MALE SEX WORK AND SOCIETY
Victor Minichiello, PhD
John Scott, PhD
Approx 512 pages, including glossary and index
33 full color illustrations
4 black & white illustrations
24 figures & graphs
Cloth, $120 ISBN: 978-1-939594-00-6
Paperback, $50 ISBN: 978-1-939594-01-3
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Reframing Male Sex Work
Viewing Midnight Cowboy (1969) was often a grim experience. Late 1960s New York, where the movie takes place, was an alienating and ruthless environment characterized by poverty and urban decay. Hustling is presented in this film as a demoralizing, sleazy, and violent practice. More recent films present a very different picture of male sex work. For example, in the romantic comedy Going Down in La-La Land(2012), a young man goes to Hollywood to act in gay porn movies and becomes an escort. Ultimately he falls in love with a closeted famous TV actor, who in turn falls in love with him. Who would have considered it possible that a romantic comedy about a male sex worker would emerge as a relatively successful popular movie? This contrasts sharply with some of the grim earlier films Russell Sheaffer discusses in this chapter.
MARKETING OF MALE SEX WORK
Race-based stereotypes tend to segregate sexual networks, and in so doing may create risk groups that are centered not so much on behavior as on racial categories. Regretfully, targets of stereotyping also may be more likely to engage in risky sex. Logan concludes that technological change has altered the structureand organization of the male sex industry and expanded the market for male sex workers into suburban and rural spaces. These changes have substantially increased the number of male escorts, created new markets for sex work encounters, and extended the reach of male sex work to a much wider potential clientele.
SOCIAL ISSUES AND CULTURES IN MALE SEX WORK
With the greater number of escorts in the large cities, we also find greater diversity of race, age, and body build, and a broader menu of sexual services offered. However, the client does not have to live in a large city to access these services. More affluent clients can travel to where the desired sex worker is located or transport the worker to them. The Internet clearly has significantly increased the reach of male sex workers and their potential clients, so that geographic distribution refers not only to a physical space but to the virtual environment. This means that sexual interactions can occur almost anywhere, any time.
Women hiring male escorts is also becoming fashionable in some Western and affluent societies. What motivates women to hire male escorts? Are their reasons similar to men’s? Unfortunately, we have little information about the female clients of male escorts. Gaining such information is vital if we are to fully understand why people use escorts, what this service means to them, and how—through the experiences and perspective of clients—the male sex industry can become more responsible, professional, and responsive. The lack of understanding of clients, both female and male, is a big gap in the research literature. Researchers need to determine what research methods are best suited for this population, such as online surveys, and to develop a relevant research agenda for the study of male sex workers’ female and male clients.
The decriminalization of sex work has placed more demands on sex workers. As the male sex industry is decriminalized and regulated by occupational controls such as income tax reporting, we have seen not only the professionalization of services provided by sex workers but also states dictating protocols and expectations for service delivery. At an informal level, there are high expectations that sex workers will provide quality services and interact with the public in a professional manner. At a formal level, decriminalization may in time require sex workers to be certified to meet health and workplace safety requirements. Technology also has made male sex work at once more visible and more open to informal and formal controls—for example, a sex worker who offers poor services can be shut down in a matter of a few hours through bad reviews. In this way, the market itself plays a greater role in regulating opportunities for male sex workers.
MALE SEX WORK IN ITS GLOBAL CONTEXT
Male sex work has largely been undertheorized in the social sciences. One reason for this lack of attention seems to be the fact that most male sex work involves adult males and, as such, there is an assumed equality in the exchange, with power relations often ignored. The other issue is the cultural assumption that all sexual experiences involving men are positive and actively sought. Men are assumed to have agency in sexual matters and to make rational choices involving sexual conduct, whereas feminine sexuality is constructed as lacking agency. Therefore, it is easier to present female sex work as an inherently exploitative practice.
Linda Niccolai indicates in this chapter that a highly diverse and growing market for the male sex industry is emerging in contemporary Russia. While the sex work market in Russia is clearly distinct from other regions, there are many parallels elsewhere, especially in terms of the structure and organization of sex work. While some of the chapters in this book provide distinct local examples of masculinity (for example, the chapters on Latin America and China), there are also indications that globalization has produced a greater tolerance and awareness of gendered difference, which has translated into legal reforms and increasing social tolerance toward male sex workers.
What is striking about the images in this chapter is that many young male escorts openly display their faces and identities in the public domain. This is a significant development: for one, it indicates that some young men are no longer concerned about hiding their work as escorts or their personal identity. This is especially striking in South American culture, given that masculine norms there have tended to be more proximate to hegemonic notions of masculinity, which have largely rendered the male body invisible in public spaces. Social theorists often have spoken of the male gaze, which describes the tendency for cultural imagery to be displayed and consumed from a male viewpoint and thus to present females as subjects of male appreciation. In the images in this chapter, the male body is an object for consumption by men and women, and putting a face on diverse body types makes it clear that a male sex worker can be anyone in our society.
There has been an inclination in previous literature on male sex work to present disadvantage as a product of the individual’s pathology or of homosexual subcultures. The problems of male sex workers, therefore, were not attributed to social, political, and economic conditions in the wider society. While feminists drew attention to how wider structural conditions, especially patriarchy, influenced the conditions of female sex work, few organizations were willing to champion male sex workers. One issue was that many male sex workers were considered to sit outside both the gay and mainstream communities, and constructions of hypermasculinity, which many male sex workers present in their self-marketing, emphasize qualities such as power, strength, and rationality. Society’s failure to respond to the needs of immigrant workers is clearly articulated in this chapter through the notion of structural violence. We take this a step further to make the following observation: male sex work can be a product of sociostructural disadvantage and at-risk behavior a result of alienating migrant sex workers from access to the public health and welfare services.
Future Directions in Male Sex Work Research