Thursday, January 31, 2008

Gay Prostitutes and Horny Sailors

Cape Town is probably the gay-friendliest city in Africa. Everyone loves pink in the Mother City. At the seamen's nightclubs, a few gay guys sometimes make themselves available for manly romance. These gays act quite differently than the female prostitutes at the club. They don't actively solicit clients. They tend to hang back and let the sailors come to them of their own accord. That way they know the guy is really interested. (Also, they do have legitimate jobs to attend to as well.)

Usually, if a sailor comes around, the two of them will just cosy up together and enjoy companionship at the club. They'll drink, talk, and lightly touch. But they won't advertise their affection through dancing or tongue-jabbing sessions. If they want more physical intimacy, they discreetly depart the club and go to the guy's place.

(There are also other gays who work at the seamen's clubs, but they're not available for sex. They just do their jobs and go home to their boyfriends. But none of them are flamboyantly gay, like the famous "moffie" figure in Cape Town. They don't dress up in wild costumes or perform in an exaggerated manner. This is because these aren't "gay clubs." They're basically straight clubs where the occasional sailor can switch-hit for the evening.)

This discretion suggests a couple of things: One, that while homosexual hook-ups are tolerated by the sailors ashore, they're not celebrated in the sailors' masculinist culture. So the guys don't make a big show of going off with another guy.

Also, many sailors who go with a gay fellow do not see themselves as gay, but rather straight men who enjoy dabbling in transgressional delights. In reality, many such men are probably socially constrained to act straight in their Asian communities where homosexuality may not be tolerated. So at home, around their wives and children, they would never dream of acting on their homosexual impulses. But in Cape Town, why not? They can cautiously explore their homosexual desires, spending time with a male prostitute without abandoning their sense of heterosexual identity.

On the ships—while at sea—homosexual relations are largely context-specific and highly inequitable. It's best described as "situational homosexuality" in which younger crewmen play the part of the "wife" for an older seaman. These relationships are often more about power and status than homosexual desire. Many of the older men are fully heterosexual in other environments, but since they still seek sexual satisfaction and they have structural authority, they are able to younger crewmen (some still teenagers) into playing a "female" role in their engagements. The senior partner gets sexual pleasure from the "passive" junior while the junior gets money, goods, and the possibility of promotion from the senior. This suggests that, like prostitution, the exchange of goods is central to these relationships. They're transactional relationships.

So while heterosexuality remains the norm for these highly masculinist crews, homosexual behavior is tolerated because it can be contained—like the situational homosexuality at sea—or dismissed, like the transgressional homosexual explorations ashore in foreign ports. But for the truly gay seamen, for whom homosexuality constitutes their personal identities, the chance to interact with gay Capetonians is pure pleasure.

Labels: , ,

Sugar Girls and Seamen · Suikermeisies en Seamen · Izifebe namaTilosi · 売春婦及び船員 · 매춘부와 선원
妓女和水手 · Làm đĩ và những lính thủy · πόρνες και ναυτικοί · Gamitin sa masama at Mandaragat
Pelacur dan Pelaut · Prostituiertee und Seeleute · Prostituert og Sjømenn · Prostituees en Zeelieden
Prostituées et Marins · Prostitutes e Marinai · Prostitutes y Marineros · проститутки и матросы