The Balancing Act of Disclosure: Experiences of Stigma and Resistance Among Men Who Sell Sex to Men
Little attention has been given in previous research to disclosure about sex work and even less to men’s experience of disclosure about selling sex. There is a lack of understanding of the choices behind disclosure and how men who have experiences of selling sex use disclosure. For that reason, the main purpose of this thesis is to study the strategies that men who sell sex to other men use for disclosure or nondisclosure of these experiences. A second goal is to identify factors and circumstances that enable or limit men’s disclosure. Further, it is central to explore the meaning and implications of the different strategies for these men. The study is based on seven semi-structured interviews with men aged 21 to 35 years, currently living in Sweden. The men’s experiences of sex work range from selling sex a few times to experiences that extend over several years. The theoretical framework is a combination of Goffman’s (1963) stigma theory and the (stigma) management techniques, the power structures around sex are uncovered with the sex hierarchy (Rubin, 1984) and narrative theory deepens the understanding of the men’s stories. Stigma is in this thesis used as an analytical concept using Goffman’s terminology. The main barrier for disclosure was stigma, either gay stigma or whore stigma. In addition, the men chose to protect those close to them by not disclosing their experiences of selling sex. The men did not share details about their work or uncomfortable experiences with others, suggesting that self-reliance is important for these men. At the same time, six out of seven men reported that when they disclosed some, but not all, of their experiences, sometimes to more than one person, they did so to get support and to not have to keep a secret. Additionally, a few disclosed their experiences of selling sex in an effort to challenge the customary views of sex work. Consequently, disclosure is a balancing act; they carefully choose whom to tell, and exactly what to tell. Many have told their close friends, some of them to at least one family member while only one disclosed to health care professionals. In making choices about who they will share their sex work experiences with, the men manage the consequences of stigma and they do so, for instance, by employing the attributes of the accepted, normal and good sexual (male) behavior to describe their experiences. The disadvantage for men who resist whore stigma by carefully managing their disclosure about their work is that it makes it harder to express their needs and to ask for help when necessary. In addition, the experiences of the men in this study of disclosure and nondisclosure highlights the position of the listener; it tells us how the listeners’ perception, their reactions and their choice of words determine what will be said or omitted. In conclusion, as social work professionals and fellow human beings we have a responsibility to include and really listen to sex workers voices. We are gatekeepers for these stories to be told and listened to so it is critical that we do not allow our own biases interfere with our ability to listen to these important disclosures.