We are happy to be posting the third story in our #sexworkstories series. This one is written by Cyrus with the editing help of @YYJGhost_Writer. Remember, if you would like your story told, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’d prefer not contributing to the stereotype that most sex workers come from dysfunctional childhoods, but unfortunately in my case it’s true.
I was 14 years old when I came out to my family. It was the first time I ever saw my father cry. We embraced as he spoke the only words he ever would about the situation, “don’t worry son, we’ll get you help”. This was on a Saturday. By 11:30 the following Monday morning I was disowned and committed to the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital.
It was raining that day as my father pulled up to the building that housed The Child and Adolescent Unit. I was in tears as my father drove away, I was begging him not to leave me there but it was pointless. I think the fact that I was adopted also made his decision easier to navigate.
So there I was. Alone and terrified in a nuthouse. Beautiful. Thank god for the resilience of youth. There were only 15 of us on the ward and we were saner than any of the people telling us we were insane. It’s true.
Lakeshore had a legal obligation to house me. I was in their care and I soon used this to my advantage. I started running away at least 3 or 4 times a week. I was discovering myself right along with the gay scene in downtown Toronto. I’d stay out all night partying. Then around 6 am, I’d roll onto the grounds. I’d ring the bell and when someone came down to open the door, I’d push past them saying I was hungry and tired. I’d eat, sleep, get up, watch Another World, shower, dress and split, all in that order.
I was on the subway one morning on my way back to the hospital after a night of disco dancing when I met a guy who told me I could make good money as a “hustler”. That’s how they refer to boys who work, as hustlers. I’ve never liked that word, it sounds too shady, even slut sounds better; it doesn’t have the same criminal connotation the word hustler has.
But I digress. So this man told me exactly what to do. I was supposed to walk into a hotel lobby like I owned it, sit down and wait until someone sat down beside me and dropped their key on the floor so I could see their room number. They’d walk away; I’d wait for 5 minutes and then meet them in their room.
I didn’t even make it back to Lakeshore that day. I got off the train, crossed the platform, and within minutes, I was walking into The Royal York Hotel.
I did everything I was instructed to do, and, to my shock, within minutes there was a man sitting beside me dropping his key on the floor at my feet. I couldn’t believe it. It really happened the way that man told me it would. My very first date was handsome, about 50 years old with salt and pepper hair and a mustache. Within 20 minutes I was in and out of his room. I had $50 in my pocket, which was a fortune back then, especially to someone like me who was living in a mental hospital.
I didn’t even leave the hotel. I went right back to the lobby and within minutes another man started cruising me. He didn’t sit down, he just kept making eye contact so I got up and began following him. This went on for half an hour until I finally followed him onto an elevator. He asked me how much and when I told him 50 dollars he said, “that’s nice, hotel security”. I was busted on my very first day working.
In the security office, across from me, sat the boss of the man who caught me. When he started calling me son, I knew I might have a way out. At that time Police Story with Angie Dickinson was all the rage so sounding as innocent as I possibly could, I said “I saw it on Police Story and I thought he was just gonna take me for a drink”. Self preservation — that’s what it was all about. All charges were dropped, the hospital was called, they came down to pick me up and that was that.
Lakeshore was the worst, it was the stereotype of every horrific institution you can imagine, it was abusive and terrifying and I knew I didn’t belong there. I had no one, I was completely alone. Prostitution was my only way out. A few months later I ran away to New York City and have been on my own ever since. I was 15 by this time and working the streets was all I knew. For a 15 year old boy the streets of New York were exciting, dangerous and very lonely.
I would spend my life working both the streets and escort services. I worked all over the US and Canada and even spent 2 years in Central America. I know what it means to be alone and frightened. To be a prostitute one needs to know who they are, to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. I never understood the emotional repercussions until it was too late. I’m not saying being a sex worker is all bad or that the negative perceptions are a foregone conclusion. There are certainly people who exist in the world of prostitution that don’t suffer any of the repercussions I did.
I grew up in a world without love, in fact I grew up hated by the very people who were suppose to love and protect me. When I started selling sex, I thought I had finally found what I was missing. It took me years to realize the difference between desire and love, years to understand where that line is drawn.
My ability to ply my trade has run its course, I’ve reached my expiry date. But I have wisdom, I have something to contribute, I’m just beginning to understand what it is.
In closing, let me tell you the two things that have been my saving grace all these years. Without a doubt, having no family has been the hardest thing I’ve had to overcome. Even today it’s still very painful, but I know in my heart that without humor or music I never would have survived. Those two things are very powerful — if you embrace them, they will comfort you. Dare I say even more than love or friendship, music and humor have been more consistent and more reliable in my life. I am speaking from my own experience.
Because this life is not easy no matter who you are, no matter where you come from. We’re all searching for something, for a reason to believe, for our lives to mean something. I know I want to leave the world in better shape than I found it, don’t we all?