Society

The Male Prostitutes Of France Have Their Say

A new French law targeting clients of prostitutes has focused attention on the changing call-girl business. Here's another world, of 'escort boys,' with both male and female customers.

A professional escort in Paris
A professional escort in Paris
Gaëlle Dupont

NICE — We arranged to meet in a quiet bar on the third floor of a five-star hotel, located on the “Promenade des Anglais” of this French coastal city. The slim man, wearing stubble, short brown hair, a dark suit, and a luxurious watch, arrives on time. Slightly tinted sunglasses hide the color of his eyes.

“My friends always told me I did well with women,” he says right away to justify his career path.

“Prince,” 38, is an “escort boy.” Not the kind who accompanies rich and lonely women to social events, but instead the sort involved in the sex trade. He earns up to 300 euros per hour, more or less the same as what his female counterparts earn.

This “escort” euphemism is the standard term to describe prostitutes (male or female) who find their customers on the Internet.

There was no mention of this kind of sexual commerce, very different from street prostitution, during the French parliamentary debates that led to a Dec. 4 vote to penalize clients. This industry is vast, though unquantified. A sociologist counted as many as 10,000 different advertisements in a single day across dozens of websites.

Male prostitutes are barely mentioned in the latest law. The bill’s authors regard prostitution as a violent act perpetrated by men against women. They consider it a crime that must be eradicated. But some 15% of prostitutes are men, most of whom cater to male clients. It is believed that only a small minority offer their services to women.

But it’s a growing minority, Prince asserts. “It’s developing, that’s for sure,” he says. “Women feel freer, perfectly at ease, and want to consume sex just like men can. Soon you’ll be able to order a dude just like you order sushi.”

Prince has launched his own escort website for both genders. It has over 100 profiles. At his age, he is starting to think about a professional conversion.

Prince is a businessman. Before he became a prostitute, he was a trader. “I got a good slap in the face in 2009 with the financial crisis. I lost everything,” he explains. He tried getting hired at banks, but he did not have the necessary degrees. “When you’re used to a certain level of income and you find yourself with nothing overnight, what do you do?”

An escort friend of his that he met at a posh party helped him launch his new career. The first time “was with a pretty 48-year-old woman, and it went very well.” He now has more than 20 customers a month.

Inauspicious beginnings

“Bug Powder” started out as an escort after a friend of his, who was a female prostitute at the sex shop where he worked, died brutally in the summer of 2011. Her family could not afford to pay for her funeral, so he arranged for his first client to pay the bill. “I saw I could do it,” the 28-year-old man says. “I never thought that I was attractive, but on a sexual level, I’ve always been confident.” Since then, in addition to working for a sex chat line, he meets up with more than 10 clients every month, and turns down as many.

With a working-class background, and as a member of the Sex Trade Union, Bug has an almost activist vision of his work. “I charge between 150 and 180 euros per hour,” he explains. “There should be no privileged class.” The question of equality is also important to him. “It is acknowledged that men have sexual needs, but many women are also looking for sex, and just sex,” he says. “Should only men have access to this? I don’t think so. It’s still marginal because it’s not accepted on a cultural level.”

Compared to Prince and Bug, 37-year-old “Alexandre” seems like a veteran. He began even before the Internet was born. He often went to certain bars or restaurants around Paris to pick up customers. “We also worked the streets,” he remembers. “On the Champs-Elysées, more than 60 men did it in the 1990s. Nobody was aware of it except the women who were approached.”

Four years ago, he gave everything up to start over. He now works as a storekeeper for a major distributor but admits that he misses that time in his life. “I wouldn’t mind doing it again,” he says.

The clientele

These men are not very talkative about their clients, perhaps for the sake of discretion. Married or single, they are generally aged between 35 and 70 and come from all walks of life, although the upper classes predominate: senior executives, lawyers, doctors’ wives.

“Some have selfish husbands with whom they feel no pleasure,” Bug says. “Others are completely neglected.” Prince says that “it’s sometimes hard to find a partner. There’s lots of distress,” in part because the Internet has changed everything. “Male prostitution has always existed, but mostly in higher reaches,” Prince adds. “People exchanged calling cards in exclusive circles.”

“Many women looking for a partner think: ‘If I go to a bar, what’s going to happen?’ Bug says. “They’re looking for more security.”

These women do not seem to have extravagant requests. But escorts, male or female, establish by email what they will and won't do beforehand. “I don’t do uro or scato things,” Bug explains, referring to the unusual practice of urination and defecation to prompt sexual arousal. And condoms are mandatory.

“The toughest part is not the sex itself,” says “Tim,” another escort who has only male clients for now. “It’s saying: Yes, I’m enjoying it.”

Like female escorts, these men take precautionary measures: Someone is always aware of their location and the client they are with. They try to take as few clients as possible to their homes. “Danger is included in the rate,” Tim says.

As for humiliation, they say they feel none. “Anyway, whether it is a man or a woman, the one who has the power is always the whore, because he or she represents the desired sex,” Bug says. The separation between their work and their personal lives is clear. Bug and Prince both have partners who are aware of their occupation and “accept it,” they say.

“The general perception of sex is that it involves direct intimacy,” Bug explains. “But you don’t do it the same way with everyone. With my girlfriend, there’s a real intimacy.”

Even though their reasons are different, they all claim to be satisfied with their jobs. “We earn a lot, we’re free, we don’t have a boss,” Alexandre says. “There’s nothing bad about it, nothing dirty, nothing malicious,” Prince says. “It’s just pleasure you're paying for.”

“It doesn’t traumatize me at all,” Tim explains. “I only do it for the money, just like 90% of other people who work.”

Legislating prostitution

But there is a downside. They all lead double lives. Their parents and many of their friends are unaware of how they earn a living. “It would be a huge scandal for them,” Prince says. It is this taboo that pushed Alexandre to give it up. “There were moments when I felt down. It’s not always easy living on the fringe of society,” he says. “We’re always lying.”

The fact that politicians are instituting laws against prostitution makes them angry. “We’re not forced to do anything,” Prince says angrily. “It’s up to us to set our own boundaries,” Bug continues. “Not the feminists or the state.” “Saying we’re selling our bodies is nonsense,” Alexandre adds. “We offer a service. After that, we still own our bodies.”

As for whether there should be total legalization or something in between, their opinions vary. But they agree that punishing clients will have little effect. “We agree to meet up by email,” Prince says. “How do you prove there was a payment?”

They say the ones who should be concerned are the the men who seek out prostitutes in the forest with 30 euros in their pockets.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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