When Daniel, 33, decided to explore the gay world in 2000, he never thought he would eventually enter the oldest profession of mankind – prostitution.
The medium-built and sun-tanned young man from Anhui province asked to be identified only by his first name and declined any photos, but he spoke candidly about his life as a sex worker, offering a rare glimpse into a common subculture that is being overlooked in modern society.
Daniel claimed he was not sensitive to his sexual orientation when he was a boy. Driven by curiosity, he sought out gay photos online back in 1998, back when Internet access was still new to him. Soon he found some friends with similar taste. After about two years of nine-to-five office work in Shanghai, Daniel was bored. He decided to try a more exciting life. He uploaded his photograph to a compensated-dating website.
His first customer soon appeared. It wasn’t very glamorous.
He was paid 1,000 yuan (S$199), a fair amount at that time. In 2006, Daniel arrived in Hong Kong seeking to ply his trade. He had already chatted with some potential customers on instant messaging services before setting out. Daniel arrives periodically on a 7-day permit. He attends up to five clients charging HK$600-800 each time. Daniel is pleased that he can earn a living in Hong Kong without a working visa. He works from hotel rooms. Sometimes he takes his customers to his hostel, where he pays HK$150 a day.
Daniel now spends about three quarters a year in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. He earns as much as 30,000 yuan in a month in Singapore. Risks are higher too. Daniel was charged with breaching the condition of his stay, when he was caught working on his tourist visa. He appealed and continued to come to Hong Kong while his appeal was underway. He continued working as a prostitute during his visits. He lost his appeal and was banned from Hong Kong for the next two years.
Most male sex workers (MSWs), like Daniel, have chosen their vocation voluntarily. “I think men turn to prostitution for many reasons. But as far as I know, no one has done this against their will or owing to their financial backgrounds,” Daniel said. “Some of them do it because they want to make more money, though.”
“I do not have a moral problem with having sex for money, as long as it’s safe. That is the bottom line. However, I have always been concerned about how this (being a sex worker) may affect my family,” Daniel said frankly. His family is relatively well-off. His parents are teachers and living comfortably in his home town. “My parents don’t know about my work, or anything else about my sex life but they suspected that I was gay.”
Contrary to common belief, the MSWs, who are usually labeled as “money boys”, serve mainly males rather than females. “More than 90 percent of my customers are males,” Daniel said. “Female customers may just need someone to talk to, not necessarily sex.” On rare occasions, females come to him for threesomes with their boyfriends.
The entrenched Chinese morality and psychological pressures prohibit women from seeking sex partners, said Leo Yiu, chief executive for Midnight Blue, a local support network for MSWs. “People believe men take advantage of women when having sex regardless whether they’re forced to do so or they initiate it. Worse still, women do it at risk of getting pregnant,” Yiu commented. “It’s a great challenge for them to expose themselves to strangers in a strange environment.”
Nonetheless, an odd phenomenon is emerging nowadays that married couples visit male prostitutes to spice up their sexual lives. “Husbands bring their wives along to go whoring due to the fact that it’s exciting or husbands realize they cannot fulfill their wives’ sexual needs so they hire MSWs to do the job,” said a local sex worker named Wai. He is gay and boasts dozens of customers.
Daniel is now self-employed. He met all his customers online. No one takes a cut from his earnings. “I love the free time that the job allows me. I cannot get back to typical office work. Plus, I get to know many people, some of them are rich and smart, through this job. And I have learned a lot from them.”
At present, MSWs usually seek their customers in three ways. First, there are individual online encounters; second, online agents and third, saunas and massage establishments. “Not every money boy is a masseuse, but they ought to learn this skill if they look for more opportunities,” said Wai. “A small number of them set up one-man brothels.”
Midnight Blue, set up in 2005, aims to promote safe sex among gays and provide legal support for MSWs. At times, staff at Midnight Blue launch outreaching visits to night clubs and saunas to advocate a safer environment for MSWs. Their motto is, “Whoring to a Better Future, Paying for a More Sensuous Life”. The organization has published a book, Sex Without Boundaries, about the ups and downs of eight young people working as MSWs.
It is estimated that there are around 2,000 MSWs in the city. Some of them are locals and the others come from the mainland and South East Asian countries. Yiu believes the import of these MSWs is helping develop the sex industry. “When the pie gets bigger, people get to know where to look for suitable people when they feel like it and the sex workers, either males or females, will have a bigger market,” he said.
According to a Chinese adage, ma si luo di xing, meaning you need to walk if your horse dies. Gloomy economy had spawned prostitution. Daniel witnessed a boom of MSWs in Singapore during the economic downturn. The candidates were previously drivers or chefs or other occupations.
Daniel considers himself fortunate that he seldom comes across problem customers. He says most customers come to him to be soothed. “I think that being a sex worker might be like being a therapist. Many gay people are introvert, they have no one to talk to and they cannot come out of the closet. Only by talking to us can they reveal their true selves,” Daniel explained.
It is understandable that MSWs are commonly gays, or preferably so, for the sake of their jobs. Straight men may find it gross or need to tackle a great psychological barrier in making love to men.
Ever since he took to prostitution, Daniel was prepared to sacrifice his childhood friends. “We have nothing in common. They talk about families and kids, all this has nothing to do with me,” he said.
Daniel understands the limitations of prostitution – age. “I will retire from this business, but I know people who work well past 40. That said, the older we get, the less we will work, and eventually we will have to retire,” he admitted. He expects he saves up enough money to establish his own business within a year.
Looking back, he regrets nothing for choosing this path. “If I had my life ahead of me, I would still choose to do the same thing,” he said. “Prostitution is a harmless vocation. We don’t destroy but complement.”
Daniel doesn’t rule out the possibility of getting married one day, with a girl. “I can accept a girl as my family member but if you talk about sex, I still prefer a man.”