A Beautiful Risk

Tired of hiding the truth, she transitioned into a male sex worker. He’s been in a struggle with societal norms — and himself — ever since.

One thing Gray is not ready to explain to his brother — and therefore another failure in his desire to be fully known and accepted — is sex work.

28-yr-old FTM, look younger. 5'5", 130 lbs, lean muscled & high energy, HIV- & dd free, hairy w/ original plumbing, cock worshiping good Catholic boy sucker, swallower, piss bottom, loves to fuck to opera. you'll get more than you pay for. 415.265.6525.

This was a sex ad Gray could have used. But it was actually his bio for Formerly Known As, a recent art show at the Center for Sex and Culture with contributors who are sex workers. In their bios, the other entrants, who all seem to be writing memoirs, focused on artistic abilities and used creative photographs. But Gray juxtaposed the text above with an adorable picture of himself in the pool, wearing goggles and a giant smile.

Michael Rauner
Naked but for a cross, Gray reads a story he wrote about the night he was penetrated by an HIV-positive client.
Michael Rauner
Naked but for a cross, Gray reads a story he wrote about the night he was penetrated by an HIV-positive client.

Here's why. Gray worked as a hustler for about two years, and estimates that 40 percent of his clientele were college professors. There was one from Berkeley. One from Cal State East Bay. Some were retired and didn't say where they had worked. When not in the bedrooms of professors, though, Gray — who currently works at a college that he does not want named (another victory for societal norms, he laments) — says he's been judged harshly in academia for his edginess. He didn't feel like listing his academic credentials anymore. Instead, he decided to approach the bio as a piece of dramatic, yet accurate, performance art. "It's very much me," he says.

The idea of becoming a sex worker first occurred to Gray in Thailand, where some female sex worker friends had paid their way through college. Then, while back in San Francisco and undergoing his sex change, for which he would definitely need to make some money, he happened to read an essay by local sex worker and author Kirk Read in the anthology Nobody Passes. The essay is about Read's first two sex gigs, and how he had rearranged them in his mind to tell a more palatable story about sex work.

During Read's true first experience, he had snorted crystal meth, believing it to be coke, then sucked cock all night long in a dirty basement apartment, only to be shorted on payment. But instead of telling that story, he found himself reverting to his second appointment, in which he was paid in full and his client proclaimed him a healer.

This essay appealed very much to Gray's obsession with honesty, and ignited in him the desire to take "a beautiful risk" in defying conventional wisdom by becoming intimate with strangers. Sex work fascinated him, and he also liked the idea of being wanted so badly for his particular body that gay men were willing to pay.

So far, Gray says he hasn't gotten much grief over his vagina, which is surprising, considering gay men are often spooked by female anatomy. But when you consider that Gray's Craigslist ads were always upfront about his plumbing and that he announces his lack of a penis before he disrobes, it begins to make a little more sense. When he does get rejected, Gray feels terrible.

One night at Deco, men were strip-dancing, and some guy approached Gray and told him he should get up there and take it off. No way, Gray said. He didn't believe a vagina would go over well in a gay bar. But the guy kept pestering him to strip, and requesting a private show after, and finally Gray snapped.

"I don't think I'm what you're looking for," he told the guy.

"It's not like you're trans," the guy retorted. "You have an Adam's apple."

"Actually, I am," Gray fired back. "And that's my trachea."

The guy looked confused, so Gray took his hand and put it on his crotch. "I don't have a dick," he said. The guy stepped back, then bolted. From across the bar, a friend who saw what happened mouthed "I love you" to Gray. "I felt very protected," he said. "But that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt."

Gray is sensitive to criticism, even if it comes from a stranger. Luckily, in his sex work — which he says has provided him with meaningful experiences and a surplus of material for storytelling — his clients tend to shower him with compliments.

That's not all they shower on him. "A piss bottom," he explains earnestly, "is basically someone who likes to be peed on in various forms." Some even like to swallow it. Gray is into all things piss play.

He doesn't like to try to intellectualize that desire, because he feels it's very intuitive. Just something he likes to be subjected to. He's really into fluids, though, so if he had to guess at why he loves piss so much, he'd say it's because piss doesn't carry HIV.

The sex-positive movement in San Francisco is arguably the strongest in the nation, and although Prop. K, which would have decriminalized prostitution, didn't pass, there's a strong contingent here that touts the ability of sex work to improve lives.

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