II Male sex work in literature
Male sex workers in world literature
A sampling from historical times
Male sex workers in world literature: a sampling from historical times to the modern era
Female sex workers enter into world literature fairly early: a case could made that they are there from the very beginning. Not so for male sex workers, partly because the earliest literatures that have come down to us beyond king lists and commercial inventory lists are Greek and later Greek-influenced Roman writings. Romantic love was understood to be primarily between two males, equal or unequally aged, with mixed-gender love the outlier. Females served as child bearers, housekeepers, and, later on, as commercial partners.
This seems to be true in early Asian and American empires too. But it began to slowly change in imperial Roman literature. By medieval times in the Western world, a major shift was evident in Europe which severely delimited not only who could be loved by whom but how and if it could be written about. As it was persecuted, sex and romance between same-gender people went underground, and homosexuality all but vanishes from our literature.
In the East, it remained potent, with writings by Saikaku in Japan, a tradition of Persian and Sufi poetry (with their adoration of “moon-faced boys”), and a tradition of “cut-sleeve” romances in China. It’s only in eighteenth-century England and France—the cultural sophisticates of the age— that we once more see glimmers of same-sex encounters at all, and those are more widespread in graphic than in written form. We have evidence of male prostitution in the era that we can read.
It is not until late in the repressive Victorian era that male sex workers flourish again in public, brought to light via obscenity and libel trials. By the beginning of the twentieth century, however, not only male sex workers but also writing about them begins to proliferate. As with female prostitution, social and economic class, as well as stagnation versus mobility among the classes, become the defining agents and the crucial issues of male sex work. Especially in Britain, upper-class writers begin to reify the “common man” and, in so doing, elevate the sex-working male into an object of high regard and sometimes into a love object.
In France, Germany, and the rest of Europe, a more practical approach to male sex workers results in their being more integrated into the social and economic life and thus into the writings of the era by authors like Proust, Gide, Cocteau, Doeblin, and so on. When mid-century British authors—Isherwood, Auden, Spender, Waugh—visited, they too became engaged with male sex workers in less classist terms and wrote about it.
In Puritanical America, “sin” loomed large, and it was only when literary movements like realism, naturalism, and regionalism freed up subject matter that male sex workers entered New World literature, most evidently in Spanish and Portuguese literatures of Central and South America, while to the north, male sex workers featured in the literature haltingly and in writings that are either moralistic or “coded.” It would require a generation of Americans living in Europe over a period of time (С. H. Ford, Tennessee Williams, Sam Steward, et al.) for American literature to begin to openly, if still ambiguously, treat the subject.
I propose to use those authors and others to illustrate this thesis.
The very first piece of recognized Western literature, Sin-leqi-unninni’s Epic of Gilgamesh, (ca. 1700 BCE) has an unusual section in which the king orders a woman brought to the wild man Enkiddu. Her purpose is to “tame” Enkiddu, to physically wear him out, which she does only after seven days ot intercourse. But also to “socialize” him as preteens and teenage boys are socialized by school, church, the Boy Scouts, school dances, and so on. Since Shammat has a purpose she must fulfill with a person deemed uncivilized and therefore undesirable, we may assume she was hired. Many texts from not much later in this part of the world mention sacred temple prostitutes of the Goddess Ishtar, or Venus. It isn’t difficult to conclude that Shammat is the first sex worker in Western literature, right at its very inception, 1,000 years before Homer.
The next time such a person appears in Western literature, it is in the form of a hetaera in the ancient Greek city-states. These are professional women, often literate and even more cultured, and at times quite high up on the social scale. Greek males do not seem to ever have been sex workers, for the simple reason that, after all, Greek love was primarily between males, usually of different ages, and therefore they could get sex from other males without paying for it. Wives, while sometimes friends, were seldom the receivers ot passion from Greek males. Even Socrates, whom contemporary writers agree was “froglike” in personal appearance, had male lovers, including Alcibiades, the handsomest young man of his day. The classic Greek Anthology is full of poetry about such young men and the boys who love them and leave them: Meleager (90—25 BCE) and Anacreon (570—500 BCE) are among the best and most prolific of the poets. Along with Ibycus and Pindar, they write both about the joys and the hardships of loving boys and young men: “Oh, boy with a girl’s eyes/I look tor you and follow you/but you ignore me, and do not recognize/my soul’s charioteer.” And “The love of a boy/is like a hungry wolf/hidden under your shirt.” But it was the Hellenistic Syrian Meleager of Gadara who made the first collection of these shorter poems and fragments in his 60 BCE book, The Garland.
Roman times were similar, since they copied Greek culture closely. Marriage, as it has come down to us, is a Roman ritual and was primarily a commercial agreement between two families. (Meaning that all those who want to preserve the so-called sanctity of marriage are—unsurprisingly, given their capitalist bent—supporting the sanctity of a business contract!) In Petronius’s prose work Satyricon, there are several boys and young men who, if they aren’t called hustlers or prostitutes, definitely appear to today’s reader to act like them. The young Eumolphus, for example, whom our two heroes, as well as everyone else, lust after throughout that book, breaks hearts left and right, and true to his work ethic eventually opts for the richest and most powerful lover and not the hotties. But it’s not that fixed, because as the two scamps who are the protagonists show, one day the buyer can also become the seller.
Catullus, Gaius Valerius (87—54 BCE), often considered the best Republican poet, imitated Sappho as well as well as those classical and Hellenistic models. Of his over 200 poems, Western culture has chosen to honor those addressed to “Lesbia,” an older woman who was unfaithful to him. But those represent only an eighth of his output. Most of his love poetry is addressed to Juventus, a high-born lad. (And also the name of a successful Roman soccer team, leading one to wonder. . .) The later, Augustan poets of love, Ovid, Horace, Vergil, Propertius, and Martial, all follow Catullus’s lead: writing ot boys who demanded gifts or were even outright prostitutes. Ovid’s letters mention a young man with an “extremely large penis” suddenly appearing at his local bathhouse and causing a sensation among the regulars. Since there is graffiti in the ruins of resorts like Herculaneum and Pompeii showing such amplitudes in drawings, with names attached, it’s not difficult to believe that certain men were for sale—and what? Operated by moving from one bathhouse to another? Possibly. Then there are all the Horatian odes addressed to athletes and other cuties. No wonder generations of British schoolboys indulged in mutual masturbation and more, given all the time they had to spend glossing and translating into English these paeans to male pulchritude.
Romans also began to love women with passion equal to their loves for youths. At least in literature, they did. Tellingly, literary and historical portraits of the Roman era about ambitious, powerful, and sexual women like the emperor Augustus’s wife, Livia, and the emperor Claudius’s wife, Messalina, are more cautionary tales than actual history. From Livy to Procopius, including even the generally objective Plutarch, Roman-era authors make sure strong women are denigrated and warned against.
The misogyny continued and deepened while almost all else changed with the widespread acceptance of Christianity, which succeeded only at the cost ot repudiating the previous tour millennia of culture. John Boswell’s still necessary Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality covers the baffling varieties and many internal contradictions even in local areas regarding sexuality in this medieval period, which was by no means uniform across continental Europe. Gay love might be condemned in one town, while in the next one over, gay men were married in church. There is little sensual literature of the Middle Ages to look at. Unless, of course, we consider Rabelais, somewhat later on, who writes from a medieval mindset and whose characters certainly indulge mostly in the sin of gluttony. The Italian Renaissance, with its reawakening of classical culture, however, was more tolerant; one painter’s nickname was La Sodoma. Michelangelo’s and Shakespeare’s sonnets address men and women equally.
But more to the point are Caravaggio and Benvenuto Cellini, great artists who are agreed to have consorted with various “low-lifes” ot their time. The former’s paintings of biblical subjects were controversial because he often used boyfriends, exes, and what we might call “Christopher Street trash” (i.e., dirty boys) as models for his saints and sinners alike. Other people easily recognized the boys. Meaning what? That they were male streetwalkers? Probably.
Perhaps Caravaggio would have been less conspicuous in Florence than in Rome. According to recent studies, during the brief but frantic “reform era” of Savonarola, a box was placed outside each church where you could anonymously place the names of “sodomites.” The boxes were so quickly filled up they had to be emptied daily. The beautiful young Leonardo da Vinci (who counted the king of France among his more notable clients) as well as Michelangelo were denounced on a daily basis. Who knows what written works by them or by their compeers containing portraits or tales of male sex workers may exist hidden in vaults in the Vatican Library? So far they are safe from prying eyes. Once again, those town-by-town laws and punishments for breaking laws against homosexuality widely differed. In Venice, you could be burned at the stake for an offense that simultaneously would cost you a mere 25-florin fine in Florence.
Unfettered prurience returns to Western culture in late-seventeenth-century Europe with the courtly shenanigans of Charles II of England and especially those of Louis XIV, who had several publicly acknowledged mistresses going, along with his wife. But Louis’s younger brother, known as “Monsieur,” was a notable homosexual with his own subcourt and his own band of male lovers, mostly macho, upper-echelon officers in the armed forces. In his wonderfully complete and catty memoirs of the court at Versailles, Louis de Rouvroy, a.k.a. the Duke of Saint-Simon, several times retells (or retails) the general belief that Cardinal Richelieu, “the
Kingmaker”, very early on in the two young royals’ lives, decided to “satisfy and further stimulate” Louis’s little brother’s queer proclivities. Why? So that he would be too busy flirting and screwing around to ever threaten the Sun King’s position. However, Louis loved his brother and protected him. Monsieur seems to have been an all-around nice guy whom even St. Simon couldn’t find fault with. And the king married his little brother to a formidable woman who also adored him and protected him.
If Western literature of that time is reticent about male sex or male sex workers, classical Japanese literature is anything but. The greatest writer of the seventeenth century, Ihara Saikaku’s first prose work was Life of an Amorous Man. That was successful enough that he next published Five Women Who Lived for Love. But all agree that his masterpiece is the encyclopedic Great Mirror of Male Love, issued in two volumes around 1687 that became massive best sellers. Most of the first volume and part of the second is concerned with samurais—that is, warriors—and their male lovers. Tales of sacrifice and of instances of such utter devotion between male lovers abound, with stories titled “A Sword His Only Memento” and “Boy Who Sacrificed His Love” common. In the second and by far larger volume, Saikaku’s subject is Kabuki boy actors who portray women on stage. Saikaku is a great storyteller of the “Floating World” ofjapan. In his tale “A Secret Vault,” he writes, “Male actors of female roles in the old days . . . were not particularly concerned about looking like women. They simply placed towels on their heads and applied some rough makeup, and theater-goers used their imaginations to fill in the rest”—cattily adding, “The scenarios, too, were terrible, by today’s standards.”
All that has changed, however, by Saikaku’s own time. In his tales, famous courtesans come to boy actors for makeup tips and young noblewomen for costuming choices to land a husband. More typical is this: “None matched Heihachi in beauty. With a single glance, wise men and fools, noblemen and commoners, all fell in love with him.” But because they were both adored and poorly paid, the boys all prostituted themselves, although “their beauty only lasted five or six years.” So, most of the remaining volume of The Great Mirror contains tales of boy actors selling themselves with sometimes sad, tragic, haunting, but also happy, wise, and hilarious results. This was the subject Saikaku enjoyed writing about most, and the tales form an entire subgenre of Japanese literature. In one story, “Bamboo Clappers,” a long-in-the-tooth boy actor’s real age is revealed by a psychic to be—astonishingly—38! In that same tale, a drunken bully of a samurai demands a boy actor from a merchant who has already paid for him. The boy gets him even more drunk and complains of his beard. He ends up shaving half of the samurai’s whiskers off, leaving him drunk-asleep and looking like a fool when he awakens. This breadth of styles and genres in writing about male hustling will be unique until the mid-twentieth-century writers like John Rechy and Sam Steward.
By the middle of the eighteenth century, sexuality returns to Western literature, too. That’s when we come upon John Cleland’s novel, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure of 1749, also known as Fanny Hill. Cleland tells a story Defoe and others had told before, how an upright young woman is abandoned by her lover and finds herself in a house of prostitution. But as she is a good woman, eventually she finds love again. What’s different with Fanny Hill is page after page of closely descriptive physical erotica told in a delightfully florid, eighteenth-century style. The book was a hit in its own time but censored. It was rereleased and was a sensation again. And it was again when it was reprinted in the 1960s.
While Cleland is completely open and detailed about the heterosexual goings-on in the book, there is a section in which Fanny is waiting in a room at an inn for a stagecoach and hears people making love in the next room. She climbs a chair and pokes a hole in a paper screen and witnesses a young man undressing a teenage boy, and then the two engaged in sex. Cleland does not describe what they are doing, as he does in such detail with male-on-female sex, but he states that Fanny is shocked and “disgusted” by what she sees. The age difference and her great ire suggests that the younger of the two is actually stealing clients away from ladies like herself. Before she can do anything about it, however, her chair falls and she is knocked out.
All this is odd enough for the book. But it is directly followed by a scene back at her “house” in which an intellectually challenged teen, “Simple Dick,” who sells the ladies of the night posies, is seduced by Fanny in league with her colleague, Louisa. Abetted by Fanny, Louisa induces the lad into intercourse with her—which again is spelled out in detail. This is what today we would call child molestation, even rape.
What are those scenes doing in the book? In tandem, the two scenes point to the authors recognition of male-on-male sex between different classes and also confirm the idea that teen- aged boys were viewed as desired and paid-for sexual objects. Use of the inn for sexual encounters is also fairly common. In Queer City: Gay London from the Romans to the Present Day, Peter Ackroyd writes that innkeepers in the city often hired out particular rooms for the express purpose of being used by rent boys and their clients.
Also in the eighteenth century, two classic Chinese novels, Li Po s The Prayer Mat of Flesh (1716) and Cao Xuen’s multivolume The Story of the Stone (1760), found widespread distribution and readership due to progress in printing methods. In both books, scenes of male- on-male romance appear interpolated into heterosexual scenes. Especially in the first, more cynical book, where the hero is determined to have every kind of physical pleasure available, the boys are for pay.
These stories follow a long Chinese “cut-sleeve” tradition going back thousands of years: legends of kings who cut their sleeves rather than wake the sleeping boys they spent the night with. Many classic love and erotic poems of the Sung and T’ang periods may also be about boys and young men. We cannot tell, as there is no gender signifier in classic Chinese poetry. There is also a long history of uncredited sex stories in which boys and young men couple. By 1823, when a story collection titled The Precious Mirror of Fragrant Flowers was published anonymously, everyone knew its real title was The Precious Mirror of Boy Actresses, in a nod to Saikaku. They probably all knew who the author was too, although that is now lost.
Late in the nineteenth century, another anonymous author, this time British, wrote the spectacularly erotic My Secret Life: Diary of a Victorian Gentleman. Recent studies have identified “Anonymous” as Henry Spencer Ashbee, and the dates of the diaries as 1888 to 1894. The bulk of the diary is about heterosexual intercourse between “Walter,” its narrator, and several female sex workers, especially one favorite, “Sarah.” But he does eventually ask to have sex with a young man, and one is provided. This youth’s pay will be a sovereign—worth about $112.00 today—and as the undernourished young man “of 20 or 21” makes clear, “I’ve not had meat tor over two weeks.” So, this is a completely fiduciary affair. At first it is all about looking, touching, and some masturbation; neither male reaches orgasm until Sarah is present. However, some weeks later Walter calls for the young man again, and this time both of them are comfortable enough together that they engage in mutual fellatio—sixty-nining—tor which even more is paid.
The Cleveland Street Scandal of 1889 illuminated an entire subworld of British rent boys and their paying customers. Eight years before this, however, a text titled Sins of the Cities of the Plain, by another “Anonymous,” was published. Its author was later confirmed as Jack Saul, one of the men arrested in the Cleveland Street Scandal. He testified in court not only that he and others were openly prostituting themselves to upper-class men but that they were pretty much ignored by the police while they did so. Saul also testified that a small portion of their customers wanted not virile young men but instead “Mary Anns,” that is, men and boys whom today we’d call trans or, at the very least, cross-dressers. His Sins of the Cities of the Plains introduces these gender-nonconforming male sex workers to Western literature for the first time.
Meanwhile, across the channel, as Marcel Proust was nearing the end ot his multivolume set of books, A la recherche du temps perdu, he placed a brilliant, ebon-black jewel of a scene in the final volume, titled Le temps retrouve. One oddity is how utterly modern this volume seems compared with the earlier ones. It feels contemporary with Joyce, Woolf, Sinclair Lewis, and Theodore Dreiser. We’d been edging into the twentieth century, book by book, with Proust, but chiefly through objects: telephones, automobiles, airplanes—the first death in a car accident is in Proust, as is a scene where upper-class party-goers ascend to the Paris rooftops to watch French dirigibles fill the sky, and their headlights criss-cross searching for German Fokker planes. But now, suddenly, in the final volume, we are also psychologically in a modern arena too. Many of the upper-crust males we’ve met before are revealed to be closet cases. Robert de Saint-Loup, a character we’ve been meant to admire from volume two on, is suddenly witnessed making a sex date with the elevator boy in the resort hotel at Balbec. Obviously for pay. The reader naturally wonders how many decades he’s been doing that sort ot thing.
The section of Le temps retrouve that is most modern, and that 1 think could actually have been one raison d’etre for Proust in writing the entire 3,200 pages, comes when Marcel’s car breaks down and his chauffeur decides to stop to fix it. When the rain worsens, the chauffeur places his unwell master out of the cold and rainy street while he gets help to repair it.
Where does he place the narrator? In the kitchen of a house of male prostitutes, where working-class guys moonlight. Little by little, as they come and go from the kitchen, we realize that several of them were hired specifically to flog men of the upper-crust until the peers reach orgasm. Well paid and laughing about their work, the proles spill out all the details of their encounters around the kitchen table to whomever might be around—including the quiet fellow huddled up in a coat and hat in the corner—Marcel. It is such a shocking scene, a century after it was written, that you just know Proust was aware that he would not be around to see it in print during his lifetime. For Proust, it epitomizes a collapse of everything that preceded it—not only the “family values” or the Catholicism of the earlier sections, but also the chivalric past, the myths and legends from medieval times. It does so by revealing an underside of Marcel’s world that no doubt really existed. Those perfect surfaces that he so lovingly and so completely rendered throughout begin to tremble and then shiver before falling into pieces. Did Proust himself engage in such activities? We don’t know. We do know that for years he kept a young, handsome, very macho bisexual servant, Agostino. He bought him a Hispano-Suiza limousine (advertised as “the Automobile of Kings”) and even a biplane, in which Agostino eventually crashed and died.
How much this kind ot high-low nightlife continued in London, despite the Cleveland Street Scandal and the Oscar Wilde trial not long after, can be gleaned from the life and work of openly gay author J. R. Ackerley. The founding editor and the voice of the BBC Radio network, and simultaneously editor of the prestigious magazine The Listener during the first four decades of the twentieth century Ackerley enthusiastically promoted the work of his gay circle of friends, including E.M. Forster, Christopher Isherwood, Stephen Spender, and W. H. Auden.
Ackerley’s delightful “travel book,” Hindoo Holiday (1933), is unlike any other in existence. As a young man out of university Ackerley went to work for a wealthy gay rajah in India. His job: to put together a traveling troupe and to redact Shakespeare’s plays for the potentate’s boy lover, an aspiring actor, as well as for a more demotic mixture of Indian audiences. In other books, like My Dog Tulip, Ackerley never hides his homosexuality. In his best-known title, My Father and Myself, the author discovers not only that his grand, handsome, and domineering father had a secret second family in London but also that among his parent’s early forms of employment was as a Tower of London guardsman. E. M. Forster’s policeman lover confides to Ackerley that pretty much each man in that unit—bred for stature and looks—which resided in the Albany Barracks at (often-cruisy) Regents Park, had “gentlemen sponsors.” He concludes that Ackerley Senior was one of those soldiers tor sale.
So, while it was not until late in the sexually repressive Victorian era of English-speaking countries that male prostitutes seemed to flourish again in people’s consciousness, brought to light in a variety of obscenity and libel trials, their presence also started to filter down into literature then. By the twentieth century, however, male prostitutes and also writings about them begin to proliferate not only in France and England but also increasingly in the United States. As with female prostitution, social and economic class are crucial, as well as stagnation versus mobility among the classes. These become the defining agents and the crucial issues of male prostitution, especially in Britain, where upper-class writers who attended “Oxbridge” and were influenced by Ruskin begin to reify the “common man” and “common day laborer” and in so doing also elevate the sexual working male into an object of higher regard and sometimes into a love-object—as E.M. Forster does in his posthumously published Maurice.
In France, Germany, and the rest of Europe, a more practical approach to male sex workers resulted in their being more openly integrated into the social and economic life, especially during the Great Depression of the 1930s. When mid-century British authors visited those lands, they too became involved in relationships with male sex workers in less classist terms—namely, the letters of Isherwood, Auden, Spender, Waugh, Scott Moncrieft, and others. All of them engaged in it, and most of them wrote about it sooner or later. The correspondence by those authors back to the United Kingdom abounds in anecdotes, so we know that they generally supported not only their German boyfriends but sometimes their boyfriends’ families too. It was pretty much how many German men in contact with foreigners got by in those economically lean years. The Count in Isherwood’s Mr. Norris Changes Trains goes on at some length about the good old days before Hitler came to power, when working men tor hire were cheap and plentiful.
Other writings of the era by forward-looking authors like Gide, Musil, Doeblin, and especially Jean Genet include male sex workers. Genet took on the subject with a passion few had previously displayed, mixing it with the criminal class and raising both to a higher and, for him, more mythic level. In his first novel, Our Lady of the Flowers, Genet describes the funeral of Divine, his titular hero/heroine: “And all of them, the girl-queens, the boy-queens, the aunties, fags and nellies who 1 am speaking of assembled at the toot of the stairway.” Never before have we read of so many distinctions of homosexuals. He goes on: “The girl-queens are huddled together and chattering and cheeping around the boy-queens who are straight, motionless, and vertiginous, as motionless and silent as branches. All are dressed in black.” This isn’t just one or two hustlers, but an entire society composed of or containing many varieties of male sex workers.
Genet’s other contribution, which no one had presented before, was the Pimp. “Their rattle stopped. There was in his supple bearing the weighty magnificence of a barbarian who tramples choice furs beneath his muddy boots. The torso on his hips was a king on a throne. Merely to have evoked him is enough for my left hand in my torn pocket to . . .” That is, the Pimp is what the gay set and even the author all masturbate to. The rest of the book is really just a peroration of these themes and mernes, with nods to Genet’s “gods”: those men who murder and whose photos he keeps on the walls of his jail cell. While in his plays Genet would go on to explore other themes—especially power, corruption, and racism—the remaining novels all take their cues from the first one, and he continues his investigation with mythologizing of the world of the criminal French male hustler.
In puritanical America, however, “sin” still loomed large, and it was only when powerful literary movements—realism, naturalism, and regionalism—had achieved their varied breakthroughs, freeing up subject matter, that male sex workers would begin to enter New World literature. They are hinted at or alluded to mightily in the works of Dreiser, Anderson, Hemingway, Langston Hughes, Erskine Caldwell, Mike Quin, and John O’Hara, but usually only as a way of establishing the “damned system” which the authors are trying to break through for their young heroes and heroines.
But slowly and eventually, it happens. So that Tennessee Williams could open his story “One Arm,” in the volume of stories of that same name (1948), this way: “In New Orleans in the winter of ’39 there were three male hustlers usually to be found hanging out on a certain corner of Canal Street and one of those streets that dove narrowly into the ancient part of the city.” He means the French Quarter, or Vieux Carre. He goes on, “Two of them were just kids of about seventeen and worth only passing attention, but the oldest of the three was an unforgettable youth.” Oliver Winemiller, or One Arm, is the ultramacho boxer who was left mutilated by an automobile accident. Still beautiful, he can earn his living with his body. When he gets involved with a porno filmmaker who wants to exploit his single-armedness not as a grace but as a bizarre fetish, Oliver loses it and kills him. That, then, not his working as a hustler, is Williams’s real story.
The next time an American writer takes on the theme of male hustling, it will John Rechy’s encyclopedic, bicoastal tome on the subject, City of Night of 1963. Like Williams, Rechy uses the theme and its many memes to evoke a larger host of significance, to explore its tragic-comic aspects. Along the way, he details the male hustling scenes of Manhattan and downtown Los Angeles with a specificity' and denseness that is too real to be merely fictional. He presents characters of such individuality—the obese john in the chauffeured limo who nightly buys several “Angels”—that the book becomes larger than its subject. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Rechy himself was a hustler, and his most-used photos show him shirtless, in tight jeans and engineer’s boots, leaning against a wall and quite obviously waiting for a purchaser.
Meanwhile, Samuel M. Steward, friend and colleague of the moderns in Paris, especially Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas (with whom he corresponded for decades), would pen his own book on the joys of male hustling—Stud—in 1966, as “a reaction” to Rechy’s book. Writing as Phil Andros, his avowed purpose was to show how normal and ordinary homosexuality is and how easy it is for a good-looking youth to find himself being sold for sex no matter where he may be, working at a hotel, a ranch, and so on. Steward covers a wider swath of gay life of his day and places, and he’s not afraid to include among “Phil’s” clients oddities and fetishists who come to various sticky ends. Above all, swagger and a “butch attitude” seem to protect the sex workers. But Steward seldom looks into the more ambiguous world of modern “Mary Anns.” These sex workers existed and still exist in every major city, and clubs devoted to them are known by name by nongay males looking to “walk on the wild side.” Had he explored them, he might have seen a nexus of far closer connections between straight and gay males.
But few books can actually vie with the last text to be discussed. At the time of its publication by the Oliver Layton Press in 1963, and its republication a decade later, The Asbestos Diary was a fun/fabulous find. Many readers speculated who the author of this book of male/ boy love could possibly be. Some even suggested it was post -Lolita Nabokov himself, having more extraliterary fun, probably because of the playful, erudite, at times delicious writing in the book. Brian Drexel, writing as “Duke,”—Casimir Dukahz, the narrator—goes through boy after clever, cute, mercenary boy, tale after tale. Pretty much all of the incidents are pickups, but it soon becomes clear that Duke is the one being picked up by the boys and that not only do the boys have an agenda for their time with Duke and what they can get out of him, he has been “marked” by an informal network of boys as a willing victim. At times the book is haunting: “And so the first ot September,” he writes sadly about a naive boy named August who ran away from him and into even worse luck, . . was the end of August.”
What stands out in 7he Asbestos Diary is that all of them are playing the Game and, aside from poor August, they all know the rules ot said Game. Man gets boy—for a short period of his boyhood glory—and pays through the nose for it. Boy goes oft with an easily forgettable experience and some cold hard cash—or jewelry, or gold coins, or a convertible.
Clever and as amusing as the book usually is, it seems to have returned the idea of male sex work to what those original Greek and Roman lads of 25 centuries ago understood: without the various trimmings ot aesthetics, philosophy, or even psychology our more modern authors have insisted upon. What it comes down to in the end is a deal: maybe some affection, some fun times together. But really just buy and sell, nothing but a deal.
Bibliography and works cited
Ackerley, J. R. (1933). Hindoo Holiday. London: Chatto and Windus.
Andros, P. (1966). Stud (Samuel Steward). Boston: Alyson Press.
Anonymous. (1823). Precious mirror of fragrant flowers (a.k.a. Precious mirror of boy actresses) (Keith McMahon, Trans., pp. 70—109).
Ashbee, H. S. (1966). My secret life: Diary of a Victorian gentleman by Anonymous, 1889—1894. New York: Grove Press.
Boswell, (. E. (1980). Christianity, social tolerance and homosexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Boswell, (. E. (1994). Marriage of Hues: Same sex unions in premodern Europe. New York: Villard Books. Cameron, A. (Trans.). (1916). The Greek anthology. Book 5. Loeb Classical Library. Boston: Harvard University Press.
Cao Xueqin. (1977). The story of the stone, vol. 4: The debt of tears (David Hawkes, Trans.). London: Penguin Classics.
Chandler, G. (2016). The sins of Jack Saul: The true story of Dublin Jack and the Cleveland Street Scandal (2nd ed.). Tohvorth, Surrey: Grosvenor House Publishing.
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Male sex work diaries