Sex and the City: Male Sex Work and the Negotiation of Stigma and Masculinities

Sex and the City: Male Sex Work and the Negotiation of Stigma and Masculinities

Aliraza Javaid (University of East London, UK)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 27
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9627-1.ch005

Abstract

Despite the issue that male sex work involves a substantial proportion of the market and is key to making clear the impact of gender in shaping male sex workers' experiences and their oftentimes fleeting relationship with male clients, work on sex work has largely focused on female sex workers to a far greater extent than their male counterparts. Subsequently, we know little of the social relations between male sex workers and their male clients. The interactional dynamics of sellers and clients in such settings are rarely considered. The author's focus, then, is exploring the social interactions between male sex workers and their male clients in particular. I seek to examine the ways in which such interactions could manifest in different settings and contexts within the area of male sex work. For example, I unravel the interactional dynamics in the setting of sexual violence against male sex workers.
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Introduction

Sex and the City: Male Sex Work and the Negotiation of Stigma and Masculinities

In the 1970s, sex role theory began to become contested as there was a gradual interest and focus on the significance of social structures shaping and framing masculinities. Post-1970, masculinities became seen as configurations of practices, with the view that gender grows out of social conducts, not something that is wholly possessed or determined in any fashion. Masculinities are negotiated through social and power relations. A sociological perspective, then, largely dominated the field of men and masculinities. Connell (1987) was one of the first pioneers to introduce a new body of sociological work on gender, producing social theory to replace the rigid sex-role theory that emphasised rigid attitudes and social expectations of men and women and placed them in very stiff and deterministic ways while ignoring social and cultural changes and contexts. Instead, Connell introduced the notion that there are power relations between men and women and amongst men, illustrating that social and material practices produce masculinities and femininities through social bodies. She argues that masculinities and femininities are susceptible to ongoing and unpredictable change, shaped by external social forces and historical moments. As an example, Morrell (1998, p. 605) writes that, “Colonialism created new and transformed existing masculinities. Race and class featured prominently in the configuration of these masculinities. Under colonialism positions of domination and subordination were created along the lines of race”. This highlights that race and class feature in particular masculinities, which is important to understanding sex work given that most sex workers are from non-white backgrounds and are economically deprived (Garcia, 2010; Wong et al., 2011). Male sex workers1 can, however, attempt to configure practices of hegemonic masculinities at particular contexts and times. There are no contexts or settings in which there is an absence of a multiplicity of masculinities at any given time. That is to say that there are multiple masculinities (and femininities) at any time. In this book chapter, I theoretically and conceptually inspect and attempt to make sense of how male sex workers ‘do’ masculinities and femininities at differing contexts, times and places, shaped by social structures.

Despite the issue that male sex work involves a substantial proportion of the market and is key to making clear the impact of gender in shaping male sex workers’ experiences and their oftentimes fleeting relationship with male clients, work on sex work has largely focused on female sex workers to a far greater extent than their male counterparts (Ellison & Weitzer, 2018). Subsequently, we know little of the social relations between male sex workers and their male clients. The interactional dynamics of sellers and clients in such settings is rarely considered (Ellison & Weitzer, 2018). My focus, then, is critically exploring the social interactions between male sex workers and their male clients in particular, considering how gender plays a part in their interactions and the manners in which the unequal distribution and exercise of power is distributed. I seek to examine the ways in which such interactions could manifest in different settings and contexts within the area of male sex work, which will help us to make sense of the kind of relationship that is evident between sex worker and client. For example, I unravel the interactional dynamics in the setting of sexual violence against male sex workers. A recent survey into internet-based sex work, Beyond the Gaze found over 12% of the male sex workers who responded said they had been sexually assaulted in the past five years; more than 70% of male respondents in the survey also said they were unlikely to report crimes to the police (Cowan, 2017). This is partly because of the gender order within the police, whereby men who deviate from gender norms are often positioned in non-hegemonic positions and are culturally made as ‘abnormal’ or ‘deviant’ in some way (Javaid, 2018a).

I theoretically and conceptually inform my arguments, drawing on hegemonic masculinity2 as my key theoretical framework to understand how hegemony is attained in the area of male sex work. ‘Hegemony’ is a concept referring mainly to non-violent ways of establishing and reproducing privilege, such as through culture, civil society, religion, and ideology. However, hegemony can also be attained through violence, notably sexual violence, and much feminist work has done much to typically link violence to the assertion of power and the defence of men’s material interests and symbolic power whilst leaving the gender order untouched. Sexual violence against men3 can contribute to their emasculation. For example, in non-institutionalized settings,

The rape of men is an emasculation process, whereby ‘real’ men become metaphorically and symbolically transformed into ‘women’. They are treated as women, positioning them in subordinate categories to denote powerless and notions of ‘other’. The perpetrators…construct their victims as ‘other’, foreign, or alien (Javaid, 2018b, p. 256).

In this book chapter, I aim to theoretically explore how male sex workers and their male clients navigate through different masculinities, some of which symbolize power whilst others are subordinated and feminized, during social and power relations between sellers and clients in dissimilar contexts. On the whole, men and masculinities have been regarded as essentialist entities, without considering the fluidity and situationality of them (Morrell, 1998). Prior work on male sex work lacks the development of theoretical framings; whilst their findings are important and welcomed, they are more empirically grounded rather than theoretically and conceptually informed (e.g., Lankenau et al., 2005; Smith et al., 2008; Whowell, 2010; Bar-Johnson & Weiss, 2015; Ellison & Weitzer, 2018). Consequently, theory becomes diminished, making it difficult to elucidate their empirical data. I offer some theoretical ‘tools’ and ideas that can be applied to future empirical works in order to understand and explain empirical data. For Wong et al. (2011, p. 52), “Sex worker research commonly focuses on issues related to the transmission of STIs and HIV among sex workers and the further transmission of these diseases to the general population”, without considering theoretical developments in the field of sex work. The important discipline of sex work becomes stagnated and lacking nuances. However, Wong et al. (2011) identify particular manners wherein stigma might affect female sex workers, drawing on the works of Erving Goffman, Graham Scambler, and others as their theoretical framework to shed light on their interview data including 49 female sex workers in Hong Kong. Such work contributes to the theoretical literature associated with sex work in nuanced and important ways. I attempt to contribute to the theoretical literature linked to male sex work, with the words that soon follow.

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