view it in a gendered way. The reality for me – and really all male sex workers – is that we’re vulnerable too. This isn’t because sex work is inherently dangerous (it’s not); rather it’s because criminalization means that if we’re victimized, we’re unable to report the incident to law enforcement without implicating ourselves in a crime. Potential abusers are aware of this dynamic and, consequently, they often target sex workers for exploitation or violence precisely because they know the offense is likely to go unreported. Like women engaged in sex work, male providers need the harm reduction benefits associated with decriminalization too.
No one is trying to rescue us (not that I’m complaining)
I have a Google Alert set up for stories related to sex work; every day I receive a reminder that I could be arrested at a moment’s notice for trying to do my job. While that’s not an unrealistic fear, the vast majority of arrests for the actual act of prostitution are of women. Data on male sex work is hard to come by; most sources that capture statistics by sex only report using the catchall “prostitution related offenses” making it impossible to parse out if male offenders are being charged as clients, facilitators, or workers. That said, at least one study validates the common knowledge that women are much more likely to be arrested for prostitution than men. The rescue industry is also entirely unconcerned with male sex workers. Men are coerced into commercial sex (though, just like women, they’re far likelier to be trafficked into another sector) and forced into prostitution, but you’ll rarely hear even the most cursory acknowledgement of that fact; this is unsurprising if you understand the very gendered, often racist narratives used by these organizations to raise the funds necessary to keep themselves in business.
We’re an inconvenient reality for prohibitionists
Moral scolds who wish to completely prohibit commercial sex generally fall into two categories: the family values crowd (often religious fundamentalists) and radical, carceral feminists. Fundamentalists rarely attempt to make any form of coherent argument against sex work, preferring to bully others into submission through sheer force of moral authority. It’s trickier, however, for radical feminists who often do attempt to use pseudo-logic to advance their agenda. In their limited, dated, heteronormative view, all sex work is the exploitation of women by men – women are “prostituted” by some invisible hand that apparently strips them of their agency and personhood in the process. Correspondingly, all sex work is damaging, both at an individual and a social level; for the individual, it is demeaning and destructive, for society, it is a perpetuation of the patriarchy that feeds male entitlement to women’s bodies. Setting aside for a moment all of the troubling implications of that world view, you can easily see how the very existence of male sex workers is problematic. After all, as a male I’m an instrument of the patriarchy, but as a whore, I’m a victim. Am I simultaneously the victimizer and the victimized? Am I actually feeding male entitlement to male bodies?
Superficial differences in the experiences of sex working women and men aside, the broader context in which our rights are debated and our work is policed reveals much about the real beliefs and motivations behind the ongoing stigmatization and criminalization of sex work. If these efforts are really about “rescuing” people “from the life” why are male sex workers not targeted by the rescue industry and law enforcement in their quest to offer their unique brand of “assistance?” In rare instances such as the Rentboy raid where male sex work is targeted, why is the dialogue framed as cracking down on vice rather than saving victims? The answer lies in a new social conservatism – one perpetuated by fundamentalists and inexplicably embraced by radical feminists. This trend is as infantilizing as it is paternalistic; it tells women they can’t possibly really choose to enter into sex work while making no such claims about sex working men. It maintains that sex work is inherently abusive – that it is the paradigmatic manifestation of male exploitation of women – yet offers no explanation of how this dynamic applies when men purchase sex from other men. It can’t adequately address the very existence of male sex work because it is nothing more than classist concern trolling, a Victorian ethos repackaged in Post-Structuralist, radical feminist bullshit and marketed to the masses by the likes of Lena Dunham; anyone who truly believes in the full equality of women and men should reject it roundly.