From the archives: ‘Young men on the sexual fringe’

A look at the hustlers of North Charlotte :: Vol. 6, No. 11, November 1991

by David Stout  Associate Editor  editor2@goqnotes.com
Published: February 1, 2013 in Featured Stories, From the Archives

A young male hustler in North Charlotte, pictured here in a front-page photo from the November 1991 print edition of the newspaper. File Photo.

 [Ed. Note -- In the Feb. 1, 2013, print edition of qnotes, we're profiling gay life, love and sex as they existed in the Carolinas in the 1970s and, with this piece from our archives, in the early 1990s in the days before the internet. This piece's original author, current associate editor David Stout, shares some short retrospective thoughts on the piece below. The archived news story follows as it was printed in November 1991. See this issue's Editor's Note column for more on our annual sex issue.]

This was one of the first investigative pieces I ever wrote for qnotes. I was 23 at the time. Looking back, I can see how my age and small-town upbringing colored the way I approached the story and how I viewed the hustlers. It almost felt like I was documenting a counterculture of sexual revolutionaries. This was a world, I thought, that thumbed its nose at convention and the accepted methodologies of finding and having sex and of procuring money. I was excited, scared and titillated by these notions all at the same time.

I’m 45 now. What I understand from this vantage point is how different reality was from my youthful, idealized view of it. The hustlers weren’t anti-hero entrepreneurs. No one was giving or receiving blow jobs in a Ford Taurus as a social comment about the culture of desire. This was about the culture of money — not having any and needing it to survive…or maybe just get high.

Likewise, the johns weren’t sexual conquerors with lusty appetites for the exotic. Most times they were just unhappy, married men trapped in the closet, guys who fetishized the risks that accompany picking up hustlers or socially awkward fellows who couldn’t master the conventional methods of meeting potential dates or sex partners.

I realize that these statements could come across as a disavowal of the story you are about to read. To take them that way would be inaccurate. Time has simply brought the issues lurking behind the piece into clearer view with the passing of years. I still hold an estimable level of admiration for the hustlers I met while working on this story. If nothing else, they are a testament to resiliency and the fortitude it takes to do whatever must be done.

Actually, I would love to speak with these men again. The street tales they’d share today would, without a doubt, be far different than the ones they shared with me then. This is not to say they’d be any more honest, but we could more easily look for the middle that way. That might be as accurate a picture of the hustler life as we’d ever get.

– David Stout, Feb. 1, 2013

[Editor’s Note: This article is neither an endorsement nor indictment of hustling, it is merely an examination. All the young men interviewed are using assumed names.]

Openly gay film director Gus Van Sant is making waves with his new film My Own Private Idaho. The feature is about the lives of a group of male prostitutes (hustlers), with a focus on two of them. They are played by River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves. The movie explores the life of a hustler, something most of us have no idea about, with thoughtfulness and surprisingly tender insight. This non-sensationalized approach has been rewarded with three major film festival awards, two for the film itself and one for River Phoenix’s portrayal of a young hustler who suffers from the sleeping disorder, narcolepsy.

While the movie involves the hustlers of one particular town in Idaho, in real life they can be found in practically every metropolitan city. The adage that prostitution is the world’s oldest profession doesn’t just apply to the female variety; there have been male prostitutes throughout history, even given society’s added biases against male/male sex. Clearly, hustling is a phenomenon which will not “just go away.”

Q-Notes decided to take a closer look at this perpetual, yet unknown, underworld by interviewing several hustlers about their lives and experiences.

To acquire these interviews, we went to North Charlotte where hustling is a way of life for many of the younger males in the area. Even though a majority of the hustlers are heterosexual, they have been raised in an environment where they see themselves strictly as businessmen making some money. Captain W.C. Hilderman, of the Charlotte Police Department – Special Information Bureau, commented about the proliferation of male prostitution in North Charlotte, “It’s almost like a rite of passage, you have to do it (hustle) to become a man.”

Although recent police crackdowns have slowed the hustlers, they have by no means eradicated them.

On the street

The following profiles were compiled from in-depth interviews with four hustlers taken on the street over the course of two months.

“Brian” is seventeen (he has no identification to prove this and looks younger) with shoulder length brown hair and a small, slim build. He says that he was raised in North Charlotte by his mother, who now resides in Concord. He stated that the first time he hustled he was fourteen years old. “I couldn’t get the things that I wanted so I started hustling.” Brian said that his knowledge about the potential of making money through hustling came from his “friends talking about it a lot.” Brian didn’t fit the stereotype profile of a hustler in two ways. When asked his sexual orientation, he responded “bisexual” but later revealed that his true preference is sex with men and he also reported no history of drug use other than marijuana. However, on several occasions, Brian seemed to get tangled up in his own story as he conflicted himself a number of times so there was no real way to ascertain the truth about his own drug use. But for the neighborhood, he estimated that, “80% of the guys in the area have hustled at least once in their lives,” with, “most out here because they need the money for drugs. That is about the main thing that people come out here for.” Brian estimated that on a “good” night he would turn seven tricks at $30.00 per person (once a customer has been seen enough to become a “regular” he is only charged $20.00). Brian said he that he used the money to pay for the boarding house where he lived (although he later changed the location of the house) and for his food and clothing. Brian said that a typical client would be a married, middle-class, 39-year-old man (race did not seem to be a factor) looking for oral sex. When asked about safer sex, Brian reported that he always used a condom and did have one in his pocket at the time of the interview. When asked what would make him stop hustling, Brian responded, “Nothing until I get ready.”

The second interview was with “Wayne.” He is a rail-thin twenty-four-year old African-American who obviously suffers from some degree of mental retardation and from a severe stuttering impairment. Wayne stated that he lived at home with his parents who worked in the kitchen of a restaurant. When asked if his parents knew he was hustling, Wayne replied, “Yeah, they said to stop that before you get locked up.” He said the reason he was hustling was to make money for food as his parents would feed him only “sometimes.” There were also signs of physical abuse of Wayne as he had a large knot on his forehead which he said was caused by his sister. Wayne said that he was heterosexual but for $20.00 would let someone “blow” him. He further stated that he would reciprocate “a little bit.” Wayne seemed familiar with safer sex and the need to use condoms; however, he relayed a disquieting story of being stopped one night by a police officer, “He searched me and see if I have any needles in my pocket – I don’t and he find my condoms and he stole my condoms and put ‘em in the sewer.” The officer didn’t take any steps to stop Wayne from hustling, he merely removed his ability to have protected sex and sent him on his way. Since the subject of needles and drugs had been broached, Wayne admitted that “most of ‘em (hustlers) are out here for drugs” and that he used to shoot up cocaine, but “not no more.” He said that he had filled out some applications and wanted to stop hustling.

Drugs as a factor

“Ray” had been smoking marijuana the night that he was interviewed. He was very reticent to speak and had to be persuaded gingerly. Ray is nineteen and lives with a friend in the area. Over the course of the conversation he revealed why he was so apprehensive about talking – he was arrested for hustling several years ago and had spent some time in jail before being released into his mother’s care. He said that his cousin introduced him to hustling when he was in his early teen years. Ray said that he would see about four or five johns a night and charge each one $30.00. He knew how to engage in safer sex but said that he “sometimes” ejaculated into his clients mouths. As for any drug use, Ray stated that he had used crack cocaine “a couple of times” but not regularly or in a while. Ray also stated that he was concerned about his safety when he was hustling due to the stories of Jeffrey Dahmer. Ray said that he had a regular job and hustled infrequently for extra money.

The last person interviewed was “Mark.” He was a severely intoxicated nineteen-year-old who had just gotten out of jail the day we spoke to him. He was arrested for disorderly conduct stemming from a confrontation with two men who were threatening to beat him up. Only one month earlier Mark had returned home from a summer internment at a drug rehabilitation center. He stated that he began hustling at fourteen to support his drug habit. Mark said that he was shooting cocaine as well as smoking it as crack. When asked what were his feelings after his first time hustling, Mark matter-of-factly replied, “Like getting a rock (crack).” Mark reported that he lives at home with his parents, who know nothing about his hustling, and an older brother and younger sister. He stated that to the best of his knowledge, his brother had never hustled before. Mark says that he is now drug free and only hustles for spending money.

Spending time with these four young men (and others) was an unsettling experience. What do you say to someone who professes to know about safer-sex but regularly engages in unsafe sex? Is there a proper response to the comment that the hustlers are seen as heroes by the eight- and nine-year-old boys in the neighborhood? How should you react when a young man announces that his first experience with crack was when he was ten years old?

These almost unanswerable statements, and others like them, are evidence of a subterranean world of existence occurring openly on our city streets, yet totally outside of our field of vision.

As they admit, most of the young men are involved with drugs, have criminal records, are high school dropouts, and come from dysfunctional families; but, in their own minds they are merely exhibiting self-sufficiency. Using their one asset, their bodies, to carve out a financial independence which rises above both their socioeconomic standing and their education. They are getting ahead, they believe. If they aren’t destroyed by drugs, incarceration, or disease, they possibly may. : :