The Men of Boystown
Newspapers reported one year ago that Ted Haggard had been using methamphetamines and consorting with a male prostitute. His confession stunned Christians across the United States. It wasn't just the megapastor's fall that alarmed people, but the larger, behind-the-scenes world of male prostitution. It's a world with which we're not familiar.
Just months before Haggard's confession, I had left my comfortable job in the suburb of Barrington, Illinois, to get to know male prostitutes on the streets of downtown Chicago and to research the subject. Like most in the Christian community, I was shocked and disheartened by Haggard's mistakesbut I had an additional perspective.
While working with Chicago-based Emmaus Ministries and studying hustler culture, I uncovered many of the complexities of male prostitution. I am not an expert; I still have much to learn from the men with whom I've eaten hot dogs and walked the streets of Boystown. But I gleaned a few insights and experiences that have given me a far better understanding of the men who become victims in this subculture.
'Chickens' and 'Hawks'
While most people tend to traffic in the feminine image of homosexual men, the true landscape of male prostitution is much more complex. In the early 1980s, G. W. Levi Kamel from the University of California, San Diego, spent two and a half years exhaustively researching hustler interactions. Building on a theoretical framework of symbolic interactionism, Kamel identified several types of hustler-client relationships, based on age, sexual orientation, gender-related mannerisms, and sexual-role preferences. The three main categories he identified are:
1. The youthful, gay "chicken" hustler, and the "hawk" clients who cannot find boys who are young enough.
2. The hyper-masculine "trade" hustler, and the "dropout" clients who are disappointed with the femininity of other gay men.
3. The understated "jock" hustler, and the "closet" clientsoften suburban husbands or out-of-townersmen who generally find the gay world inaccessible.
I befriended hustlers in Chicago who fit each of these descriptions. Yet not all hustlers are homosexual. Some are conflicted about their sexuality, and many are in fact heterosexual. I met many hustlers who made it clear to me they were not gay. So why did they start hustling?
A study in Washington, D.C., by D. Kelly Weisberg found that 87 percent of hustlers cited money as a reason for hustling. Furthermore, 72 percent of this sample reported using drugs while hustling, which increased financial pressure. Weisberg determined that "early sexual experiences of these youth teach them the value of their body as a commercial asset; they begin at an early age to realize that sexual encounters can be a source of money."
Johnny was the first person to really teach me the truth of Weisberg's findings. We met on a Wednesday night in early June. He was in his late teens or early 20s, dark-skinned, chiseled, and just less than six feet tall, with his hair tied back into a ponytail. My outreach partner bought him a drink, and he walked with us for a few minutes while I asked him about his family. He still lived with them on the north side of Chicago.
We hung out several times over the following weeks, and eventually he told me how he started hustling. Before prostitution he did a lot of "boosting" (petty theft). One afternoon he was getting high with a friend, and she told him he could go to a certain part of town and make some extra cash by hustling. Johnny told me he didn't know how to approach potential customers when he first came to Boystown, but he quickly learned. At first hustling was not as lucrative as boosting, but it was much safer; he was less likely to get into trouble with the police for prostitution than for theft. And now he makes more money by hustling.