Boy for Rent (BBC Documentary)

This wasn’t a documentary.

This was – at best – an opinion piece.

At worst, one’s mans struggle to overcome his preconceptions and prejudices

**SPOILER ALERT**

He never manages it.

I was looking forward to this. I enjoy documentaries about sex workers. When I was working it was a great way to hear a) if I was doing it right and b) know that I wasn’t alone in the various daily joys and frustrations. It’s still a feeling that sticks with me when I see something coming up on TV or – like this – radio. However, I’m always let down when they refuse to see Sex Work as Work, and this was no exception..

This was one of the worst pieces of ‘journalism’ I have ever heard in my life. The whole thing is just one man completely unwilling to let go of his prejudices. The BBC is supposed to broadcast balanced opinions, non-biased reporting…but this? Puh-lease…it might as well have been presented by a 18th century puritanical Bishop screaming ‘Heathen! Heathen!’ and demanding our execution at the gallows.

There is a tone of condescension throughout. an air of unwillingness to believe what he is being told, even though it comes straight from the horses mouth…Ok, getting carried away…

Let’s start at the beginning.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01pcwzd

BBC reporter Mobeen Azhar meets Josh Brandon, our hero in the story because Josh is a male sex-worker. (Not only that, but he’s actually Male Sex worker of the year, although at no point does anyone mention that. No, it can’t be possible for us to have actual acknowledgement of a job-well-done) (BTW – My heckles are already up at this point having read the description on-line, and their insistence of putting speech marks around ‘brand’ and ‘service providers’. Would it have made any difference to have NOT used them? No..)

bizarre_magazine_42214_7(Image from Bizarre Mag)

Mobeen explains that Soho is the heart of theatreland, trendy bars, great clubs etc. Finishing with ‘It’s also home to London’s sex industry.’ Well, Mobeen, it might interest you to know that the reason why it has theatres, trendy bars, great clubs..is because the sex was there first. So..first request…could you not make it sound like it’s a blight on the landscape, and not one of the main reasons why tourists flock to the area – bringing in their cash – every day?

But he doesn’t like to beat around the bush, we’re straight into how much money Josh makes. A nifty £30,000 (props to Josh!) for a month in New York. Well, he is an award winning sex worker so..why not? Mobeen is amazed by this, but the documentary doesn’t go into what Josh would have had to pay for out of that – accommodation, flights and advertising are the first things that come into my mind. All a hefty sum. And, let’s not forget, throughout all of this every worker in Soho needs to pay for their ‘lush central London flat’. That’s going to add up..

And tax.

Our reporter is ‘astounded’ by how much money Josh earned when he went to Germany and asks ‘Can that really be the case for a typical male escort working in London?’ Well, no. Because that was made by the Male Escort of the Year when he wasn’t in London. He was in Germany..There’s a clue there. Also, our Josh seems pretty business savvy – he’s set up a loyalty scheme, and seems to have a close connection with clients – as we’ll come on to. Being a sex worker isn’t just about putting an ad in the paper and hoping people will show up. Many I know of have great regulars because they’re happy to talk to them outside of ‘office hours’.

Sex Workers get more when they’re in a new place. They’re a fresh face, at it were.

So he goes to meet Tommy, from Sao Paulo. Tommy’s a party boy, who loves a bit of clubbing and parties, and he’s also gone into sex work of his own free will, generally to make enough money to keep up his partying lifestyle. And why not?

Again, he asks how much he makes, how many clients he’s seen…reiterates that Tommy’s already seen two clients today (again, in his ‘amazed’ voice.) And…this is where it gets a bit weird..asks him to show him the money, not only that, but to count it. Errrr…bit weird, Mobeen. Not entirely sure why that’s necessary. Maybe it’s for dramatic purposes, but I’m left more with an image of him sat, pimp like, cigar in hand as he leans forward….’Count it.’

Awkwaaaard Peeeenguuiiin….

We leave the piles of awkwardly counted cash behind to meet Del from the Terrance Higgins trust, and they’re discussing the increase in foreign nationals and immigrant workers turning to sex work.

I like Del. He speaks with impartiality and experience. He also – quite rightly – points out that they’re a charity, so they don’t always see the positive side of sex work. However, he’s not dismissing it in any way, he’s speaking quite positively throughout the whole interview. Unlike some people I could mention..

‘For months now, I’ve been asking Josh to introduce me to one of his clients..’

BACK THE FUCK UP!

HOW is that any of your business?? Why can’t you – as a reporter – go out and find clients willing to speak? Use the might of the BBC to put out an ad somewhere saying ‘Hey clients of sex workers, come speak to us!’. Don’t spend months asking someone to introduce you…that’s both rude, and lazy. And what comes next is just…unspeakable.

And goes a long way to explaining why clients wont want to speak to the media..

(As a side note, please note the way he phrases it – ‘For months now, I’ve been asking Josh to introduce me to one of his clients..’)

So, this chap is one of Josh’s most loyal customers. Bill. He’s an older guy and our reporter assumes he has money just from his clothes. He was married, and has adult children. Bill’s telling him that homosexuality was illegal when he was young. I feel sorry for Bill – of course it was. We have a tendency to take these things for granted now. In a world where homosexuality is open, free, being fought for, no less, Bill comes from a time when getting married and having kids was how he spent the best years of his life. Now he’s older, he finally has a choice..! Hooray!

Oh, wait..

‘Do you feel like you’re genuinely Josh’s friend?’

What??

Where does this question even come from?! Bill’s told him part of the payment is for the company. If he’s one of his most loyal regulars, then yes – company is part of it. But does Josh now have to start asking him our for a coffee? Take him to senior citizen sundays at the cinema? What do you want him to say to this? It seems like such a bizarre question that doesn’t need to be asked. We all know this is a transaction. Would JOsh say hi to him on the street? No..because he may not want him to, and both SW and client know this. It’s part of the deal! Would Josh call him an ambulance if he suddenly had a heart attack in his flat? Yes! Because that’s a) being human and b) part of the ‘friendship’ that does actually exist between a SW and a regular. But to sit there and ask ‘Do you feel like you’re genuinely Josh’s friend?’ just seems like he’s deliberately trying to stir something, and disprove the affection Bill obviously feels for him.

‘Do you think it’s fair if someone called you a Dirty Old Man?’

FUCK OFF. JUST FUCK OFF. Get the fuck out of my ears. How dare you a) ask that, of an old man whose just spilled his heart out, telling you why he feels the need to see a Sex Worker and b) Have absolutely no thought for how any of these questions would impact on him seeing Josh again. This is still we’re livelihood we’re talking about. You spent months asking for a client to speak to, and you practically call him a dirty old man?! I’m filling out the Ofcom form right now. What a horrible way to treat an obviously nervous interviewee. I object.

Bill, to his credit, comes back with how everybody’s having intercourse. He agrees he’s a dirty old man, but I think that’s more because he’s been made to feel that way. After all, his generation would think he’s being dirty, just by seeing another man. I, however, think he’s being rather brave.

Again, another ‘Some people’ question..

‘Some people might see it as being exploitative..’ Do you mean you, Mobeen, do you mean ‘I see it as exploitative, but I’m saying ‘some people’ so it sounds like I don’t have an opinion and we can broadcast this’? Jesus, stop saying ‘Some People’. Who? WHO would say that Bill, who grew up bi-sexual, and never had the chance to explore his sexuality until he was a lot older and finally got the chance buy paying Josh (someone he wouldn’t be able to without the money element, let’s face it) who would say that’s exploitative?

I’ll tell you what’s exploitative. These fucking questions!

‘He obviously feels there’s an emotional attachment than just sexual gratification.’ You know why? Cos there probably is. We do have those, you know, emotions. It’s not all about just opening legs or bending over.

Urgh, and now the usual ‘Does having sex with strangers take an emotional toll on him?’

No. Simples. Can we move on? Seriously, does a chef follow his best made meal out, watch people eat it and ask about it afterwards? No. Josh equates it to a one-one-stand, Mobeen – for some reason – wants to equate it with having sex with a partner. Garghghgh!

Josh explains that he let’s clients go if they fall in love with him. Again, Mobeen uses his best ‘amazed’ voice. Not sure what he’s expecting..that we get married and present them with an invoice? No, Josh knows it stops being a positive experience for them so quite rightly sets things straight. Again, props. He also says – and this is the bit Mobeen really could have taken note of when he was talking to Bill – ‘I love being friends with my clients’. And that’s why you have a flying penis, Josh.

Mobeen seems to reluctantly admit that Josh has it all pretty sewn up. But rather than focusing on the positives of this, we’re back to Tommy (whose only been in England three months, and doesn’t have English as a first language. I think anyone would find any job tough in that situation) who has – apparently – found it hard since day one. Hmm….

I would suggest he found his first appointment tough (only because the client didn’t want to use a condom, so Tommy told him to leave. He did. I’m struggling to find the drama) but obviously not the whole time he’s been working otherwise…wouldn’t be working. But Tommy seems ok to just chuck ’em out.

‘Josh has gone out of his way to portray a positive picture of his work’

What?! Wait.. how? How has he gone out of his way? By finding the client you asked him for? By answering your questions? I have no idea in what way he went ‘out of his way’. Maybe he’s just trying to reiterate that he’s not being exploited, and he’s enjoying his work because you seem so dead set on not believing him.

‘Although it’s tough to overcome my own preconceptions…’

NO SHIT SHERLOCK.

I really don’t think you should talk to any sex workers ever again.

Back to Dell, I’m clam. Dell explains it’s harder for SW to tell friends about a ‘bad day at the office’ because of the stigma. Yeah.. in a way, it’s true. But that’s what twitter, blogs and SW friends are for 😀 Dell is a hero, and explains that male SW are very clued up and organised (so are females Del, but it’s OK. I’ll let it slide)

Mobeen has left Del (all too soon, I want Del! I want Del!) and says he met one escort in a cafe who begged him for money, saying he’d do anything for a tenner so he could get a hit of meth. Well – and this is not a great leap here – I would say, Mobeen, that you met up with a drug addict there, not a sex worker. Drug addict. You can tell because he would have probably stabbed his gran if he had the option.

And now we’re on to part two where we’re going to ‘see the bad side of escorting’

WHAT?! You mean… you’ve been trying to portray the good side all this time?! This was you being positive?!

Poor Josh just doesn’t seem to stand a chance. You’ve accused him of ‘going out of his way’ and being ‘evangelical’ about the positive side. Maybe he has to be, because you’re not listening to him. Because he knows that ALL reporters try and spin sex work into a negative.

Jesus, I don’t think I can stand part two. Not when there’s been absolutely no recognition of the positive aspects..

And note – part 1 = 20 mins. Part 2 = 30 minutes.

Yeah, really fair and impartial, that.

Part two opens in the HIV clinic. Josh reiterates he always uses protection and seems in fine feckel throughout the whole thing. Maybe this wont be so bad after all! Oh…wait…

Mobeen’s spoken to a nurse and he has the audacity to say ‘But surprisingly, a majority it seems, are keeping safe!’

Oh DO FUCK OFF!!! Of course they are!!! Sex workers aren’t stupid, or willing to risk their health! ‘SURPRISINGLY….’ what’s so surprising about it?! Do tell me.. WHY IS IT SURPRISING? Why is it SURPRISING to YOU?!

Micheal, the nurse who sounds like Morrissey, says he hasn’t seen a rise in HIV with the sex workers/gay porn star etc..but he has in the general clinic.

HA!!

WE WIN!!

Fuck yeah!! Go Sex Workers and your sexual safety! High fives all round!!

The rest of you gen-pop, USE MORE CONDOMS!

Urgh, now we’re on to bare-backers. Mobeen goes to the internet for bare-back sex. He wants to know how many will do it so he makes calls. Well done rent boys, and especially the one who hangs up and gave him the lecture! ‘Now, if you want to look at that positively’… yes, yes I do, because you obviously don’t. It shows that when you call them up they say they’ll do it. But…well, some can be tricksy little hobbitses, and not always keep their promises…

But no, instead of saying ‘Hey, only a few said yes’, he’s gone to the safety of sex work bashing and focusing on those 12…Why didn’t he go to the one who gave him the lecture?!

Nope, he’s gone off to Paris for the obligatory sob story…from a guy who didn’t see he had any other option as he had a medical condition, so couldn’t work. Finding himself in a job he didn’t enjoy, he took to drugs.

Seriously. This could be about any job. I don’t know anyone who gets through a job they don’t enjoy without something. My call centre days are a blur of ‘2 4 £5’ bottle of pinot.

Anyway, he’s addicted, and still has to sell sex. But can’t be too down on it if he keeps going back and fourth between London and Paris. To me, this all seems more like a damning indictment on the health care industry and the lack of decent rehab for the poor guy, rather than sex work itself.

Josh is back, and he’s got it sorted. Clever boy has his exit plan all sorted. Sex work is WORK after all. Personally, I think that whole part could have been a documentary in and of itself..!

Another sex work entrepreneur explains about ‘Hook-ap’. Another guy I’m liking, completely shot down by a question of morality.

Urgh.

Seriously, this app, and this guy, sounds so much more interesting than that question deserves!

Ohhh maaaaan… Josh is taking Mobeen to meet his family. I don’t want to listen anymore 😦

I have every faith in Josh and his family, but if this goes the same way as the interview with the client..then…

Before I can finish the thought, Josh snr has his head totally screwed on, and Mobeen could seriously learn from him. Same as the brother. But the ‘Some People..’ questions are back! *Takes a shot*

‘Some people would say it’s irresponsible..

Some People…

Some People…

But where are those people? Where have those people been throughout this whole documentary? ALL the people (bar the French guy who hates escorting so much he does it in both London AND Paris) have pretty much said ‘It’s good, I like it.’ Or ‘Let them do it if they want to’.

These ‘Some People’ of which you speak…they’re not sex workers. We are, and we’re fine. YOU, however, seriously need to look at your prejudices before making a documentary like this. srsly

Penultimate word goes to Del, who wants more sex workers to pay taxes. Fair enough Del, some do, some don’t. I can say the same about a lot of self-employed professions. But he points out that in order to do that, they need to feel like they’re more free to do so. Good point.

Mobeen seems to have gotten the point, at last. He’s seen the days of pimps and managers are dwindling as we manage ourselves via the internet. This seems like one drop in the ocean though…his condescension throughout the whole thing has left a big black mark.

Finally to Jos-

Oh no… a ‘Some People…’ question.

*Takes a shot*

This was painful to listen to. Sex worker or not, I could still hear the tone of voice, the attitude, the condescension throughout, and it made me…not angry, just annoyed. Annoyed that even with a whole hour of people saying ‘Hey, we quite like it’, the BBC still think they can that this was ‘balanced and un-biased’ programming. That even a podcats about sex work has to be filled with ‘Some people would say…’ questions, without actually talking to ‘Some People’ to see if they would say it. And when they do talk to ‘Some People’ they don’t actually say it at all.

The rudeness to the client, the shock at finding out more gen-pop has HIV than sex workers. The leading questions. The sweeping statements. All of it…just…

Close your moth, your prejudice is showing.

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