In recent decades the NZ economy has been restructured away from a basis in primary production, towards the service sector. This trend has been combined with labour laws taking collective protections from workers. These conditions along with other alterations in the economy have meant frequent changes of job for many people. It is becoming rarer for somebody to remain within the same kind of work, let alone with the same company for their entire working life (assuming you aren’t unemployed). For some, this has required doing more than one job simultaneously and in disparate fields. This includes those kinds of work once seen as ‘off-limits’, illegal and/or dangerous. Below is a slightly edited version of an interview with AWSM given by Troy, a male sex worker. The interview gives an insight into the experiences of someone who has changed his decisions in light of today’s economy.
AWSM: Thanks for agreeing to talk. Can you start by telling us about yourself?
Troy: I’m Troy. That’s my working name you understand. I’m in my late 20s. I’m from a small town in the North Island but I don’t want to say which one because it was so small. Everybody knows everybody, you know what I mean? My family is small, just an ordinary bunch of people. Dad went to work, Mum stayed home, that sort of thing. I went to school there, and got through it ok, even though I wasn’t a great student. I went to university for a couple of years but didn’t graduate. I kind of got bored there and also my finances weren’t great. I’ve had different regular day jobs but my main job is in the sex industry. I’ve been doing that a few years now.
AWSM: Ok thanks for that. So, what got you into sex work?
Troy: You know at school they make you write those ‘What I want to be when I grow up’ essays? Well I don’t think anyone writes ‘prostitute’ do they?! For me its always been the money, pure and simple. I needed money and working for minimum wage in a convenience store just wasn’t going to bring in the sort of cash I needed to pay my bills. And maybe I’m just not good at taking orders anyway [laughs]. It wasn’t the first thing that came to mind and I spent a long time thinking it over before I made the choice. I had a friend who I found out was doing it, so some of our discussions helped take me in that direction too. My first experience of it was positive. I got paid well and it worked out ok. Maybe if it had gone differently I would have made another choice. I don’t know.
AWSM: Do your friends and family know what work you do? What do they think?
Troy: Some do and they get what it’s about. Sure they ask a few questions at times, but just because they are looking out for me. Some people think its about sex.
AWSM: Can you explain that last comment?
Troy: About it not being about sex? I mean I’m not doing it because I need to get off all the time. Sure I want sex myself sometimes, but that’s not why I’m doing it. It’s not about my body, it’s about my bank. I don’t totally hate it as a job though.
AWSM: Do you work alone or for a brothel?
Troy: I’ve always worked alone, at home.
AWSM: Something that would turn a lot of people off doing your kind of work is the perceived danger. Can you speak to that a bit?
Troy: Sure. I thought about that. Like I said, I gave it thought before getting started. I guess the main dangers are disease and physically dangerous clients. I’m always careful to do safe sex and despite pressure to make more money by taking risks, I never do. I realise there’s no 100% safe method to use, but I cut that down as much as possible and haven’t caught anything. I get regular checks. There are ways of dealing with possibly dangerous clients. I have a few ‘security measures’. Nothing is totally safe of course and I’ve had a few near misses along the way. Its not really exactly the same as every other kind of job, but there is some danger in lots of other jobs too. Construction workers can fall off buildings, firemen get burnt and that kind of thing. There probably is more risk in what I do though.
AWSM: Do you or have you ever had a pimp?
Troy: No way! Fuck that! Why should I give somebody else money? I work hard and look after myself.
AWSM: Sounds like a government.
Troy: What do you mean?
AWSM: They promise to protect you, but mostly just take your money and do something you can do for yourself anyway.
Troy: Um, yeah ok [laughs] I suppose you could look at it that way.
AWSM: Going back to terminology. You mentioned the ‘sex industry’. So what about your self-description? Are you an escort?
Troy: Escort seems to be the one most people use, isn’t it? Personally I don’t like it that much. I mean, it sounds like somebody taking somebody to the school dance or whatever! [laughs] I don’t ‘escort’ anybody anywhere, do I?! I prefer ‘prostitute’. It’s more straight forward and to the point. I can sort of see the point of ‘sex worker’ because it makes it clear that it’s a job and that I’m getting paid for it. I can see its a bit dry though. The sort of stuff I don’t like is ‘whore’. Just feels negative to me.
AWSM: What about the people you work with? Clients?
Troy: Yeah I’m ok with ‘clients’. Again, it keeps things clear that this is a business thing. I don’t use slang to describe them, you know ‘Johns’ or whatever. That sounds vague and I also don’t use any negative ways of describing them. I try to respect them, that way there’s more chance I get respected, you know?
AWSM: Do you get that respect from them in reality?
Troy: Mostly a client just wants the service you have to offer. They aren’t there to make my life difficult. They have a need and I‘m helping with that and as long as you’re fair to them and provide what you promised to the best of your ability and not rip them off or whatever, it usually works out fine. That’s about it.
What pisses me off the most is when I get clients who want to haggle about the price for my services. They try to get me cheaper, to bargain and argue about it. They wouldn’t do that with a plumber, electrician, lawyer, doctor or whatever. Because I‘m selling sex, they think it’s different. I’m not seen like a professional trying to do a job that’s worth respecting. You know, my prices aren’t chosen at random! I have costs to cover. To be honest, there have been a few times when i’ve cut my prices a bit. I didn’t feel good about it, but it was about paying rent or not that week and business was slow.
Once or twice I‘ve had clients who think because they’ve paid for my service, they’ve really bought me myself, you know? They push things beyond what we agreed to do and I have to set them right about it. Those guys need to know that I am the one in control of what I do. I try to be, anyway. You get all types. Most are ok. I don’t know what it’s like for other people in the business eh. It’s got to be worse for women working the street I imagine. I’m not saying my own experiences are what everyone goes through. I’m good at my job, but I‘m not here to recruit people to it. I’m just telling you what it’s honestly like for me.
AWSM: And who are the clients?
Troy: Could be anyone really, but about 99% male. That’s the way it is. They are all ages from 18-80 and all shapes and sizes and backgrounds. You can imagine, I don’t spend heaps of time discussing their jobs or lives. Sometimes they like talking about that stuff, so I listen but I try not to be nosy. You have to be open and accept all types in this job.
AWSM: How many clients would you see in a typical day/week?
Troy: That’s a really difficult one to answer. I don’t know if there is such a thing as a typical anything in this job! [laughs] Sometimes I might not get a client all week, other times, it could be 5 a day. It’s feast or famine. I have to be really careful to manage my money. One thing is for sure, the bills keep coming in regularly, no matter what’s happening in my job. That’s true for everyone eh, no matter what job you do these days.
AWSM: What do you think of organisations that work with or support sex workers?
Troy: If they are staffed by prostitutes or ex-prostitutes and they are in control of how things get done, it’s good. They have a real understanding of what’s needed. You know, I’ve never needed to get help from any groups for myself. I know a couple of friends in the business and we chat sometimes. They have a lot of experience and that has helped from time-to-time. This job can be stressful sometimes and its good just to let off steam with somebody who knows where you’re coming from.
AWSM: What do you think of organisations in society that take a conservative stance on the issue of prostitution? Those in opposition? For example, those who come at it from a religious perspective?
Troy: There’s definitely some lack of knowledge going on there. Probably some hypocrisy too. You’d be surprised what goes on under the surface in some ‘respectable’ small towns out there! [laughs] Also, wasn’t Jesus helped out by an ex-prostitute? They forget their own book when it suits them eh. I think this country has improved on this stuff in recent years, and governments don’t listen much to the kind of people you’re talking about. Things aren’t perfect, but better than it used to be. I reckon there are some out there who can separate out that maybe prostitution itself isn’t the greatest thing in the world, but that’s no reason to attack us as people. I’m just trying to make a living and I didn’t make things the way they are.
AWSM: Why do you think that is? The change in attitude?
Troy: I don’t totally know. Maybe a combination of people starting to talk about things and changes in other areas too. People move around more, there’s the internet, so lots of ideas out there that were closed off in the past. There was homosexual law reform back in the 80’s. People in towns are usually more open and we are becoming less of a rural country. Its a combination. It’s not a simple thing.
AWSM: As you know, AWSM is an anarchist group. What do you consider your own politics to be?
Troy: I don’t give ‘politics’ much thought to be honest. I haven’t voted, even though I’m old enough. There are individual things that governments do that I can go along with, but I’m not really keen on any particular party. The Greens have a few ideas. I certainly don’t have time for a lot of what the National Party is about. I don’t know much about anarchists, but I think some of the ideas about people working together and co-operating makes sense. I think I’m good at the job I do, but I don’t really like the fact that we have to do so much just to survive. Maybe there’s another way of doing things that would do it better. I don’t know.
AWSM: Can you imagine a future society without prostitution?
Troy: That‘s hard to imagine. They say its the oldest profession, right? I think things would have to be really, really different for that to happen. I don’t know if its possible. It’s an interesting idea. Right now, I have bills to pay.
AWSM: And what about your own future?
Troy: There’s no doubt that in this work there’s a natural limit to it. I mean, I’m going to keep doing it for as long as I can, but I realise it will begin to get really difficult in a few years time. I reckon I’ll just begin not to be wanted by clients as I get older or maybe I’ll just get fed up with it. It happens. I will have to look for something new. Maybe by then your revolution will have happened and I won’t need to worry about it too much? [laughs]
AWSM: Let’s hope so! Anyway, thanks again for your time.