When Shaggy* opens the door to his apartment in a quiet part of The Hague, he’s wearing gold earrings and makeup. He does the same for the men who arrange sex dates with him via the internet. A client sends him a text message: "Let's make a date. I want to suck your c*** and f*** you," appears on his mobile phone. Shaggy is a male prostitute.
Having sex with men is not a problem for Shaggy. He gets paid, he's happy. He offers his services via a website and is pretty much willing to do anything: kissing, intimate massages, oral sex without a condom and anal sex.
He shows me his bedroom: a large bed, a small table with two bottles of spirits and two glasses, a series of photos showing various sexual positions, a book about planets and stars and a couple of bars of chocolate. His shoes and slippers are lined up neatly along the wall. This is where he entertains his clients.
He tells me, "You get a phone call and make a date; my place, their place, or outside somewhere. And you get paid for it. I get about 100 euros per client, it works out to about 500 euros an evening. Sometimes I get 250 euros for late-night dates".
Shaggy's situation is far from unique. The local authorities in The Hague recently conducted an investigation into male prostitutes in the city. The researchers say they fall into three categories: men who do it because that's their job, men who do it for the thrill and men who hustle because they need the money.
Nynke de Vries, director of SHOP, a non-profit group providing support and advice for prostitutes, says Shaggy's story is a common one, "It's a double taboo for people like Shaggy, they have sex with men and they're prostitutes".
Shaggy (31) came to the Netherlands from the Caribbean island of Curaçao in 1999; he was planning to study but things quickly went wrong. He couldn't find a job and started racking up debts because he couldn't adjust his expenditure to match his income. He is social security, but after paying his monthly bills and after court-ordered debt repayment are withheld, he has just 28 eurocents left.
Meanwhile, his debts just keep piling up. His telephone bill is enormous as he phones his family in Curaçao regularly. There's also a bill for a bathroom suite he ordered that was never delivered because he couldn't complete the down-payment. He hopes the court is going to rule soon that he doesn't have to pay that particular debt as the bathroom was never fitted.
Shaggy says, "This is something I have to do because my unemployment benefit just doesn't cover my living expenses. I have to have sex for money in order to pay my debts".
Running away from his debts is not an option that Shaggy has considered. He enjoys having beautiful things around him and he is prepared to work for what he wants, even if that means selling his body. However, he doesn't feel like that, "I decide what I do with my life," he says.
He dreams of a better life with a nice man who loves him just as he is: a man who feels like a woman. He dreams of a nice house with beautiful things and lots of clothes.
At the moment his living room has pale blue walls; pink and white curtains cover the windows and there's a fuchsia LCD television and a borrowed DVD player on a cabinet. Crystal knick-knacks and white angels are arranged tastefully here and there. It's very cold.
He shows me the underwear he puts on for his clients; frilly women's panties in various colours and sporty girl's knickers, "These are very popular," he says, looking pleased with himself. He doesn't find it difficult to have sex with strangers. He feels attractive and loved when he's with a man.
He says he hasn't had any problems with clients. Previously, he worked in a sex club, but stopped because he didn't like it much. Once, he saw a man being beaten at the club.
He hopes to start a training course through the Centre for Work and Income shortly. In Curaçao, he worked in a shop and as a cleaner but, so far, that hasn't led to any legitimate work here in the Netherlands.
He says, "I'd like to get a diploma so that it would be easier to get a job". However, he wants to pay off his debts first and is only working as a prostitute at the moment. The money he earns is his and the social security office cannot cut his benefit because he doesn't declare that income.
Friends and acquaintances do not know Shaggy is a prostitute: "No one round here knows I'm a hustler. It's nothing to do with anybody else. It's up to me to decide what I do with my life. No one can accuse me of anything, because it's my life".
His family knows that he has sex for money but he doesn't want to talk about how they feel about it: "They can't help pay off my debts," he says. It seems as though he turns his emotions off. His words and his eyes radiate strength but his slender build and soft voice make him seem vulnerable at the same time. The only time he feels free and happy is when he's having sex with a man.
*Shaggy is a professional name
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