The Oldest Profession
Hi, I’m JL Merrow, and I’m thrilled to be here today as part of the Raising the Rent blog tour!
Giveaway: I’m offering a $20 Amazon gift certificate to a randomly chosen commenter on the tour. (See HERE for a full list of the blogs I’ll be guesting on, in case you’ve missed any)
I’ll be making the draw around teatime on Monday, 27th October, GMT. Good luck! :D
Never fall in love with a customer—especially if it’s sex you’re selling – Raising the Rent
Prostitution. It’s well known to be the oldest profession (actually, I hear midwives dispute this, although it sounds a bit chicken-and-egg to me!). But just how old is it? Specifically, when did the first rent boy loiter on a street corner, plying his trade?
Probably not until the first streets were invented, of course. But it’s likely that as long as prostitution has been around, it’s been an equal opportunities employer—and every culture has had its version.
Male brothels existed in both ancient Greece and ancient Rome. They tended, of course, to be staffed by slaves—one such unfortunate was Phaedo of Elis, captured by Spartans in the fifth century BC. Not only a high born, educated young man, he was also, by all accounts, blessed (or, as he might have felt in the circumstances, cursed) with unusually handsome looks, which meant the slavers took one look at him and shipped him off to a brothel. Phaedo eventually got his happy ending, though—or do I mean, he got to stop giving other people happy endings? (Sorry!) He appealed to fellow philosopher Socrates, who had him freed to return to the more sedate pleasures of axioms and paradigms.
Japan in the Edo period (17th-mid 19th Century AD) had its kagema, many of whom moonlighted from their official job as kabuki actors and who could be hired directly from the theatre—an interesting parallel with seventeenth-century England, where “actress” was widely assumed to be practically synonymous with “prostitute”.
But anywhere habituated by gay men would tend to attract hustlers. Bathhouses and bars offered a less formal venue for rent boys to meet clients than a brothel. Christopher Isherwood, for example, met young renters in the decadent bars of Weimar Berlin (his experiences later became the musical Cabaret, and who could have seen that coming?)
Interestingly, many of these rent boys were likely straight, or what is now called “gay for pay”—as were the Guardsmen back in London in the 18th and 19th century, who plied a lucrative trade in St James’ Park turning tricks and blackmailing their clients.
Male brothels certainly existed, though. In the late 1880s, what became known as the Cleveland Street Scandal involved a London brothel staffed by young telegraph boys and frequented by men in the highest of society—Prince Albert Victor, the oldest son of the Prince of Wales and second in line to the throne, was alleged to have been a client, as were a Duke’s son and an Earl.
The connection between high office and low trade continues even today, of course—although these days, the rent boy scandal is more likely to involve a Tory politician or televangelist. Will it ever end? Probably not—although I’d like to think increasing acceptance of GLBTQ people will one day put an end to ambitious men marrying a woman for respectability, and stepping out with a guy on the side.
JL Merrow is that rare beast, an English person who refuses to drink tea. She writes across genres, with a preference for contemporary gay romance, and is frequently accused of humour. Her novel Slam! won the 2013 Rainbow Award for Best LGBT Romantic Comedy.
She is a member of the UK GLBTQ Fiction Meet organising team.
Rent boy Nathan’s determined to get an education and get off the streets for good. But when he turns up for his first day at college he’s horrified to find his English teacher is one of his regular customers: Stephen, the one Nathan dubbed The Voice because of his educated, honeyed tones.
Stephen’s just as shocked to see Nathan sitting in his class, not to mention terrified he’s about to be exposed as having paid for sex with a student. This could mean public humiliation and maybe the loss of his job. But when Nathan shows he’s only interested in getting his A Levels, not in blackmail, Stephen realises there’s more to the nineteen-year-old than meets the eye.
Nathan still has to earn a living, though—and when a customer turns ugly, he finds himself unable to work and homeless as well. Stephen steps in to help, and Nathan starts to think they could have a future together—but Stephen’s guilt and lack of trust could end this back-to-front romance before it even starts.
Warning: Contains unfashionable haircuts, unreasonably long words and a May-December romance between a not-so-streetwise rent boy and an erudite English teacher.