Where the Boys Are: Profile of a Male Prostitute
I wrote this profile on male sex-workers 4 years ago. Re-reading, I realized, it sorta fits my thread on enthusiastic consent. Consent, I had concluded, is not the opposite of rape, enthusiastic consent is. But, still it was tricky. What about times when you just have sex for your partner? And where does sex-work fit in?
I hope that this article can speak to consent in sex work and give a face to the millions of sex workers in the US who are criminalized for holding the “oldest profession.”
Kaleb is facing the large living room window in his Chicago house, skillfully playing Dvorak on his flute for a small group of houseguests. As he plays, lips pursed, I see the distant relation to Elvis he claims to have. At 23, Kaleb spends his days playing music, listening to opera and frequenting art museums and wineries. He has a flexible work schedule that allows for the Viagra Triangle lifestyle.
Trilling, Kaleb stops abruptly to answer the jewelry-box ring from his phone, he chats comfortably, making plans. “That was my Uncle”, he said with an eyebrow raise,” I’m meeting him at a restaurant to get money later.” F.Y.I: Uncle is the codeword for basically any man who would wants Kaleb by the hour, the restaurant is a cheap hotel room and the money is exactly $150 an hour for an “erotic massage”.
I feel it would be cliche and just tacky to point to Kaleb’s childhood, highlighting abuse. But as we talk he’s so open about it. It is part of him–and it was rough. “I just really focused on music and that’s how I got through it”, Kaleb said with large brown eyes. He won some significant music awards and was accepted to Oberlin, a music conservatory in Ohio that ranks among the top 8 in the country. But didn’t attend because of the expense.
He bounced around and after finding himself homeless with no live family members to turn to, he had to find a way to pay the bills.
Kaleb heard about online escorting sites from “high class women hookers” he knew in L.A. “I found websites and posted ads”, Kaleb said. “The one I chose charges $30 a month for a profile–it is worth it”. He pulls out his laptop. The website has an extensive member list, and breaks up the boys by city. The headlines exclaim that “these boys are eager to please you” with an “erotic massage” What does that even mean?
“it is just a both-partners naked, sensual massage that a lot of times becomes a hand job,” Kaleb says. “If the guy wants me to do oral then I will for $200. But I always use a condom ” he adds. “I have had sex a few times but I don’t like to. There was one man I did enjoy having sex with” he says, getting a bit gushy. “He was a married Puerto Rican Doctor on travel. So hot. He was obviously in the closet and that’s how a lot of clients are.”
Kaleb’s roommate John is a skinny college student. He identifies as a straight man, but adds that he is “just very sexual”. When his search for a job was unsuccessful, the independent 19-year-old decided, why not try what Kaleb was cashing in on? John had never been with a man but dove right in, placing a provocative ad online for a “four hand massage” alongside Kaleb charging $400.
“He was so down“ Kaleb exclaimed. “I was surprised, he treated it just like it was his everyday job.” John says he isn’t scared of the profession because he can get a good sense of the client’s personality by talking to them online and over the phone. “Though, the profession itself is not safe. No one knows where you are when you are in a hotel room with a client” he says.
We talk about how the illegality makes it dangerous. “If it weren’t (illegal) businesses could track where the workers are and run background checks to eliminate rapes and murders” he says. Not to mention, there would be no worry for arrest.
When both Kaleb and John talk about their gigs, they get this energy, giddy, eyes asparkle. There is a sense of enthusiasm about the the mysterious clients, the taboos and a sense of accomplishment in getting them off.
But it is apparent the enthusiasm is not for the sex. “I did an overnight once. I charged $500 and he even bought me stuff and took me out. But just like Vivian Ward, Kaleb doesn’t kiss on the lips. “It isn’t romance” he says “It is straight up sex. I had one guy who wanted it to be sweet and was disappointed when it wasn’t” Kaleb says. “But it is a service, they are paying me” he explains.
Currently, a bill is passing in Illinois that would severely penalize buying and selling sex. The argument used by many groups is that “all prostitution is violence of men against women.” But logically, no one can decide your consent besides you. Especially not the State.