Academic journal article Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies

Five: Fare Tales and Fairy Tails: How Gay Sex Tourism Is Shaping the Brazilian Dream

Academic journal article Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies

Five: Fare Tales and Fairy Tails: How Gay Sex Tourism Is Shaping the Brazilian Dream

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article analyzes the aspirations of michês, straight-identified Brazilian men who exchange sex for money with gay-identified male sex tourists from North America and Western Europe. In so doing, I contrast the exoticizing fantasies of the tourists with the consumerist daydreams of the michês, who often see sex work with men as one of the few routes available to them for consumer consumption and possible migration. Contrary to existing research on Brazilian sex workers, my findings demonstrate that, for the michês, the ability to participate in consumer culture occupies their minds far more than discussions of sex or AIDS.

Introduction

Gustavo has a nice phone. It has a large screen and a camera with more megapixels than he probably needs. He turns it to face me. "This is my daughter," he says, showing me a sleepy-eyed infant in a pink jumper. "Her name is Ana. She has a brother, Samuel, who's three." Gustavo flips to another photo to show me a picture of him, his common-law wife, and Samuel at nearby Copacabana beach together. The picture quality is good - better than my own phone's, in fact. He also has naked photos of himself and close-up shots of his erect penis on this phone, which he sends to prospective clients. We decide to do a follow-up interview in week, but he says his phone hasn't worked in months because of his cash flow problems so there's no point giving me the number. "But don't worry. You can find me at the sauna again no problem. I need to work if I am going to get the phone functioning again."

Although straight-identified, Gustavo works in gay bath houses with brothel-style prostitution known as saunas. Working in a sauna can be lucrative. A successful garoto de programa2 in Rio can clear 2,000 U.S. dollars in a month, at least for the brief period when his is a fresh face on the scene, whereas a minimum wage worker earns around 270 U.S. dollars per month for the same hours. But Gustavo, like other garotos, doesn't want to work every day. He prefers working just two or three days, during which he'll try to do as many 40-minute programas (sessions with a client) in a shift as he can. He'll make a few hundred dollars, and then he won't work again until he runs out of money. Sometimes that means he's off for weeks. Often, though, he spends the money on expensive clothes, cologne, and electronics. He takes his friends to clubs and buys liquor by the bottle. He buys gifts for his wife and kids, and (I later come to suspect) his girlfriends.

But Gustavo's hair is starting to recede. He looks closer to being 35 than the 25 he tells people. He still does quite well, but garotos de programa are part of a larger category of michês (hustlers) who work in parks, streets, bars, and other less lucrative venues - locales where sauna rentboys eventually find themselves as they age out and become less competitive. Outdoors, programas can turn dangerous for clients and michês alike and offer only subsistence wages. Gustavo knows street hustling may be in his future if he doesn't start saving in earnest soon. And he knows that he needs his expensive phone working again.

Popular portrayals of male sex workers tend to dichotomize the men. On the one hand, newspapers, films, and television shows depict them as dangerous killers and thieves (see Mott & Cerqueira, 2003). But as Kerwin Kaye (2007) has observed in his analysis, they are also portrayed as youth in peril who can be rescued and mentored into being ideal and grateful young lovers. Both archetypes are premised on the assumption that the michê is desperate and dangerously destitute. Thus, clients often expressed surprise when a sex worker3 had an MP3 player, phone, or computer, especially because sex workers in saunas tend to come from and often continue to live in the poor periphery of the city. But even among the low end street michês with whom I've worked - men who use sex with gay tourists to scrape out a hand-to-mouth existence - there is a tendency to pass the time talking about the pricey items they plan to purchase one day. …

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