The lost boys
by Sarah McNaught
"Jim," 17, stands at the corner of Arlington and Providence Streets, across from
the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. From across the street, headed toward him, comes a
stout, middle-aged man in an expensive navy suit and tan trench coat.
"I can't believe this guy remembers me," Jim mumbles as his eyes widen and his
cheeks flush. In a brief moment, he has turned into a scared young boy.
The well-dressed man comes from Cincinnati; he is married, and has two sons.
When he was in town last April, he hired Jim for "straight sex." But when they
met in a hotel room later that night, the older man forced Jim to wear a
makeshift diaper fashioned from a hotel hand towel. The man spanked him
mercilessly with a leather belt, leaving lesions that needed 12 stitches, and
forced Jim to have unprotected sex.
Now, the man remembers Jim and wants another rendezvous. And because he is
desperate, Jim reluctantly agrees. He has no money. He hasn't eaten today. He
has nowhere to stay.
Male prostitution is a world apart. Female prostitutes are often the products
of broken homes where drugs, violence, or incest prevail. But young men who
sell sex on the street often end up there because of their sexual orientation.
Many run away or are disowned by their families for being homosexual.
"Gay male prostitutes all have the same story," says Gerry Cheney, an outreach
worker for prostitutes. "They're confused about their sexuality, so they turn
to a family that is unwilling to accept the lifestyle. Out of shame, or
sometimes because they are forced to, they leave home, quit school, and end up
on the street, drug-addicted and homeless."
These are the stories that the male prostitutes of Arlington Street and the
Combat Zone tell.
Thomas uses his real name, because he says it's his way of getting back at his
family for being ashamed of him.
"I was 16 . . . very vulnerable . . . and I told my dad I
thought I liked boys better than women," remembers Thomas, now a lean,
dark-haired 22-year-old. "So he got me a prostitute and sat in his Audi outside
the hotel room, hoping I would emerge `a man.'"
His father took him straight from the hotel to the Greyhound station, bought
him a bus ticket to Boston -- some 600 miles from Thomas's home in Virginia
Beach -- and told his son never to come home.
"I had disgraced my family," says Thomas with a forced snicker. He had been in
town only a day when a guy he met at the Boston Public Library told him about
Arlington Street and the "big bucks" that could be made there. "And here I am,"
he concludes. "I have a little bit of a savings, but I have no home. No family.
Every day, more young men like Thomas enter this world. At a sleazy bar in
Chinatown one recent fall night, two local college students -- one a freshman
and the other a sophomore -- wander wide-eyed around the room. The freshman is
questioning his sexual identity. The sophomore claims he's looking to make some
extra money to support his gambling hobby.
"We asked where would be the best place to go to make money and pick up guys,
and we were told here," says the bewildered freshman. "But I don't think I'll
come back here."
Still, he can't work the street. Someone might see him and tell his family.
He'd be thrown out, his free ride through college cut off. Then he'd be in the
very position he is trying so hard to avoid -- on the street, with all the
other young, desperate boys, enduring humiliation and physical torture just to
survive one more day.
Male prostitutes start shockingly young. The average age at which young women
get involved in street prostitution is 16.9, according to a study conducted by
the San Francisco-based Delancey Street Foundation, an organization that does
outreach work with female prostitutes. Young men, however, enter into
prostitution at 14 or even younger, says Sean Haley, director of adolescent
services for JRI Health, in Boston -- the city's only outreach program for male
commercial sex workers. Although female prostitutes work well into their late
30s, the consensus among Boston's male streetwalkers is that men begin to leave
the industry at an average age of 25.
"Carl" is considered one of the old-timers among the male prostitutes in
Boston. He is 26.
"There are men who continue to work past 25 or 26, but with male commercial
sex workers, the appearance is key," he explains. "Chicken hawks [clients] look
Male prostitutes usually do not have pimps. Very few have sugar daddies --
older gay men who keep them clothed and fed in exchange for sex, but don't give
them enough to get them off the streets. Unlike female prostitutes, who have
pimps controlling whom they have sex with, how long it lasts, and how much
money they take in, male prostitutes are completely on their own.
But they have other problems to contend with.
"The majority of our clientele are straight businessmen," says Carl, who asked
not to be described because of his "unique features." "Most of them are
married. These conservative, collegiate types are into some kinky shit. I know
people who have been maimed or who have agreed to sleep with infected men
without a condom for more money, just because they needed the cash that bad."
Just like female streetwalkers, male prostitutes often fall victim to drugs
and suffer from sexually transmitted diseases. The difference is, there are
more outreach programs for women.
"For some reason, the focus as far as rehab and outreach is usually geared
toward the women who work the streets," says Margot Hill, spokeswoman for the
Boston Police Department. "It's like one big societal denial. No one wants to
confront such a delicate issue as gay men selling themselves to straight
JRI Health's Boston Outreach Program (formerly known as Boston Street Youth
Outreach) is working hard to combat the problems that society would rather
forget. The program was established in 1991 to provide a variety of services to
street youth, but with a particular emphasis on commercial sex workers.
Two years ago, JRI opened the Sydney Borum Jr. Health Center on Boylston
Street. Affiliated with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Boston
Children's Hospital, it provides a full range of medical and mental health
services, substance abuse treatment, and specialty programs for HIV treatment
and transgender health issues. Most important, the program keeps an average of
10 staff workers on the streets, talking to the young men, gaining their trust,
and offering them a chance to turn their lives around. Or, for now, at least to
seek shelter and medical help.
For those who choose to stay on the street, the picture is not pretty, says
James Heron, a former male prostitute who now plays jazz in small venues around
"Some male prostitutes are so far gone that they have become the vice,"
explains the 47-year-old musician.
On a Wednesday night shortly after nightfall, plenty of men who meet that
description can be found on Essex Street, in the Combat Zone. Male prostitutes
dwell in dark corners of bars, awaiting business.
One man, in black latex pants and a black-and-white striped spandex shirt,
drops to his knees and services a hefty, sweaty man. Money is exchanged; a
small bag of white powder is tucked into the waist of the tight black pants,
and the prostitute disappears into the crowd.
The heavy aroma of pot hangs in the air as a young man in cutoff shorts and a
tight royal-blue tank top releases the tourniquet from his right arm, rams his
tongue into the mouth of his "regular" sitting beside him -- reportedly a State
Street financial adviser -- and staggers to the back of the bar, toward the
bathroom. As he passes a fellow hustler, he stammers, "Ha, Mama, look at me
Sarah McNaught can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.