An escort reflects on his status and how it affected business.
It’s one of those questions I am always expecting a client to ask. It’s almost as reliable as, “How much?” It comes in many varieties. Sometimes it’s benign, “Are you HIV-positive?” Other times it’s presumptuous, “You’re negative, right?” Other times it’s decidedly harsher, “Are you Clean?” Once it was just plain hostile, “Do you have AIDS?” The answer, at first, might seems pretty simple but if your goal is to see clients and make money, then the answer is complex.
Yes, I am HIV-positive and yes I see clients, but how do we decide about issues of consent and responsibility in the context of a financial exchange for sex? For me it comes down to a basic power dynamic. While I, as the escort, have the power to say no and establish my boundaries, my goal is to earn money. If a potential client asks if I am positive and if, when I tell him I am he decides he doesn’t want to hire me, what incentive do I have for being honest in the future?
This is where it can become even more complicated. If someone who is HIV-positive is undetectable, the chances of passing on the virus are close to zero. So if it’s unlikely that I can transmit, or if we are going to use a condom, or just have oral sex then why should I have to disclose?
Whose responsibility is it? Is this literally a case of “buyer beware?”
Unfortunately, depending on what state you live/work in, the law has determined that the entirety of the responsibility rests with the HIV-positive person. In most cases it doesn’t matter if someone has an undetectable viral load or if a condom is used. It also doesn’t matter if disclosure actually happens as it can end up being a legal case of “he said/he said,” and the poz guys will end up on the losing end of that argument.
It’s my belief that responsibility resides solely with the individual. I’ll take care of me and you take care of you. As escorts we sometimes go to great lengths to protect ourselves – our safety, our privacy, our health, our freedoms. People with HIV should not be criminalized but the sad fact is that we often are in this country. If you are a poz escort it’s essential to know your rights and to understand the law so you can protect yourself as much as possible. Familiarize yourself with HIV criminalization and check out organizations like the Sero Project and The Center for HIV Law and Policy.
We can have all sorts of debates about ethics and morals but sex work is all about the gray area. Boundaries are pliable, power dynamics are complicated, and consent might look different to an escort in a Chelsea hotel room than to a trans sex worker on the street corner.
Hooking with HIV can present significant challenges but it’s not just one big experience of fear, stigma, and victimhood. There are some distinct advantages. It’s possible to be a successful HIV-positive escort.
The obvious advantage is the HIV-positive client. I would see clients who would be racked with fear thinking that an escort would never want to see them because they are positive. When I told them I was poz too their relief was palpable. Often times it was an opportunity for them to have an open conversation about living with HIV. Many had HIV-negative partners and hiring an escort allowed them to find someone to connect with who was also positive and with whom they could have condomless sex.
I built up a steady stream of HIV-positive regulars because I could offer them something they couldn’t get from negative escorts or their negative boyfriends- understanding, intimacy, unencumbered sex. There is something to be said for tapping into a niche market.
Often times it wasn’t just business. I made authentic connections with HIV-positive men who were feeling lonely, vulnerable, or unattractive. I was happy to be able to help because as a poz gay man I had felt those things too during my years of living with HIV. I was able to help them out and make some money and I didn’t have to deal with the drama from negative clients. Eventually I became much more open about my status in my ads and with clients because I figured it would be easier to just focus on poz or poz-friendly clients.
Being a successful escort is hard work. Doing it in the context of HIV makes it all the more difficult. The HIV conversation will invariably come up and it can mean tackling complex topics like disclosure, undetectable, and PrEP. These are things we should be prepared to confront but shame and guilt serve no purpose. Escorts should never feel ashamed or dirty because of the work we do and HIV-positive escorts should never feel that way because of the work we do with a positive status.