Working Boy: A NerveCenter Chat

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He’s worked as a callboy, stripper, bodyworker, street hustler and porn
model. He’s also an author (Best American Gay Fiction 3, Best Gay Erotica
2000, Flesh and the Word 4
) and a street activist. As a first-time
editor, Matt Bernstein Sycamore decided to gather accounts from sex workers
about their clients. The result is his recent Tricks and
of which Annie Sprinkle said “If you want to know what it’s
like to be a whore, this book gives you the experience.” Our
NerveCenter members did want to know, so we invited Matt to a live chat.
When the blocking software on his friend’s computer prevented him from
logging on, he raced to the nearest Kinko’s and conducted the interview from there.

crissie6869: How long have you been in the sex business? And why did you get into it?

matt_sycamore: I’ve been in the business for six years now. Basically, I started so I could find a way to support myself financially and try to exist outside of a mainstream consumerist identity.

nerve: Do you still have clients, or are you just in the business of talking about it and educating people about it?

matt_sycamore: I have clients almost every day — that’s how I’ve paid for my book tour.

pjanson: How much do you charge and how do you get your business?

matt_sycamore: Usually $200/hour — business comes from ads and from the Internet, of course.

toby: How are rates determined?

matt_sycamore: I wish I knew.

toby: Do you charge less for hot guys?

matt_sycamore: No, some guys will ask that over the phone. There’s no way to know if they’re gonna be hot to me.

nerve: Are they all male clients or do you have any female customers?

matt_sycamore: All male clients, basically. I’ve had the rare woman caller, but never an actual trick.

pjanson: Do you know of anyone who just serves women?

nerve: And can you give us their number? (bu-dum-ching!)

matt_sycamore: Anyone who says they just serve women is either making no money or lying.

pjanson: Why wouldn’t you make money with only women?

matt_sycamore: Women generally don’t call whores.

derek67: They just date them.

corbel7: Female prostitutes can service more clients per day. How many can you satisfactorily serve?

matt_sycamore: I can serve as many as will call me.

mykookoo: Do you ever find yourself wanting to laugh at customers?

matt_sycamore: I almost always want to laugh at my clients.

waffleboy: Do you find that this line of work desensitizes you to the real love interests in your life?

matt_sycamore: I feel that sex work makes the real love interests in my life more clearly identifiable.

corbel7: Do you ever fall in love with your clients?

matt_sycamore: I haven’t yet — but I’m waiting.

crissie6869: Do you have a love interest in your life?

matt_sycamore: Yes — I have a close circle of friends who I’m in love with. Most of us are whores and we support each other.

nerve: How do the real love interests in your life react to your line of work?

matt_sycamore: Most of the love interests in my life are whores also . . . but, in terms of guys I’ve slept with, some won’t see me once they find out I’m a whore.

vegasgirl: Is it hard to separate yourself emotionally from your clients?

matt_sycamore: I have no problem separating myself emotionally. Actually the hard part sometimes is staying present. I focus on something that turns me on to stay present.

corbel7: I feel sorry for you and hope that you use your body to celebrate life, not as an object that would be sold to any bidder.

matt_sycamore: Can’t I celebrate life by renting my body?

toby: Sales aren’t exclusive of celebration.

corbel7: I strongly believe in the sanctity of life, in the joy of love. Our bodies should not be for sale. We should celebrate love with the beloved.

toby: Corbel, love is relative, and so is morality.

matt_sycamore: Nina Hartley has a great piece in my book about being a sacred whore, helping her clients come to terms with their desire, nourishing through sex work . . . Love is relative and morality is absurd.

mykookoo: Do you think it’s safer for a guy to be for hire than it is for a woman?

matt_sycamore: In a sexist, misogynist culture, male escorts might often seem more in control, but I think the main safety differential is between off-street and on-street.

nerve: Do you think men have an easier time turning tricks than women because they can separate sex from love more easily than women?

toby: I don’t know that I agree with that generalization.

nerve: I’m not saying I do either — just wondering what Matt thinks.

matt_sycamore: I think that, socially, women are supposed to conflate sex with love and there’s definitely a gay norm that separates the two, but I think gender is not so simple. People of all genders and non-genders perform all different sexual roles.

shabu: What’s a non-gender?

matt_sycamore: I’m just trying to convey that some people struggle against the male/female gender binary . . . and create all sorts of options . . . in sex work and outside of it. Some people argue that sex workers are a gender.

nerve: Do your parents/siblings know you are a sex worker?

matt_sycamore: My parents know I’m a whore — they think it’s a “death sentence,” but then they think that about being gay too.

pjanson: How old was your oldest customer?

matt_sycamore: My oldest customer was probably in his nineties.

nerve: What did you do with Grandpa?! What could you do? Or rather, what could he do?

matt_sycamore: I sucked his dick and stroked his body, though I was worried he’d have a heart attack if he climaxed (he’d had heart surgery a few days before). He didn’t get hard or come, but he did have an orgasm.

nerve: Good for him!

tugger: What’s the kinkiest thing you’ve done during a trick?

matt_sycamore: Kinky is hard to define . . . Once I made out with a guy for an hour.

nerve: That’s what you’d call kinky?

matt_sycamore: Once I tried to shit in a guy’s mouth — but that was difficult.

nerve: Okay, that’s more like it. Why was it difficult? Not enough fiber in your diet?

matt_sycamore: It’s hard to shit with a tongue up your asshole.

toby: I read in some book about a female submissive that she would blow on the asshole of guys who tried to shit in her mouth — and they couldn’t do it!

zorro_69: Does that sort of fetish turn you on . . . or is it all about the other person’s pleasure?

matt_sycamore: Which fetish, the shit? That was to please him, but actually his desire made it kinda hot.

crissie6869: Do you have — and pardon the term — quickies? Or do you like to be with your clients for long periods of time?

matt_sycamore: The shorter the time period, the better, usually.

nerve: Why’s that?

corbel7: Is it hard physical labor?

toby: Is that a pun, corbel?

matt_sycamore: Sometimes the labor is draining, sometimes it’s energizing — it depends on the dynamic.

tugger: What do you consider your favorite part of your job and the least favorite?

matt_sycamore: The best part is not having a draining 9 to 5 job and making quick money.

toby: Hallelujah! Sign me up.

matt_sycamore: The worst part is when there’s no work . . . and being on call all the time.

nerve: When is there no work? Isn’t there always a demand?

matt_sycamore: It’s crazy — sometimes the phone rings non-stop and sometimes it’s dead. It’s the whore’s lifestyle — up and down.

tugger: On average, how many tricks do you turn in a week?

matt_sycamore: On average, I turn one to ten tricks per week.

mykookoo: What if you can’t get it up? Ever happen?

matt_sycamore: If I can’t get it up, I say, “Let’s try something else.”

shabu: What’s your most common frustration with customers besides cash/tipping issues?

matt_sycamore: My most common frustration with tricks is when they don’t know what they want — it makes it more difficult for both of us, more of a struggle.

toby: Wasting your time?

tugger: Wasting your time at $200 an hour? Matt, what are your future aspirations? Where do you see yourself in, say, five years?

matt_sycamore: I’m working on a collection of short stories and also another anthology titled Dangerous Families: Queer Writing on Surviving Abuse.

nerve: How has the tour been?

matt_sycamore: Generally people have been very excited about the book. They like that it shifts the direction of scrutiny, putting tricks under the microscope for a change, connecting male, female and transgendered sex workers from all different backgrounds: callboys and callgirls, escorts, strippers, dominatrixes, phone sex operators, a video store clerk, a sperm donor . . .

nerve: Love the sperm donor addition to the category “sex worker.”

matt_sycamore: Yeah, the sperm donor even expanded my definitions of sex work.

toby: Haven’t you gotten a good academic response, though? Most Queer/Gender studies books are non-academic texts like yours.

matt_sycamore: Definitely — academics are some of the people most excited by the book . . . because it’s not theory.

toby: But it can be studied, so it’s not competition for the academics — good primary source material without their having to get their hands dirty.

matt_sycamore: Exactly.

tugger: Matt, what is your educational background?

matt_sycamore: I went to college for a year, but that was enough. Mostly, I’ve learned from direct action street activism and radical queers.

nerve: Do you think the book disempowers the tricks in any way?

matt_sycamore: I think the book is an honest exploration of tricks, the sex industry and society as a whole . . . all different viewpoints . . . tricks who are loved and tricks who are hated.

nerve: What makes a trick loved? Hated?

matt_sycamore: Tricks who respect sex workers and tricks who try to kill us. If a trick respects and loves you then you love and respect them — or at least it’s more likely . . . I’ve never fallen in love with a trick, but I do have moments of love . . .

mykookoo: Matt, are you ever scared?

matt_sycamore: Once in a while I’m scared, but usually they’re more scared of me.

isabellar: What was the most dangerous situation you’ve found yourself in with a customer?

matt_sycamore: I had a customer who’d been up for a few days on crystal. He was looking under the bed for cops, trying desperately to get hard, didn’t know who I was or who he was. He threatened to chase me down and had me removed by his “bodyguard.”

nerve: Describe the scene you’d walk into with a client that would make you say, “Oh no, not this again.”

matt_sycamore: The guy asks me to “do whatever I want” — usually I want to get paid and leave when someone says that.

vegasgirl: Describe your fantasy session with a client.

matt_sycamore: My fantasy session is ten thousand dollars on the table and a note that says, “Sorry I couldn’t make it.”

tugger: What about the legal aspects? Have you ever been arrested or anything?

matt_sycamore: I’ve never been arrested. Of course, I would never do anything illegal, right?

nerve: Is there anything you won’t do?

matt_sycamore: There are plenty of things I won’t do. It just depends on the situation. Usually I don’t like to come.

toby: What about the problems that come with age? Most of my friends who are sex workers (especially in the queer scene) recognize that after twenty-five you get very little work.

derek67: That’s when you write a book, Toby.

matt_sycamore: Here in San Francisco there are guys working into their fifties. But in a youth-obsessed culture the younger you look, the better, usually.

nerve: How old are you Matt? How old do you look?

matt_sycamore: I’m twenty-six . . . but I can look as young as you want me to.

isabellar: So, for the most part, do you enjoy being a sex worker?

matt_sycamore: It’s the best way I can imagine to live my life.

nerve: Good luck with the book, and your career! Be safe and well . . . And good!

matt_sycamore: Always good, usually amazing.

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