No, it’s probably not what you imagine. Recently, I was on a panel of Sex Workers who spoke to a group of people about advocacy, biased/antiquated laws, and healthcare for an underserved, persecuted, and often misunderstood industry.
Here’s my speech, originally delivered on 7/20/17 at the Uptown in Oakland.
Speaking to you as a man, I will not be using the term male sex worker. I will not be using the terms male stripper or boylesque either. If the hair on the nape of your neck has ever stood on end when hearing the term female comedian, you understand why I don’t subscribe to the aforementioned titles. All of those terms suggest that this sort of work is designated for a specific gender. I’ll be the first to admit that I know more women who are sex workers than men. As a burlesque performer and sex worker (not the same-more on that later), I work in a woman’s world. I respect and acknowledge that. But, during my time on the mic, I will leave gender out of my labels because you have eyes.
When interviewed about their profession as sex workers, some men are quick to point out that they’re not prostitutes. That word has a history of judgment surrounding it. Making this distinction, especially when a sex worker gets paid for sex, is akin to when burlesque performers feel the need to distinguish what they do as “stripping but classier”. Yes, some people actually say this.
Sex work doesn’t always mean having penetration-oriented sex for cash. Sometimes sex work is as simple as making money from the sex industry. If we break down that legal definition of sex work we can see that, legally-speaking, the person who hands out flyers for (and gets paid by) the Gold club is a sex worker. I think that the people who demonize the profession may change their tune about some of the laws surrounding sex work if they realized that.
As a man, I recognize that I hold some privilege as a sex worker. It tends to manifest in the form of my ability to speak openly about what I do without persecution. I’m a fitness coach by day. After instructing a cycling class, I encourage them all to attend my shows. Women are unable to do that without being disrespected or solicited immediately after. When people hear that I’m a sex worker, they often make the assumption that I’m having intercourse with all of my clients (I am not, with any of them). “At least you’re getting paid for it.” has been the joke of those who have made this assumption. I’ve never really heard of women hearing that sort of joke. Other people tend to ask questions about my specific tasks. What makes me a sex worker? [Here, I went on to describe services I provide. I’m happy to answer those questions, privately. I will not post my list of services on the internet. My work is by referral only.]
Homophobia is something I never thought I’d have to deal with in San Francisco. Wrong. As a cisgender heterosexual male, I’ve been socialized to be homophobic. I can spot homophobia pretty easily. I’ve spent much of my life unlearning these toxic behaviors. When homophobic men find out that I’m a sex worker, many of them assume that I’m servicing men for money and they aren’t exactly kind beyond that. A friend of mine, also a sex worker, was kicked out of a bar just because the bouncer found out he was a sex worker! To be clear, my friend wasn’t harassing anyone or being disruptive. He was asked to leave and the bouncer had no problem making the reason known. That prompted me to make a shirt with SEX WORKER printed on the chest. All proceeds from the sell of that shirt go to the St. James Infirmary. My goal in wearing that shirt is to start conversations that will, hopefully, end assumptions and misunderstandings of what it means to be a sex worker.
One of the unexpected beauties of sex work is the healing aspect. I’ve met a surprising number of women who have never seen the penis of a man they weren’t fucking. I’m not suggesting that my penis is capable of healing. I am suggesting that it’s important that women be allowed safe space to see men as sexy without concern of being pursued, harassed, or attacked.
I once danced for a woman. We were the only two in the room and I performed a 15 minute striptease just for her. She giggled at the beginning. She took more deliberate breaths as I got closer to naked o’cock. By the end, her eyes (now open), her posture, and her everything had changed. As she thanked me, she mentioned that she had just turned 30 and had never seen a man strip before. I told her, “Your 30s are going to be fantastic!” She got misty-eyed and fought tears to tell me how any form of sexual expression had always been frowned upon in her family. I asked permission to hug her. As we hugged, she released all of the tension from her body and relaxed for just a moment. As she left, she continued to thank me and I perceived that none of her gratitude was about my performance. I’m grateful that I was able to hold space for her. Sometimes #sexwork can be a form of healing.
To all of the men who find themselves alone with women in a romantic setting. Please dance for them. Tease them as you undress. Take your time. If she’s already given enthusiastic consent, she’s not going to run away if you take too long to get your pants off. Slow down and enjoy the journey.
Creating space for women to feel like it’s okay to objectify me (or any man) without any expectations being placed on them or their bodies creates an experience wherein her tension is released almost audibly. I look forward to helping more people realize that sexuality is not to be frowned upon. I hope to teach men that being sexy is not only okay, but the world wants to see it. Not “manly”, but sexy. Men touching themselves and loving the way their body moves without it being considered effeminate. I hope that any man [reading] this will find a bit more freedom the next time they dance in public.