THE UNITED STATES IN BOYS FOR SALE
The following account is from Boys for Sale. A Sociological Study of Boy Prostitution by Dennis Drew & Jonathan Drake, New York, 1969, pp. 141-52.
There is little evidence that boy prostitution was very common in the early days of the founding of the United States of America. This was due to the fact that boys were available through other channels. In a society which was short of women, “bonded” boy apprentices, sent from England, and indentured servant boys from Germany and Scandinavia were used sexually in the absence of their female counterparts. The prostitution which did exist was largely of servant boys employed in taverns and hotels in seaport towns. They presumably catered to the sailors’ lust for anal intercourse. Needless to say, their owners or “masters” pocketed the profits.
The earliest large scale boy prostitution was in the west, notably in San Francisco during the gold rush. (The same was true, to a lesser extent, in gold-rush Alaska.) There were the well-known “peg-houses” in San Francisco from 1840 through 1910. There are still a good many men alive who were inmates of such houses — not only in San Francisco, but also in Denver, Chicago, New York and Atlanta, as well as other large cities — the idea had gradually spread across the nation from the Bay City. Interviews with some elderly men who recall their youthful experiences in such houses have recently provided insight into these brothels that was not previously available.
The term “peg-house” was an old seafaring name for a boy brothel. The terminology stems from a custom in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern ports where brothel boys were required to sit upon benches through which a peg had been hammered. The peg was greased and the top portion slipped into the anus of the sitting boy. Since the bottom of the peg stuck out underneath, it was an easy matter for sailors or other customers to gauge the size of penis that a boy was capable of encompassing. Since few customers wanted a boy whose anus had been distended beyond their own physical proportions, the system allowed them to select a boy exactly suited to their size organ.
Pegs also served another purpose. As long as the boys’ anuses were kept dilated in this manner, they could permit penetration by a customer easily and painlessly. It made it physically easier for the boy and his customer, as well as insuring that a boy need not necessarily over-dilate or stretch (after which he would be less desirable to other patrons). The regularity of the peg allowed as many as ten customers a night with very little discomfort, especially considering that quite a large number of men are premature ejaculators. Furthermore, the boys in peg-houses were trained to perform fellatio as a preliminary to arouse a man as much as possible so that there would be a rapid turnover of clients.
We have few records of boys in American peg-houses actually sitting on the benches with any regularity but we know that wooden cylinders were used by their trainers to prepare them for their profession.
Most of the boys in the coastal peg-houses were poor runaways who had gone West in search of adventure. They were easily preyed upon and seduced by wily agents who received anywhere from $100 to $500 for each boy they delivered to the brothel syndicate. At first, the boys were sent to a farm or “camp” where they were fattened up, beautified and trained. (It is worth noting here that tastes at the turn of the century favored “chubby” physiques rather than the skeletal look so seemingly in today. Boys were not sent to the regular $1.00 houses until they were twelve or else quite large for their ages at 10 or 11. They usually stayed in the peg-houses until they were 16 or 17. Upper class, or “$10 houses” as they were called, (though prices varied for special features) had boys from 6 to 16. These expensive houses were luxury apartments, with special entertainments and demonstrations, dancing and liquor. Opium was sometimes available too. The boys in these houses were usually narcotics addicts and therefore easy to keep under control (through drugs) for as long a time as they remained desirable for sexual purposes.
In the common “$1.00 houses”, the boys served dozens of customers a day. These boys were kept in line with a whip, more often than not, but most of them seemed content and, if not, managed to conceal the fact fairly well. They were fearful of the strange “disappearances” of their fellow inmates from time to time. Some feared that when a boy gave trouble, he ended up in a sack of rocks at the bottom of the Bay. However, viewed from a strictly “business” angle, it seems improbable that the syndicate would waste one of its investments. What was more likely was that the boy was “transferred” or possibly sold to a brothel in Mexico, China or the Middle East. Ship captains, who purchased them for resale elsewhere, often ended up keeping them for themselves.
Up to 1900, there was considerable international traffic in little boys, similar to the “white slave traffic” in women that continued into the middle of this century, and is still going on in some areas.
Some men who patronized these turn-of-the-century brothels tell of houses where the inmates would be chained, strapped, and otherwise brutally handled by sadistic customers. There is no real evidence of the existence of such houses in the United States. Possibly, misbehaving boys were threatened with being sent to China. Poorly educated boys would not even know where “China” was, but doubtless assumed that it would be, at best, some rough part of San Francisco, and certainly not a port they wished to move to, wherever it was.
Although the peg-houses disappeared from San Francisco and Marin county by the beginning of World War I, San Francisco has continued to be a center of boy prostitution. A recent study of its Tenderloin district reported as many as 200 boy prostitutes operating there, some as young as 9. Many more were reported in two other well-known sections of the city. Recently, one of the authors talked with a 12-year-old boy prostitute in New York City. Two weeks later, in interviewing boy prostitutes in San Francisco, we met the same 12-year-old soliciting on Market Street. A man had picked him up in New York as a sexual travelling companion for an auto trip across the country and dropped him off in San Francisco. In our interviews with boys, we have encountered prostitutes in Chicago and Toronto whom we had interviewed just a few weeks earlier in Miami and New York.
We found no evidence of organized boy prostitution in San Francisco as conclusive as that we dug up in Miami and a few Canadian cities (as well as New York, of course). For the most part, the boys in San Francisco are amateurs — lone-wolf operators. Many are former reform school inmates. (One very young boy in the Bay area, reported that his introduction to anal intercourse was under the tutelage of the superintendent of his reform school). A large number of these kids are runaways, so, in a sense, they continue the ancient tradition of the old San Francisco brothel days.
In recent years, however, they are runaways from within the state of California. It is easier for the police to find and deal with runaways from other states than it is to handle suburban delinquents. The major source of boy prostitutes today is that of youngsters from fatherless homes in impoverished slum neighborhoods. They lack sophistication and are more easily entrapped than boys from inner-city slum areas.
Other than walking the streets, the most common means of boy prostitution in the West (and elsewhere) is hitch-hiking. This is most frequent of all in Los Angeles. Boys in high school and junior high all regard the boy who hitch-hikes as a hustler, or, at the very least, maintain that he is making himself available for a possible sexual approach. Men, in search of boys, go cruising for them in automobiles. In many cities there are well-known hamburger joints where teens “hang out” and where a man has only to park a popular model sports car for a few minutes before he is aware of several youngsters offering their company.
The growing acceptance of passive anal intercourse by high school and junior high boys in today’s youth-oriented culture, has made it easier for boys to approach men less clandestinely than in the past. But, when a boy gets into a car and goes off to another city — to a strange place where he is lost, he often finds himself trapped. A man may take him to a house where several other men are waiting to have the boy “participate” in a “gang rape”. Once the boy is made half-drunk, he offers little resistance. Usually he will have to go through a large variety of sexual acts. Thus, properly initiated, his head turned by the large amounts of money he can earn so easily, a boy can develop an easy method for going on with prostitution.
Although these young hustlers operate as lone wolves, they inadvertently aid the syndicate by patronizing the cheap hotels, motels and bars which are syndicate-controlled. Thus, without any involvement in boys’ personal affairs, mobsters still can mint coin for his prostitution.
With the disappearance of boy brothels and with the constant danger of disease and/or arrest facing the man who involves himself with amateurs on the street, several new types of operations have developed on the North American continent.
There are, for example, resort hotels which deliver boys to the rooms of guests via the back stairway. In such hotels, all of the staff and employees are part of the system, even the women employees and the “house detective.” One such Southern hotel is completely booked year-round and one can hardly get a reservation there without the recommendation from a friend who has been a past guest. The prices are abnormally high at these resorts and most of the customers are men, although there are enough unsuspecting women guests to give an outwardly respectable tone to the establishment. Most of the boys come from an adjacent town and the rural area surrounding it. A few actually live at the hotel.
Many men bring their own boys. For those who do not, the management can offer anything desired — any age, sex, color and activity, at very “reasonable” prices. It is referred to as “Companion Service.” Most of the guests spend an average of five days on their visits.
Another new form of operation is a type of summer camp, operated in remote rural areas. Most of the activity is on weekends during the summer months. Occasionally, a customer brings his own boy but, for the most part, boys are supplied by the management. The local boys are from 7 up through college age. The camp is often a lakeside farm with its barns remodeled and divided into small rooms. When one arrives at the lake, he checks over the many naked boys swimming in the lake. This gives him an excellent chance to pick his roommate for the weekend.
The weekend price for room, board and boy is $500. Nearly all of the boys are runaways picked up by the management and placed in private homes where they live and go to school — visiting the farm only on weekends.
Patrons come from as far away as 2,000 miles for a weekend at the camp. The boys are well trained and most of them look forward eagerly to the weekend forays with adults. One interesting aspect of the operation is that the boys are never deliberately seduced. They are brought to the camp as neophytes and left to their own devices, being exposed to sexual activity only visually. If they join in, it’s at their own initiative. When they discover that there is a good deal of money to be earned, they beg for seduction and subsequent training. This method eliminates many potential problems because the boys determine their own careers.
A third common means of operation in commercial boy prostitution is the “string of boys” who live in apartments. Such “strings” are operating today in New York and in other large cosmopolitan areas across the country.
There are many older persons in the United States who can still give first hand testimony to the earlier forms of boy prostitution — having been customers or prostitutes themselves. We report a few such cases where we have been able to obtain information from our interviews.
Case One: A baby boy was abandoned by a female prostitute in San Francisco. “Adopted” by the owner of a combination “saloon-whorehouse,” he was cared for by the women prostitutes. While they adored and spoiled him, the only education they gave him was sexual. By the time the child was five, he was an expert at cunnilingus, a specialty which men paid good money to see him perform. He soon learned to perform oral caresses on male customers who paid well for this privilege. Complete fellatio was out of the question at his age. By the time he was 8, he was an expert young boy in satisfying men. He was able to be entered anally, which gave him great pleasure both physiologically (via his prostate gland), and psychologically because he was able to provide such real enjoyment for his men friends. In later life, perhaps identifying with the women around him, he was completely homosexual in his desires, eagerly servicing any man who showed the slightest interest in him. His most frequent duties were increasing the pleasure of men being serviced by women — they would be on one side of the man, and he would take the other. He grew up in the brothel, knowing hardly anything of the world outside.
Case Two: Similar to “lone wolf” amateurs of today were the many young boys who worked in all-male environments. Henry, at 14, signed on at a Western lumber camp. Like most adolescents, he had earlier been very much aware of homosexual desires and these were once again aroused at the communal bathing sessions on Saturday nights. Because of the shortage of hot water and heat, the men bathed together. Henry was amazed at the way the men seemed so intimate with one another — joking, making obscene remarks about penis sizes, and some even masturbating themselves openly with little or no concealment. The men around him immediately became aware of Henry’s tender teenage softness, and the smooth roundness of his buttocks was a favorite topic of conversation on bath nights. He was often teased and men jokingly (?) propositioned him. Following his eventual rape by an overseer, and after a few casual relations during which Henry allowed other men to employ his anus, he began to take advantage of the propositions. With the help of the overseer, Henry soon set himself up in business Saturday nights, often working into the dawn hours. All of the men were eager to patronize him. The scene of operations was a blanket-draped bunk provided by the overseer who used Henry free-of-charge as compensation.
After a few months, the men talked openly of spending time in Henry’s saddle, as they referred to his rear end. Henry took a commercial view of the whole thing. Though he did not anticipate any special pleasure from the intercourse, he admitted and appreciated the fact that most of the men were gentle in their relations with him.
One man, appropriately nicknamed “Hoss”, because of his physical endowment, had never found any partner, with the exception of Henry, willing to permit penetration. As a result, “Hoss” fell desperately in love with the boy and eventually took him away to San Francisco where they lived almost as man and wife until the man was killed in a barroom brawl. Henry, then 18, quit homosexuality and prostitution, got married and fathered a large family.
Case Three: Mike was a 12-year-old Irish boy who worked as a bootblack in the San Francisco of the 1890’s. He was always hanging around outside saloons, hustling for business. But, if Mike’s mother thought that shining shoes was his only occupation, she would have been rudely surprised. Mike was one of the many boy-bootblacks who were much more “polished” at masturbating or fellating a customer than at waxing his boots. In darkened outhouses and alleyways, a small kneeling bootblack could easily fellate a customer. If anyone approached, the man could cover himself with his hat while the boy returned to giving the shoes a lick and a promise — resuming their more exciting activity after the intruder had gone on.
Mike admitted that his masturbation fantasies often centered around his being “shanghaied” and being forced to perform both orally and anally for the crew of a ship. In reality, since he found anal penetration rather painful, he much preferred fellating a man. On his heaviest day, he claims, he fellated thirty men, mentioning that most of the men were “pretty quick” about it. Many of his clients were married seafaring men and lumberjacks. When Mike came into casual contact with some of them years later, few of the men were able to recognize him as the young bootblack who had given them a few moments of pleasure in some alley years before.
Many sailors and lumberjacks (who bragged to their buddies about the good times they’d had in brothels) actually got most of their “kicks” with bootblacks like Mike. In the parlance of the day, to have a boy masturbate one was termed “getting a manicure,” corresponding to today’s “hand-job.” Many of the boys did it for the money, but most agreed that they enjoyed seeing a man reach a climax. Some of them said they did it for the “danger” involved. Not only did they risk police intervention, but boys were filled with the idea of being shanghaied, a quite common practice in those days.