Often misrepresented on screen is sex work. Often not represented at all on screen is male sex work! Whether you’re a sex worker, a client, or neither- these three films are all worth watching; not just for insight on the trade but because they are all round remarkable films regardless. 

 

1. Sauvage

Sauvage (2018)

Sauvage (2018), translating to ‘Wild’ is Camille Vidal-Naquet’s powerful first feature about Leo, a young homeless sex worker who intensely longs for a love and tenderness which is lacking in his life. 

Refreshingly,  in Sauvage, no particular narrative or opinion of sex work is pushed. It’s Leo’s story, and the viewer is swept along to observe his chaotic, everyday life as a street hustler. The film lives up to the title, as Leo himself has a wild, almost feral nature. He doesn’t care about most things that humans usually do, as long as he survives, loves, and is loved. I always felt that contrary to the common opinion of sex work being unnatural, that it in fact feels like one of the most raw and natural ways to survive in this world, a self-reliant profession for those, the dreamers and drifters, who see past the moral codes of today’s society. Leo’s character certainly reflects this perspective. His craving for physical touch feels almost innately animalistic, and we see that sometimes, he needs his clients just as much as they need him. 

The film is certainly provocative, and the sex scenes are not always easy to watch. Yet, they are never voyeuristic. More than anything else, expect to be moved, for at the heart of the film is Leo and his tragedy – being a lover in a loveless world.

 

2. My Own Private Idaho

My Own Private Idaho (1991)

In My Own Private Idaho (1991), the two main protagonists are both male sex workers. In this very loose adaptation of Henry IV, we follow two boys, both hustling for different reasons- Mike (River Phoenix) leads an isolated and desperate life- his only way of surviving is through his sex work. Scott (Keanu Reeves) is from a privileged background and he hates his father so much that he does sex work solely to disappoint him. 

The film interestingly depicts two characters even more relevant today in a world of sex work which is divided into those who do it as a means for survival with little other choice, and those who are more privileged and make more of an active choice to do it. The film doesn’t focus around sex but it communicates well the life of a sex worker- the spontaneity of not knowing where you will spend the night next, taken momentarily under the wing of others, exposed to all extremes of life-  luxury in one moment and poverty the next, and through that exposure realising how little it really matters…The film is a great film in general, not just for how it portrays male sex work- Gus Van Sant creates beautiful cinema, hilariously well written characters, and nuance and intelligence under the deceptively the light-hearted vibe of the film. Despite truthful moments of sadness and pain, the story takes a positive outlook- one that says that sex work is peculiar, but everything in life is peculiar, there’s no judgement, victimisation or glorification here. 

 

3. Mysterious Skin

Mysterious Skin (2004)

Mysterious Skin (2004) is a story about how two male victims of childhood sexual abuse deal with what happened to them as they grow up. Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) deals with it by becoming a street hustler at the age of 18, first in his small hometown and later in New York. Due to his abuse as a child, he has developed a compulsion to sleep with older men. Unable to properly confront his past and let out his anger, he adopts a blasé, self-destructive attitude towards sex and enters sex work having zero boundaries. He sleeps with anyone, for seemingly whatever price, with zero protection, and gets off each time, at the memory of his childhood abuse. Whilst Neil hates his abuser, he also feels that nobody since has ever made him feel as special as he did- his feelings are conflicted and confused, and he desperately searches to fill the gaping hole that his abuse left in him. 

I’m a sucker for any film that depicts moments of sex work that are intimate, but not necessarily sexual. The moments that sex workers will remember fondly, the pure moments. Within Neil’s encounters with outright perverts is a man dying of aids who is desperately longing for human touch. In a touching scene, Neil only massages his back, but it’s the most intimate interaction we’ll see him experience in his hustler life. We are also shown the dangers of sex work, much more likely to be exposed to those who enter the profession with self-destructive intentions and no boundaries. In a devastating scene, Neil is violently raped and attacked by someone who picks him up on the side of the street. If you have ever entered sex work as a result to forget former trauma and/or attempts to self-destruct – however consciously or subconsciously, you will relate to Neil’s character. Even more than sex work, childhood trauma is depicted with remarkable maturity and truth in Mysterious Skin. 

Thoughts

What these three films all have in common are exposure to the life of a male sex worker and moments that are largely hidden from the public eye. Being in strange settings, with strange people who you don’t know, and yet being so quickly being exposed to their nakedness and often their most secret fantasies- a state of total vulnerability. The stories also all depict characters who are almost more real in an animal sense than most of us in today’s society- they drift through life with a sense of freedom, their profession is an honest one and love is their currency. 

Art
Escorting
Films
queer
sex trade
Sex Work
Iso

Iso

Author

Iso is a writer and filmmaker based in East London. She is passionate about all things erotic and leads a sexy, shame-free life in hope that she can inspire others to do the same. Originally from a Northern seaside town, she is naturally drawn to the best things in life: candyfloss, trashy karaoke bars and heart-shaped sunglasses.


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