I recently sat down for brunch with a very interesting, retired black gay male escort, who wanted to share his story with Black Gay Men’s Blog. We are calling him Duane because he prefers to remain anonymous, but felt that his story of prostitution aka hustling, drug addiction, bareback sex, AIDS, depression and isolation might be beneficial to some of our readers.
Before I go any further, let me warn you that some of the details recounted might be disturbing. I had a very frank, deep and disturbing interview with Duane over brunch and I am going to try my best to share HIS story without interjecting any judgment. I ask that you guys try not to be too harsh on him as I think we can all learn something from Duane’s story.
Duane is a black gay male, aged 30, who currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. He was raised in Manhattan, as an only child, by a single mother, who sadly passed away 6 years ago. Duane has only met his father once when he was a kid and has no idea where he is today. Duane was diagnosed with AIDS(hopefully you know that there is a difference between an AIDS diagnosis and being HIV positive), when he found out he was positive in September 2010. He currently has a host of health complications and is a shadow of his former self – an extremely attractive black man. Current physical appearance aside, there is something very endearing about Duane and I found myself able to see the inner him and not what he had done, or become.
I spent almost two hours with Duane because his story was so deep, fascinating and tragic all at the same time. I also think he was glad to have some company. He doesn’t want anyone to think he is looking for pity or that he is saying escorting is an evil thing. He just wants to share his story and hopefully it might stop someone out there from making the same mistakes. He says if you are going to become an escort, go into it with your eyes wide open and stay focused, without letting greed get the better of you.
- Storm: Thank you for meeting with me and for deciding to share your story with Black Gay Men’s Blog. I know you are not feeling too well, so I really appreciate it.
Duane: No, thank you man. I think it is something I gotta do, even if it just stops one person from making the same mistakes. And it’s good to be out of the apartment, first time in a few days.
- Storm: Let’s take it from when you started escorting. You said on the phone you started escorting when you lost your job, about a year after your mom passed away. Do you think the series of events had anything to do with your decision to become an escort or was it something you had always considered doing?
Duane: Nah, I never really thought about hustling or escorting until I lost my job, but I always heard I would make a good escort or porn star, so maybe it was at the back of my mind. I lost my job because when my moms passed, I kinda lost focus – turning up late or calling in. I was drinking and smoking a lot of weed every day you know, work just wasn’t the place I wanted to be. My moms was the only family I had, so I guess it hit me real bad. I think the fact that she was gone made it easier to start escorting, like I had nothing to lose. Nobody could say shit to me. I really started(hustling) to save my apartment, when the little I had saved up ran out. I had a decent job for years and a nice apartment, so I wanted to keep it I was very close to being evicted in the middle of winter in NYC – not a good look. I did what I felt I had to do without dealing with the structure of work and all that BS. I decided to place an ad in one of the free gay mags and that was that, my phone started ringing, I was lucky to hook-up with a few wealthy clients who wanted something on the regular. They needed the double-digits between my legs and I needed the cash, you know. I worked 6 nights a week for the first 2 months – saved my crib and had enough vodka and weed to keep me happy. I could sleep most days and drink smoke and sex most nights. I got to know the regulars, you know I did overnights and shit – more money.
- Storm: Some would say you had a good thing going. So when did things turn south? You mentioned on the phone that you started having bareback sex and taking harder drugs, which you believe was the beginning of the end for you, to use your own words. How did that all come about? How long had you been escorting before you started offering bareback services and were you doing the drugs with clients, or on your own, in order to cope with the fact that your were prostituting? Or maybe a bit of both?
Duane: Damn (laughs), you said you weren’t gonna be too easy on me, guess you weren’t lying. It’s that word “prostituting”, you sound like my therapist. Yeah, I’m just coming to terms with that word, ok, yeah I was a male prostitute. That shit just sounds wrong, you know (laughs again) from high-paying job to hustling. My bad, let me get back on track. Yeah, everything was cool for almost 2 years. I had good regular clients, even went on a few trips and stuff. Did lots of overnights and didn’t have to work 6 nights any more. I mean 5 hours a week was like $1000, if I did 1 overnight a week, that was an extra $600 – $1000. So on lazy weeks I could pull in 2k easy, most weeks I made about 3k. I had always said no to bareback with clients, but then one of them offered me $600 for 1 hour, I had started taking a lil coke every now and then to escape. I was high at the time, so I was like hell yeah – plus he was fine as hell. I think it was easier because the first raw client was a sexy-ass black man on the Upper East side. I saw him at least once a week for 6 months b4 the raw sex started, so we were cool. Once I crossed that line, it was easier to say yes to the white clients and I always charged them more than the black clients anyway, coz that was more like work, I’m normally attracted to black men. It was like easier money and I was only dealing with high-end clients at this time, so I deceived myself that it was cool. Plus, I was topping them, so it wasn’t that risky – that’s what I told myself. Then one of my white clients, who had more money than sense offered me a ridiculous amount of money to have sex all night with him on crystal meth. He wanted us to both do the meth. Now, remember at this point I had only done weed and a bump(coke) every now and then. I said no the first couple of times, then one night I was like WTF let me try this shit. Yo, we had sex for hours, that shit was bananas. I went home around 8am still horny and got on A4A to find a hook-up, I was tweaking like crazy and banged dude who came through raw for like an hour. That’s how it all started, then the client started inviting his buddies over and we would have orgies and stuff and I would leave with a pocket full of cash and my dick still hard. By about the third month I was really hooked on that stuff doing it all the time with different clients, I even introduced some of them to it, other had already been doing it, so now we could PNP. Yo, I became a sex maniac and I always wanted it raw, I was having sex with so many dudes, apart from clients, I lost count. I got into all that “piggy” sex with white clients, then I’d go home horny and craving black sex. I don’t know how many holes in NYC I flooded and I got to take out all my anger and aggression on the clients. I didn’t realize how much pent up anger I had, it was very easy to beat those who wanted to be beaten and treated like dirt. Also meth makes your booty go crazy, so after a while I needed to be flooded too. I went from a regular escort to a full-time bareback escort. In about 2.5 years I think I used a condom 2 or 3 times. I started going to the bathhouses too just anywhere i could get sex. I wanted only 2 things meth and sex. By that point, the money was just a bonus, a way to get more meth. I looked like shit after about 1 year on meth, not as bad as I looked in September, but bad enough that it really was easier to do bareback clients on meth – they didn’t care what I looked like they just wanted 11 black inches for hours. I stopped paying rent and was facing eviction again, but at that point I didn’t care. Dude who introduced me to meth offered me a room in his crib. I think he felt a lil bad, plus he could always get his back blown out whenever he wanted it. Besides I was out having sex most of the time anyway, so it wasn’t like I needed a home, you know.
- Storm: How ironic, you started escorting to save your apartment and ended up a homeless bareback hooker after 2.5 years on crystal meth. At any time during all that drug fueled crazy sex, did you ever think about HIV and other STDs, or the fact that you were possibly endangering your life and the lives of others? Did you get regular check ups? Was HIV ever discussed with clients or booty-calls – considering the fact that you were a reckless bareback escort, sex maniac and a junkie?
Duane: Just say it like it is why don’t you!(laughs) I like you man, you ain’t sugar-coating shit, that’s what I need. Nah, in the crystal meth world I don’t think HIV is mentioned much, I think it’s like an unspoken assumption, you know. Most meth heads are probably positive, many staring using meth to cope with being positive, I know that now. At the time, I really didn’t want to know, denial is a bitch you know. Outside of the meth bareback/PNP clients, I was mainly having raw sex with black men, when I was “off the clock”. Now when was the last time a black gay man asked you about status, before getting busy? We don’t do that often – you a straight shooter, you should know. Most black men ain’t having no serious discussion about HIV, when their shit is all hard. Plus, 70% of the time, I was topping and I am extremely “blessed”. Put eleven inches in front of most men and how many do you think are gonna ask about HIV. I also convinced myself tops couldn’t get HIV, so I only went to the clinic for other STDs, you know stuff that antibiotics can get rid off.. Yeah I know I have read your article about that shit, that’s why I hit you up. I know I wasn’t a top all the time, but I had been calling myself that for years. Plus I was high you know. I’m not making excuses, I’m just telling you how my fucked up mind was working at the time. I know what I did was wrong. When I was diagnosed with AIDS last year, for the first two months I was severely depressed, I still am, part of it was because I had to deal with the fact that I had probably infected more men than I can even remember. Especially black men, you know I love black men and I’ve probably ruined so many lives flooding all those holes and stuff. Now, I look back it’s crazy to think I hadn’t been tested in 5 years.
- Storm: I have to stop you right there, let’s look at that for a moment. You say you love black men, is that a recent thing? I say that because I don’t see how you can love black men, or anyone, when you don’t love yourself. Have you learned to love yourself now and so realize the error of your ways? I don’t think you are entirely to blame for infecting anyone, it takes two, but I am glad you are owning your role in the possible infection of tons of black men. That is, if we are to assume that all your clients were already positive – if not, you probably infected some white men too. I believe when it comes to sex and the decision to bareback, both parties have to take responsibility. Was being diagnosed with AIDS the turning point? Tell us more about that, you said your CD4 count was 4 when you were diagnosed, that means your immune system was totally depleted.
Duane: You are right, I didn’t love myself at all. I realize now that I had been depressed for a very long time, even before my moms passed. I was self-medicating with weed and alcohol for years. It just intensified when she died. I had a lot of anger inside me coming up, I was really mad at my pops for abandoning me, but I directed that anger to myself. When I got diagnosed with AIDS, I had been sick for weeks, probably 2 months, but being high all the time, you are so numb you don’t really know what it real, you know. I had a cough and couldn’t breathe right, then it got worse and worse. First I just thought it was from the meth, you know all that smoking. Well, that was part of it, by the time I collapsed outside 86th street subway, I had pneumonia, my chest and lungs were seriously infected, I had neurosyphilis and all kinds of other infections. I am lucky to be alive today, even though I still have AIDS, it saved my life. I was in hospital for 1 month, so it was like forced detox and rehab. Then I started an out-patients program, as well as therapy twice a week, now once a week. I take a lot of meds because I had a host of Opportunistic Infections and you also gotta take stuff to prevent you from getting stuff, when your immune system is severely compromised. I know I still look terrible, but you should have seen me then. I have actually put on 20lbs since September.
- Storm: Yeah, you look nothing like the picture you showed me from 6 years ago. That must be hard for someone who was so into their physical appearance and actually made a living selling their body. How do you cope with that, what is your life like today and do you look forward to the future?
Duane: To be honest with you, I don’t cope too well. I am indoors most of the time, apart from visits to the clinic, therapist, my program and NA meetings(which I don’t go to as often as I should, coz I’m still quite weak). I just started some new anti-depressants, so hopefully they will be better than the last ones I was on. I hadn’t left my apartment for 3 days before meeting with you. I mean I’m glad to be alive, but I don’t see much hope for the future right now. My depression got worse after the AIDS diagnosis and after years of drug abuse some depression is normal anyway, then you add in all the extra stuff. My life really revolves around doctors, outpatients, specialists and therapist visits. I’m conscious of how I look, my skin is still messed up from the meth and AIDS and meds, just a mess. I struggle a lot with side effects from all the different medications I am on, which really sucks, but Ia m grateful that the meds are there. I don’t have any friends, I lost my old friends when I became hooked on meth, 1 or 2 have reached out to me within the last week or so, but I don’t even know if I’m ready. So much I have to explain – maybe I’ll just have them read your blog. I feel like I am alive but I ain’t living.
- Storm: What have you learned from the last 5 or 6 years and what would you like readers of Black Gay Men’s Blog to take away from your story?
Duane: I just want people, black gay men in particular, to understand the importance of loving yourself and loving yourself enough to do something about depression or any other mental problems. It is easy to look at my story as a story of escorting and drug addiction, which it is, but one thing I have learned from therapy is that my anger, self-hatred and depression are more to blame for all this, than crystal meth. If I didn’t have those problems, I would probably never have become an addict. Keeping stuff in and self-medicating only works short-term. We as black men have to learn to love self first. Place less importance on sex and partying and more on yourself. The rate of HIV and AIDS among black gay men and MSM is so high – the reason for that is because we don’t really love ourselves. We need to learn to talk about stuff like HIV – I am lucky I am still here, barely, but here. It could be anyone out there next. I was 6ft 4 and 190lbs of solid muscles, even when I got down to 150lbs all people saw was what was between my legs. HIV comes in all sizes and shapes, I have been them all – big and strong and now weak and skinny. Love yourself enough to make wiser choices.
- Storm: On that note, I think we can wrap up the formal part of this interview, but I’m gonna stay right here and make sure you eat some more of that food, so we can get you back to big and strong. Thank you very much for sharing your story with Black Gay Men’s Blog, I am sure it will help some people out there.
Duane: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to tell it and for a nice brunch. You got something special about you, I felt really at ease talking to you – it’s nice not to feel judged, but at the same time you ain’t easy(laughs). Please keep on doing what you are doing with the blog, If it stops just one person from making the same mistakes, then maybe some of this madness over the last 6 years will make some sense.
Duane and I then chatted for a while after the interview was over. This is just a summary of what he went through over the last 6 years. Some of the things he told me, I can’t publish on the blog, because of legal and confidentiality issues(and some where just too graphic and the effect will be lost by editing). I tried to encourage him to keep fighting and make a decision to live. His CD4 count is now 20, which is still extremely low(having a CD4 count of 200 and below gives you an AIDS diagnosis) but I am sure the only way is up. His spirit is clearly broken, but every now and then he gets that sparkle in his eyes. He has a great sense of humor and didn’t want to be treated with kid gloves, so I knew I could use certain words without him being offended. I pray he gets through the depression, because that always makes everything worse and is also not good for the immune system. Duane is still very troubled and ridden with guilt over the amount of men he feels he must have infected. I think doing this interview was also a way of him purging.
Duane will be answering any questions or comments himself, as he will be registering on the blog today. He will try and check the blog a few times over the next couple of days, depending on his strength levels/health. He is open to any genuine questions you guys might have. The Black Gay Men’s Blog forum will also be open later today, so I am considering giving him a thread on the forum, so that the discussion can continue. Please leave comments, words of encouragement or whatever you choose, but please try and be civil. We have all make mistakes and I applaud Duane for coming through and trying to turn the tragedy of the last 6 years into something positive – maybe even helping some black gay men.