M is for MUTUAL, A is for ACTS

13. Male Sex Work and Sexual Identity in Canada
Male Sex Work and Sexual Identity in Canada

Male sex workers typically sell sex to male clients, yet they may not self-identify as homosexual or gay. Of the male sex workers studied by the Badgley Committee, 31% reported that they were homosexual or gay, 23% reported that they were heterosexual or straight, 31% reported that they were bisexual and almost 4% self-identified as transgendered. An additional seven male sex workers indicated that they were undecided about their sexuality.

Many of these males said that they had first been drawn to street life because, as homosexuals, they had been unable to find acceptance in any other milieu; they reported having been rejected or made to feel alienated at home and school when, in their early adolescence, they had become aware of their tendency to feel attracted to other males. Too young to frequent "gay bars," many of these male youths had turned to the streets as the only place where they believed that they could meet persons of like sexual preference, and where they could escape the hostility and derision of their families and peers.193

Exploring sexuality

Many Canadian studies have suggested that younger men who self-identify as homosexual may be more likely to enter sex work than those who self-identify otherwise. The most important factor appears to be that these men may be drawn to sex work as a way of discovering and exploring their sexuality.194

It is not clear whether this sex-role orientation emerge[s] because of prostitution or homosexual seduction, or whether young gay males lacking acceptance in other social settings drifted into prostitution.195

Some studies have highlighted the differences between the experiences of male sex workers who identify as gay and those who do not.

The male prostitutes who are gay, in contrast to their heterosexual counterparts, have unique ties to the street. For some of them, prostitution is more than a way of making money. It may be a way of avoiding conflicts about sexual orientation ("I'm not gay -- I only do it for money"). It may be perceived as a way of socializing, making contacts with other gay males and finding a meaningful relationship.196

Sexual identity development

Other Canadian writings have pointed to the safe harbour effect male sex work holds for the development of a gay sexual identity.

It's a way for a closeted gay youngster to deal with a homosexual identity. Unable to face coming out, neither can he ignore his feelings and needs. Prostitution is a way to have the game without the name.197

Discussing the research surrounding Bill C-49, Brannigan and Fleischman (1989) wrote:

young male prostitutes frequently work on the street as a way of "coming out" and meeting other gay males. These young people often do not come to the attention of the law or appear in the official statistics as prostitutes.198

Brannigan (1994) also described law enforcement experiences in Calgary, and how the sexual identities and sexual environments of young male sex workers differed from those of female sex workers:

The police engaged in undercover sting operations on the gay stroll. They intercepted the customers of the boys, and they discovered that the male and female strolls were radically different. The motivation for engaging in prostitution in the two strolls is quite different. The females are financially motivated. They're very concerned about making money very quickly, and transacting the date with utmost haste and the maximum amount of return. On the gay strolls, many of the young men who engaged in hustling activity are doing it not so much out of financial pressure (that's there, I don't want to deny that) but they're also doing it because they are working through their sexual identities. Many of these young guys have bisexual feelings or gay feelings and gravitate to the stroll because that's where you meet other guys with the same inclinations. That's also where you can meet other men who are cruising these areas. One of the things that made it difficult for the police to succeed in making arrests is that when they would pick up some of the young boys, the young boys would check them out, show some attraction to them, and offer in many cases to have sex without money. To have sex for affection. So the police after about 1988 simply stopped policing the stroll, and we find that the arrests have been confined to the heterosexual strolls.199

Bisexuality, HIV and male sex work

A British Columbia study on HIV testing among 199 street-involved people, published in 1989, found that of 33 bisexual male sex workers who injected drugs, four (12.1%) were HIV antibody-positive. In addition, three of 29 bisexual sex workers (10.3%) who did not inject drugs were HIV antibody-positive. This paper concluded that "amongst street-involved persons in Vancouver, intravenous drug use, prostitution and bisexuality are common. HIV sero-positivity is at a critical stage ... and strategies should be focused on bisexual male prostitutes."200

In Ontario, the BISEX Survey interviewed 1,314 bisexual men, 20 of whom had met at least one casual male partner through sex work.201 A 1997 analysis indicated that the average age in this subsample was 36. All of the 20 self-identified as bisexual, and 25% were married. In discussing their sexual behaviours in the previous year, 6% reported having had unprotected anal sex with a man, 46% reported having had unprotected vaginal and/or anal sex with a woman, 24% reported having had unprotected vaginal and/or anal sex with both, and 24% reported having had only safe (protected) vaginal and/or anal sex with both men and women.202

None of the bisexual men in this subsample reported ever having been diagnosed with gonorrhea, genital warts, genital herpes or hepatitis A, B, or C. One man reported having been diagnosed with chlamydia, and one man had been diagnosed with syphilis. Twenty-seven percent of these men had taken an HIV test, and none reported being HIV antibody-positive. In addition, all said that they believed that they were currently HIV antibody-negative.203


  1. Badgley Committee (Committee on Sexual Offences against Children and Youth), Sexual Offences against Children, Ottawa, Department of Supply and Services, 1984, pp. 969-70. [back]
194. Mathews, R. F., Mirror to the Night: A Psycho-Social Study of Adolescent Prostitution, unpublished PhD thesis, Department of Education, University of Toronto, 1986; Visano, L., This Idle Trade, Concord, Visano Books, 1987; Scott, V., The Role of Sex Worker Representative Organisations, paper presented to the First National Sex Industry Conference, Melbourne, Australia, October 1988; Lowman, J., "Prostitution in Canada," in Jackson, M. A., Griffiths, C. T. and Hatch, A., eds., Canadian Criminology: Perspectives on Crime and Criminality, Toronto, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1991; Tremble, B., "Prostitution and Survival: Interviews with Gay Street Youth," Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 1993, 2, 1, pp. 33-45; Highcrest, A., At Home on the Stroll: My Twenty Years as a Prostitute in Canada, Toronto, Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.

195. Badgley, C., Burrows, B. A. and Yaworski, C., "Street Kids and Adolescent Prostitution: A Challenge for Legal and Social Services," in Bala, N., Hornick, J. P. and Vogl, R., eds., Canadian Child Welfare Law: Children, Families and the State, Toronto, Thompson Educational Publishing Inc., 1991, p. 114.

196. Schneider, M. S., Often Invisible: Counselling Gay and Lesbian Youth, Toronto, Central Toronto Youth Services, 1988, p. 76.

197. Tremble, B., "Prostitution and Survival: Interviews with Gay Street Youth," Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 1993, 2, 1, p. 42.

198. Brannigan, A. and Fleischman, J., "Juvenile Prostitution and Mental Health: Policing Delinquency or Treating Pathology," Canadian Journal of Law and Society, 1989, 4, p. 80.

199. CBC Ideas, Allen, M. (Producer), The Trials of London, Toronto, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1994.

200. Rekart, M. L., Chan, S., James, E. and Barnet, J., HIV Testing "on the Street," paper presented to the Vth International Conference on AIDS, Montreal, June 1989.

201. The study did not ask respondents whether they were the sex workers or the clients in the encounters.

202. Myers, T., Allman, D., Strike, C., Calzavara, L., Millson, P., Major, C., Graydon, M. and Leblanc, M., Bisexual Men and HIV in Ontario: Sexual Risk Behaviour with Men and with Women, paper presented to the Sixth Annual Canadian Conference on HIV/AIDS Research, Ottawa, May 1997.

203. For information on the social networks of Canadian bisexual males who sell sex and inject drugs, see Nöel, L., Lachance, C., Alary, M. and Marquis, G., Social Network in a Community of Injecting Drug Users Attending a Needle Exchange Program in Quebec City, paper presented to the XIth International Conference on AIDS, Vancouver, July 1996.

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Created: February 5, 2000
Last modified: February 5, 2000
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