Meet two male prostitutes with very different markets.
Both men. Both young. Both black. And both selling sex in the Caribbean. But they have such different issues.
One is a 23-year-old Jamaican. Call him James. He fulfills jungle fever fantasies for much older, (mostly) white, foreign women.
“People hearing about Jamaica and sex,” he says in a near whisper. “All over the world they know. They leave their husbands at home. That’s what they tell me every day.”
The second subject doesn’t tell me his age. In fact he absconds fifteen minutes into our interview. He is a Guyanese MSM (man who has sex with men). And that ups the ante on everything from HIV to violence to talking to me.
I observe him among the other gays on night number one. The hotel room has the energy of a teen slumber party. BET blaring. Bodies flung over beds. Bathroom buzzing with make-up and dress-up.
Mary prattles. Jane airs concerns. A Surinamese with lined eyes smiles but can’t speak a sentence of English.
He stays silent.
The next evening I press for an interview. His discomfort never thaws. Asked for a snapshot of his childhood, he steamrolls to what he must consider its defining moment.
“First of all at the age of 14 I found myself attracted to men,” he starts. He skims a “very painful, very miserable” sexual initiation at 15. Was it forced?
“No,” he snaps. As he approached adulthood he experimented and soon settled upon his sexual identity. He was gay.
He was also a police officer. After successfully completing secondary school he immediately signed up. Respect, he said, was the first reason for joining the force. Serving his country was the other. He gives a sanguine, sexually-charged account of his training.
“Being a recruit and being gay is fun. You get to see different men. I decided to do things so the men could have noticed me. The majority of men go for men but they keep it confidential. Not all the time I would go after them. Some would come after me,” he says.
He served for four years and says his reason for leaving was a jail break in 2003: “Every week they used to kill a police,” he notes. “I wasn’t a bad cop but I was scared.”
Then comes a rapid-fire, freestyle on how and why he started selling sex two years ago. In Suriname. No work. The “she man” strip. Mary and make-up. Paramaibo police. Deportation raids. Gun shots.
He is clearest when stating his community’s chief concerns—HIV and violence.
“Being a male commercial sex worker is very dangerous. You got to know how to represent yourself… you got to know how to fight. A lot of advantage takes place on the street. Sometimes you go with men to do business and when they finish they don’t want to pay you so you get yourself into a problem. Some don’t want to use condoms.”
Secrecy, I realise, is his third millstone. While his family knows that he is gay they haven’t found out that he sells sex. Maybe that’s why he slips out the room, promises to return, but doesn’t.
James is tall and lean. He hasn’t cut his hair since he was put out of secondary school as a teenager. Women like it. Of his fitness regimen he says: “dancing keep me fit. Plus I don’t eat cook food. Only dry goods and natural juices.”
He had a tumultuous adolescence. His father was abusive. He left the house at 15. He managed to stay in school for a few more years. But by the time he was expelled he had three children and no vocation.
But he had lots of sex.
“In school they never talk about condom. They say school pickney don’t have sex,” James says. He started at 11. By 14 he’d gotten someone pregnant.
He got his first sex education at 20, around the time he started exchanging sexual fantasies for foreign currency.
“That is the time I realise condom in the picture,” he explains. “Most of my friend say ‘yo ray ray ray, them girl carry all them disease from foreign’. I catch a disease last year still though.”
He still isn’t certain whether he contracted the sexually transmitted infection from a client when a condom burst or with his girlfriend: “I never could tell which one of them gave me.”
Here he reveals two vulnerabilities shared by sex workers of all types. First, they might have difficulty negotiating safe sex with their regular partners. Secondly, although they know about safe sex as a general concept, they might not be using condoms correctly.
In the beginning the lines were blurred. He met a couple older women who were willing to send him money now and then or buy him sneakers after having sex.
This evolved into a three-year-old trade. He has links at hotel front desks. Tourists enquire about sex when they check in. The links give him a call: ‘I have a rose for you’. He goes to their room, delivers the service and gives the go-between a cut. How much does he make?
“It’s not like a prostitute where you make a price. I collect my money after. It could be US$100 or $200 or even $250.00. One time I go every night. Yeah. She be calling requesting, requesting.”
His typical client is 60 or older and white. They come from the US or Europe. No physical attraction is required. In his words: “she couldda ugly like duppy. Out of three years me can’t count on finger uno attractive to me. Money is the motivation.”
Violence is no problem for James. Neither is negotiating safe sex. In fact the women usually bring their own rubbers.
Asked whether he makes enough to take care of his children he responds: “sometimes coffee, sometimes tea. But them want nothing. They rated in the community. They nah get second hand. They nah beg. Me don’t wear fraud (imitation brands). When you look ‘pon my youth, the three of them, they nah wear fraud.”
Photo Caption: The men pictured here are not the ones quoted in the story. Credit: Istockphoto.com