"Edward," 19, of Oakland, Calif., lives in the shadow economy. One of four siblings abandoned by jobless, drug-addicted parents, he grew up in a foster home. He now attends City College of San Francisco but has never had a normal job. When he needs cash fast he relies on the one thing he has complete control over: his body. As a casual male escort in Oakland, he has been able to hustle up work for himself, braving the dangers of sex work while taking pride in the service he delivers.
In return for telling his story to Sean Shavers, a New America Media content producer, "Edward" asked that his real name not be published.
AUDIO: Edward tells his story, Part 1
AUDIO: Edward tells his story, Part 2
OAKLAND, Calif. -- My name is Edward and I am a male escort. That is simply a person that goes out and has sex with people for profit. I live in Oakland, Calif.
I don't do it on a daily basis. I do it when I really, really need the money -- if I can't pay a phone bill, or if I need food or something that really, really is needed. For little things, I charge from $20 to $45. For anything, you know, past "3rd base" it's more expensive, from $100 to $150.
When I say little I mean, like a hand job. Or, say, the person is into looking, and really likes how my body looks they'll want to touch. Because I take care of my body and I like how I look, I charge a touching fee. You can touch wherever you like, but I just need the money upfront. That's roughly $20 to $30.
Within the last month I've had three, yeah, dates -- if that's what you want to call them. And all three were generous, actually. I got a good amount of money; I was quite happy. Most of my customers are men. I'll rarely get females; the majority are men. For the big thing, actually going the whole way, my prices usually run from $100- $150 to about $200. Actually, the prices vary a lot. For most women I would only charge $50 to $70 for 30 to 35 minutes. This is for oral. It never goes as far as sleeping with the women. It's always oral or touchy-feely type things.
When it comes to escorting, or picking up clients or anything like that, my name is always bounced around. I've never had a bad feedback. I've always been recommended. People have referred other people to me. It is what it is. Usually, they find me. I don't go out and look. I'm usually stopped on my way home or wherever I'm coming from. It can happen through Facebook, email or school. I actually had a friend who gave my number out to a few people, and they've called to set up a date. It's not that hard, actually.
I started when I was 17 years old. I went with a family member to pick up some drugs he had bought, and I was put in this position where the only way this guy was gonna give what my relative wanted was if he had sex with me. And at first, it was like "No, I'm not gonna let you do this. It's not cool," but then he showed me how much it was worth, and I had second thoughts.
I was looking at how much it was, got a little greedy and asked for more, because ya' know I care about my body. The final price was $450, and I told him OK. And we did what we had to do. My relative got what we came for. And since then, I had the thought in my head, "Well, if people are gonna pay for my body then why not? I'm making money, I'm not getting in trouble and not many people know about it."
It's a side hustle I don't have to worry about. As far as doing this on an everyday basis, I don't think I'd want to. Like I said, it would be only for real, real emergency reasons. Or if something was out of my control.
What I've come to learn is that a man knows how a man wants to feel when he's being pleased. Me being a man, I know what pleases me. I know what I'm doing with another man, so that while I can make my profit, I also know that this person is satisfied and he's not wasting his time. When I'm doing business, I don't like wasting time.
It is a very dangerous business because you have to look out for the police, decoys and other people that might set you up.
I went to an event with a friend once, and we were casually walking down the street, and a guy pulled up, asking how much, and we told him our prices. I didn't get in the car, but my friend did. Within five minutes an undercover police car pulled up and he went to jail. My friend had run into a decoy. I felt a sense of relief that it wasn't me that got caught, but I felt bad that it was my friend who had to take the blame.
Where I live, male escorting is very common. I can almost guarantee half of the neighborhood men go out and escort. But they don't do it in the daytime. They wait until after-hours. You won't see them out at noon, 12:30, or 1 p.m. They'll come out at 11 of 12 at night and stand outside till almost 4 or 5 in the morning. They go back home and come out the next night. For some it is a cycle; some just can't let it go. And there are some, like myself, who only do it when I really, really need to.
ALSO READ Inside the Shadow Economy -- A Growing Underworld Bazaar
Sean Shavers is a content producer at New America Media, specializing in video. His most recent piece was Living in Storage -- Growing Up Poor in the Bay Area.