The HIV-Positive Prostitute
5/3/2012 12:00:00 PM
By Alex Garner
I’m sure you’ve seen the sensational headlines, “HIV-Positive Prostitutes Arrested” or, “Greek Panic over HIV-Positive Prostitutes.” 17 female prostitutes in Greece were arrested for having HIV. It’s being covered as a scintillating story full of drama and intrigue. It has all the makings of an 80s miniseries. All that is missing is Phoebe Cates asking, “Which one of you bitches is my mother?” The appropriate title could be, “Sex, Scandal and Stigma.”
The key word is stigma and unfortunately, this is not a TV movie, it’s real life. The rights of these women have been completed disregarded in order to further the narrative of the dangerous and diseased prostitute. Their names and photos were released to the media, in the style of America’s Most Wanted, and Health Minister Loverdos is using language like, “exploded bomb, “ which helps paint them as sinister immigrant prostitute terrorists.
There has been no indication that HIV transmission has occurred and even the Health Minister admits that assigning blame is a bit tricky. He said, “It's not all the fault of the illegally procured woman, it's 50 percent her fault and 50 percent that of the client, perhaps more because he is paying the money."
So as this scandal unfolds it will pull focus from the challenging conditions for those living with HIV and it will keep a frustrated population from focusing on an economic catastrophe.
This incident should provide us with an opportunity to think about what it means to be an HIV-positive prostitute. Here in Los Angeles, there are scores of gay men working as escorts. Many also work in the porn industry. They aren’t “dirty bombs of disease,” they are just gay guys making a buck off their ripped abs, bulging biceps and other ample bulges.
What exactly are the dynamics at play if one is an HIV-positive escort?
A few years ago, a contributing writer to The Infection Monologues in Seattle, wanted to include a story about how his character got infected from an escort. It was the classic example of relinquishing all responsibility and blaming it on the diseased professional. The question I posed to him is still relevant today- “what incentive does an escort have to be honest if he knows he will lose money?”
I don’t mean to say the escorts are all money hungry monsters. They are businessmen who are making a living. If they know that being honest about their HIV status means they will no longer be able to make a living then it’s reasonable to expect that they may not divulge that information.
I don’t believe that HIV-positive escorts are callous and intend to infect their clients so they can make a quick buck. I think it’s important to explore the complex dynamics of sex, money and power that are at play.
When a man decides to hire an escort he usually has a sense of what he is into and what his boundaries are. He is paying for a service and he establishes the power dynamic. An escort often has their own boundaries but those boundaries might be flexible depending on how much money is being offered and how low their bank account might be.
The scenario could go something like this: A client calls an escort and asks him details about his services. The client says he intends to be very safe and use a condom. He then asks the escort if he is negative or positive. The escort says positive. The client thanks him for his honesty but decides to move onto another escort.
If this happens to the positive escort again, will he be just as honest? If the escort is undetectable and a condom is going to be used, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the escort would lie so that he could make some money.
And what about the client who declined the services of the positive escort? Does he expect every other escort to be as honest? Was he asking because he might really be interested in sex without a condom?
The bottom line here is that sex work is very complicated. Whether they are immigrant prostitutes or Weho escorts, they are real, three-dimensional human beings. They are already working in an industry that is highly stigmatized and add to that a disease that is all about stigma and it makes for a difficult situation. Not to mention, there are profound differences between the escort from Rentboy and the one on the street corner in front of Shakeys.
Depicting these people as akin to bomb toting terrorists only increases the fear and fuels the stigma. The solution is a sophisticated and nuanced discussion about sex work that acknowledges the rights and the humanity of the workers while understanding the complicated dynamics involved.
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