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Risk Reduction in Action: A Man's Story of Sex Work (as Told to His Counselor)

November 15, 2010

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Most of the clients who did not use condoms were Hunk's regular customers; a smaller percentage of new customers or people visiting the city were the ones who used them. After continually failing to negotiate with regular customers, Hunk and I did a count of his customers and the activities they requested of him. Then we began sorting out administrative options so that he could continue providing services without losing customers or exposing himself to HIV.

After evaluating the process, it became clear that the product that he was selling was himself, and the product needed to be in good condition in order to continue. So we decided to add value to his services, first identifying the customers who allowed a condom or asked for something other than sex -- such as mutual masturbation, massage or peeing on the client. The idea was give his services a variation that allows the customer to pay more and require more services over time. For example when talking sensual massage saying that customer that has good body and likes to touch, when mutual masturbation make it clear that he likes what they do and to refrain from ejaculating so that the customer then ejaculates he can ask again and promise to do ejaculate, customers who liked to be urinated or something else, talk loud or use hard words, All this new stuff would make the customers come back even sooner. This new way of doing services worked! This way, Hunk was able to make enough money to discard clients that could be putting him at risk.

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The results of Hunk's tests for other STDs also came back negative, and he considered himself blessed to not have caught anything. Today I can say that Hunk is a master in the use of condoms, dental dams and flavored condoms for oral sex with clients.

Over the next year, in addition to achieving his goals, Hunk continued sharing his own experiences with others in similar positions, and enjoyed participating in discussion groups and community activities to help stop the spread of STDs and HIV. With each visit he'd learn something new and was pleased to continue on the path he'd taken. To this day, Hunk still gets tested every three months.

Hunk was happy with the results he'd achieved, and participating in the community helped him to feel prepared for the next steps in his life, so we revisited his family history. I could see the sparkle of desire in his eyes when we talked about the possibility of his meeting with them, and how it might go. He traveled to another state to visit his family with great emotion and with nothing to fear.

It made me worry that I didn't hear from him from Thanksgiving until Christmas. When we spoke, he told me his entire adventure in detail: The family received him very well, and the dialogue with his father and brothers helped them to apologize and want to reestablish communication. He did not share where it is he works, but he did tell his family about his involvement in community work and everything he has learned. He even had a special conversation with one of his nephews who is gay, whose mother was worried about it but still wanted to give support.

The emotion that I saw on him showed how good and healing it was to see his family. He said he would like to return to their area but had no idea what he could do. I asked him what businesses or activities his family members had or managed, and if he thought he could do some of that. It turned out that his brother had a towing business and a garage, and his brother told him that maybe they could work together. His father was also elderly and lived alone, and perhaps he needed attention from someone living there.

I repeated back to Hunk what he'd told me, to show him what possibilities there were for him. The only thing he had to do was make a decision, and it didn't have to be right at that moment. I reminded him how, little by little, he'd achieved his risk-reduction goals, and in the same way we could develop a plan to see if it was feasible to move closer to his family.

Visits increased to see his family. While there one summer weekend, he met a young man who made a little impression, and for the first time in a long time he felt the call of love. Hunk told him all about his life; and now he felt he could leave it behind and start again.

Weeks later, Hunk came into my office with his new love, "Richard," to say goodbye: He would go where his family was, and continue his relationship with Richard. He thanked me and told me that I saved his life -- but I made clear to him that all his achievements were because he wanted them.

I cannot deny the immense emotion that came over me after seeing them together. I was glad to hear that they had each other, as well as being well. Hunk left sex work, recovered his communication with his family and found love, and as of today he tells me he's HIV negative, with no STDs, and is always next to Richard.

This story might sound weird, but it's real. Hunk came into my office two years ago to get tested -- nervous and not knowing what the result was going to be. His life has changed completely -- same as the lives of others, whether less or more fortunate, who have achieved their goals because they wanted to. This is a story for the Hunks that I work with, and for those to come: If the road seems too long, taking the first step is enough to accomplish dreams -- and there is always a hand on the other side waiting for you.

Norman Medina is a program manager at GALAEI [Gay and Lesbian Latino AIDS Education Initiative] in Philadelphia, Pa.

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