JOYS AND HORRORS OF THE WEST VILLAGE
AND OTHER NEW YORK STORIES
Reading at Jefferson Market Library, 425 Avenue of the Americas (near West 10th Street), on Sunday, October 8, 2-4 p.m. I will read excerpts from my novels and New York stories, sign books, and take questions. Books will be available for purchase. I'll be glad to see a friendly face or two there.
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A Male Prostitute and His Clients: the Lawyer, the Count, the Minister, the Alderman, the Man Who Wanted Nothing, and the Lover of Boys, plus His Aunt
This is the first in a series of posts where the author interviews his characters. The Pleasuring of Men (Gival Press, 2011) is the first novel in my Metropolis series of historical novels set in nineteenth-century New York. Tom Vaughan, a respectably raised young man, tells how he decided to become a male prostitute and fell in love with Walter Whiting, his most difficult client. The only gay-themed work in the Metropolis series. Some gay sex (inevitable, given the subject), but nothing too graphic and no porn. Reviews follow below. Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
THE MALE PROSTITUTE
Me: And so, Tom Vaughan, you admit you are a male prostitute.
Tom: Oh yes, but not just any kind. I service a rather select crowd.
Me: You’re not ashamed of your occupation?
Tom: Not at all. My clients need me. For some of them, I'm all they've got.
Me: But they have to pay. Quite a bit, I’m told.
Tom: Of course. I’m in demand.
Me: You were respectably raised. How did you get into this business?
Tom: Through a friend who was in it. He told me I was a b.b., a beautiful boy, and I could make money and have fine clothes. Older men had been looking at me at church and in the street. I liked that and decided to take advantage of it.
Me: But aren’t some of your clients, well, repulsive? Fat, jowly, balding…
Tom: Yes, and some of them even wear corsets. But there’s always something about them – the eyes, a deep, manly voice, elegant manners – that is attractive. I focus on that.
Me: Don’t you at times feel cheapened, giving your body to all these men?
Tom: Deep inside me there’s a place my clients have never penetrated, a secret place known only to myself. That part of me has never been touched, never corrupted.
Me: Hmm… And your clients, this so-called "select crowd," who are they?
Tom: Mostly married men. Lawyers, judges, merchants, aldermen, ministers…
Tom: Oh yes. Even my mother’s minister, whom I see every Sunday at church. I saw him just once, but it was memorable.
Me: How can a man of the cloth justify seeing a male prostitute?
Tom: Ask him.
Me: All right, I will. But remember, you can’t be a beautiful boy forever; time is against you.
Tom: You have to know when to get out. I hope to team up with Walter Whiting. He’s a great scholar and lecturer, knows all about Greek sculpture and the Renaissance.
Me: One of your clients, I gather.
Tom: My most difficult client. He’s teaching me Greek. That way I can keep on seeing him. No more sex for now. But I’ll give this life up for him, if he’ll have me. I’ve even met his wife.
Me: His wife? This is getting complicated.
Tom: Interview him. He’ll explain.
Me: I will.
Tom: And my other clients. Talk to them as well.
Me: All right, I will, and now.
Tom Vaughan? A clever little rascal, he caught on fast. Stuck his tongue out at me, teased me, ran around the office knocking stuff over, until I caught him, spanked him. He loved it. Afterward, my office was a mess, files all over the floor, clothes everywhere, even on the bust of Cicero. Together, we cleaned it up.
Yes, yes, I remember: auburn hair, pert nose, sensual lips. I call him Peaches. At thought of him, I excite. I rent him for whole week. He show me docks and naked boys swimming, I pop my monocle. At gala I give before leaving, he jump out of cake naked, astonish guests, but then big trouble, almost riot, I rescue him. I leave for Europe, he cry, I cry. I never see again. Delicious Peaches.
Reverend Timothy Blythe, D.D., rector of the Church of Christ and All Angels, that exquisite white-marble edifice on Fifth Avenue where I preach to 250 millions – dollars, not people -- a year. At your service, sir. Ah yes, Tom Vaughan. I trust this will remain just between us. When he came to my rectory – I had made sure we could be there alone -- we were both astonished, but we carried it off rather well. Not a word about his mother, whom he accompanies to church every Sunday. I poured him a glass of a fine red wine, ruby, color of the Holy Blood, and had him taste it, savor it: like velvet on the tongue. He was quiet, respectful, obliging. Justify my seeing him? So few understand. Desire is holy. What happened then between us was glory.
Don’t remind me of that sneaky little punk of a whore, oh Holy Mother of God and all the saints in heaven, forgive, forgive, it was a moment of folly with that randy rum slut of a lad so ripe for reamin’, not a Catholic, niver would I do it with a Catholic, oh niver, niver, niver, just a pagan or Methodist or somethin’, a cunning sodomite set in me way by the Divil, oh he’s a sly one, the Divil, I did penance with Father Pat, seven acts of perfect contrition, I won't niver see that Divil's brat again, but ’twas the drink that did it, good Irish whiskey, more's the pity, oh that dirty little pouf of a bugger takin’ advantage of a poor simple man like me, forgive, forgive, it ain’t daycent, it ain’t daycent at all!
The man who wanted nothing
I saw him once. I only see them once. I asked simply to view, for a few minutes, the beauty of his body; no touching, nothing more. In my youth I had many lovers. There were times of ecstasy and times of rage, angry partings and rapturous reunions. I’m past that now, and glad. I want quiet and calm. Every month or two I pay a young man to let me feast my eyes on his body. Tom Vaughan understood. I paid him and left, content, and never saw him again.
The lover of boys
Who all these other people are I don't presume to know. As Tom Vaughan's Aunt Jessie and a born meddler, I take an interest in his family. The brother is a mindless bully not worth my time, and the widowed mother a piece of scented fluff who has read Little Women twice. Tom is the interesting one, has possibilities. I'll take him in hand, shape him, teach him taste. But he's up to something, I can tell. He has a dark secret and whatever it is, I intend to find out. When Jessica Ames puts her mind to something, she rarely fails.
A NOTE ON SOURCES
Some reviewers have asked about my sources for this novel. For New York City gay life, there are none. From the 1890s on there are some, but before that, almost nothing. I simply worked back from what was later known so as to imagine the less developed gay underworld of the 1860s and 1870s. In a metropolis the size of New York, such an underworld must have existed, but it can only be imagined today. Journalists of the time wrote about prostitution and abortion – subjects not to be mentioned in the presence of ladies – but said nothing of the horrible and detestable crime not to be named among Christians.
For nineteenth-century gay life more generally, I did find some sources. The Memoirs of John Addington Symonds: The Secret Homosexual Life of a Leading Nineteenth-Century Man of Letters (New York: Random House, 1984) is the memoir, written in 1892 but published long after the author’s death, of a gay Englishman who in some ways inspired the character of Walter Whiting, the older man whom Tom Vaughan is attracted to. This work was invaluable, since I know of no memoir by a nineteenth-century gay American. Also helpful was Graham Robb, Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century (London: Norton, 2003); in his climactic confrontation with his brother, much of Tom’s tirade comes from there. Likewise the use of “musical” for “homosexual,” though the categories “b.b.s” (for beautiful boys), “poufs,” and “sturdies” are my own invention.
To understand the life and stratagems of a male prostitute, I consulted Rick Whitaker, Assuming the Position: A Memoir of Hustling (New York: Four Walls, Eight Windows, 1999), the memoir of an American gay male prostitute of the late twentieth century. But for all that, there’s a lot of me split between four characters in the book: Tom, Walter Whiting, the rather campy Mr. Neddy, and Tom’s formidable Aunt Jessie, a fact that reminds me of Flaubert’s famous confession: “Madame Bovary, c’est moi.”
I myself never experienced man/boy love, neither from the boy’s point of view nor the man’s. What first drew me to the subject is recounted in post #239 of my blog, “Man/Boy Love: The Great Taboo" (June 28, 2016), which for several years was the post with the most page views, though it troubled one or two of my friends. When I self-published No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World with Mill City Press of Minneapolis, they eliminated that post for fear of litigation.
One reviewer calls The Pleasuring of Men “more of a fantasy of a 19th century gay life than any kind of historical representation of the same.” Yes, but most fiction, and historical fiction in particular, is just that: fantasy. It’s a game that the author and readers agree to play.
"At times amusing, gritty, heartfelt and a little sexy -- this would make a great summer read." Four-star Amazon customer review by BobW.
"Really more of a fantasy of a 19th century gay life than any kind of historical representation of the same." Three-star Goodreads review by Rachel.
"The detail Browder brings to this glimpse into history is only equaled by his writing of credible and interesting characters. Highly recommended." Five-star Goodreads review by Nan Hawthorne.
Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Coming soon: The Brooklyn Book Festival vs BookCon: My Appraisal. Two huge book fairs, but which one is right for me and other indie authors? The pros and cons of each.
© 2017 Clifford Browder