Male Sex Work Narratives: Implications for Health and Rights Top2Btm MSM Symposium Presentation

Published: May 23, 2011

Sweat (Sex worker, education, advocacy, and task force) has initiated a male sex worker’s creative space: within a period of six months, the group membership has swelled to over 30 participants. With a spread of Pan African Nationalities, ethnic backgrounds, and diverse socio-economic profiles, this group participates in matters that underpin sex work in South Africa: health, sex work as work, male sexuality, MSM, human rights, and decriminalisation of sex work. [law reform]. The age-range of this group is between 20 years and 54 years.

The material for this paper is extracted from group sessions, and preliminary research findings, that have been undertaken by Boyce, Isaacs and Harper (2011), and which will be presented at the Durban AIDS conference in June, 2011. The bulk of this presentation, however, is informed by a group work narratives and conversations of the Cape Town co-hort. It is descriptive (my descriptions) and exploratory, and cannot be generalised in terms of quantitative research data. I was giving a safe sex/health workshop in a brothel, when a male sex worker was called out to do an outcall with a client. I jokingly said to him: “don’t forget to splash clean that cute little ass of yours!” to which he promptly replied: “that ass of mine is precious –it’s my portable ATM –they just shove it in, and the cash comes out!”

On reflecting on one of my groups, I was engulfed by many shadows. A shadow of survival sex, whereby men articulated their fear and desires simultaneously. A desire to reach a hidden goal, where no sunlight filters through. A desire to feed their stomachs on a street corner-awaiting arrest from police. One man had been given an iPod from a client, and was subsequently arrested after the client had dropped him off on his block. The iPod was a gift. The police did not believe him, and four months later he was released from prison as an awaiting trial prisoner, after his client, who had been away had had him released. The sex worker went to his wife and children- who live in a rural valley, with a label of criminal tattooed in his memory, and scarred from multiple rapes . He is now scared and refuses to carry a cell phone, in case he is disbelieved by the police. I asked:”If the road is your office space, how do you survive?” His shadow did not connect with my hope of filtered sunlight and he remained silent.

Their shadows fused with layers of realities: a need to transact, but everyone is an enemy: the enemy is a thunderous cloud, dark grey: Its name is suspicion, vigilance and hyper-arousalexhausting to say the least. This suspicion is explosive: what is this explosion? It was articulated by the group: they do not know who they are, they are invisible, yet so omnipresent: they are street workers, whose rough exteriors appeal to clients and whose unwashed smell-attracts the locust: they are preyed upon and they prey:

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