THE MIDDLE EAST IN BOYS FOR SALE
The following is from Boys for Sale. A Sociological Study of Boy Prostitution by D. Drew & J. Drake, New York, 1969, pp. 71-88. The content of this, “The Middle East” section of their book pertains so loosely to the authors’ sub-sections of “The Middle East”, “Syria” and ”Turkey”, that it is better presented all together.
THE MIDDLE EAST
The taste which Arabs have for young boys is of universal notoriety. So says Paul Reboux in Sens Interdit, (Paris, 1951). There is some disagreement whether or not they inherited this taste from their conflicts with the Greeks. Certainly, the nomads who came into the rich cities from the desert enjoyed all the luxuries they conquered, including pretty young boy servants and the boys in brothels. There was also a tradition in the Arab world which permitted a man to do what he pleased with his slaves and which allowed for prostitution. It is more likely that strong emphasis on protecting women, rather than Greek influence, led to the training of Arab boys as entertainers sexual objects. At any rate, the Arab world has continued the traditions of brothels and the ancient schools for training boys in vice for profit. (See Farago, Arabian Antics, N.Y., 1938, re the existence of such a school in the 1930’s.)
Arab literature makes many illusions to love making with boys and to the boys’ brothels which existed almost up to the present in Arab-Africa as well as Syria, Iraq and Arabia itself. These brothels were for the most part populated with slave boys — they have gone downhill with the decline in slavery in recent years. Western-oriented governments have also become self-conscious about their images abroad and have closed brothels or forced them into underground activity.
A. Amin, in an article in Sesso e Liberta, (formerly published in Milan), tells of forms of Middle East prostitution that include bath boys, masseurs, dancing boys (wandering and private) as well as shop boys, bell boys in hotels, busboys, waiters and delivery boys who often practice a little vice on the side for fun and profit. Then, of course, there is the boys’ brothel.
What is a boys’ brothel really like? Nowadays, it is generally an apartment above a business place (such as a coffee bar) where there are private rooms and an entrance lounge. In Saudi Arabia (where a number of them were still going strong in 1965) the boys in one brothel were in masks so that for their own moral protection they could not be recognized on the street. Sometimes, they kept their entire head on one side of a curtain. Since the customer would be on the other side, there was no kissing — anal intercourse was about all that could be performed besides a little hand manipulation. This was reported to be a new development since slavery was passing out of the picture and the boys employed there were in the business voluntarily.
There have always been varied boy brothels at Mecca. Pilgrims making the haj (required Muslim pilgrimage) to that city, often take children to sell as a form of living “travellers’ cheques” to pay for their return journey. These are usually African or Asian children — usually the offspring of prostitutes. Journalists have frequently pointed out the number of one-way half-fare airline tickets sold to Mecca.
With the disappearance of many Middle East boy brothels, trade has been stimulated by soliciting fathers pandering for their sons. However, about the only access to boys that tourists have, in lands where boy prostitution was formerly quite common, is through special contacts with persons who have been there before. One visitor to Syria decided to visit the ruins of Palmyra. This involved a long hot six-hour drive by chauffeured car. The driver arranged for a 12-year-old boy to go along and keep company. The boy entertained the tourist here and there behind an occasional ruin during the day, and slept with him at night in the hotel.
The driver arrangements are the usual thing for those interested and hotels rarely pose problems for accompanied tourists. One of the authors of this book had a tourist agent in Damascus contact an experienced driver who brought along his 12-year-old nephew for a voyage. The nephew had made other trips and despite his “experience” cost a supplement of only $2.00 per week plus room and board. The boy, on being introduced, immediately made sexual overtures and asked “to spend the night at no charge” to prove his worth.
In Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, there are several kinds of boy prostitutes. The most common are streetboys, beggars and vendors. They are dirty and cheap — sleeping for 25 cents with men of the street, taxi-drivers, bus drivers, porters, salesmen and just about anyone who wants them. Then there are nice clean schoolboys who patronize businessmen and professional men for $2.00 or so a visit. They are amateurs but would be easily available for tourists too if it were not for the language barrier. Because of alienation with their families, or because their families cannot support them, some of these boys run away from home and get themselves swept up into the professional prostitute trade.
An Arab may have several wives with children by each one. If he is a responsible father, he finds his sons a trade at the age of 12 or so. But, if he is neglectful, the boys drop out of school and often hit the street to try to earn a living. The handsome ones are immediately propositioned and if they do not become a permanent favorite for some man, they easily slip into full-time amateur prostitution.
In an as yet unpublished diary, a visitor to Beirut reports being taken to a back street coffee shop where there were about a dozen 12-year-olds gambling on the sidewalk. Among them were a news-stand vendor, a waiter, a beauty shop apprentice, an apprentice cook and a bar boy. The tourist was taken up to sit on a balcony where one after another, the lads came up to take off their clothes and provocatively display their charms. During the course of the evening, each boy went off with a man. Some of them were cuffed about rather rudely as they left — one boy was slapped when he looked back at another passing man so he quickly apologized by planting a fat juicy kiss on the mouth of the man who had slapped him.
Beirut has legalized female brothels but there are no longer any legal male brothels. Nevertheless, young boys are available at some of the female brothels. They work at nearby soft drink stands and when a boy is wanted, the patron orders a soft drink and the boy appears with the order. Generally speaking, it is impossible for tourists and foreigners to learn about this or to be “served”, but there are bellhops in some of the luxury hotels who will assist the tourist who wants to get in touch with a luxury prostitute.
Luxury prostitutes are young boys between the ages or 10 and 13, occasionally still younger. They are kept in a “stable” by a pimp for the exclusive use of foreign tourists. Such tourists are not usually Westerners, but wealthy Arabs who come from the oil-rich countries to Beirut to indulge themselves in a wide variety of diversions. There is, in Beirut, a private club with dancing boys but it is difficult, if not impossible, for Westerners to get in to see the show. Westerners who express interest in the right places, however, may get information about luxury boys at a number of leading night clubs. The manager of one of the largest and best-known clubs nearly always has a few boys on the string. One of the authors met a 13-year-old boy who had been brought there by three different men within one week. The boy, a free-lance bar-boy, took his customers to the cheap hotel next door.
Our unpublished diary, mentioned earlier, tells the case of a 12-year-old boy who belonged to a young pimp who drove a flaming red convertible. This pimp had an arrangement with a luxury hotel in the mountains. He would meet tourists in the night club area, and then introduce them to the boy. If an agreement was made, the pimp would give the tourist a key to a hotel room and put him in a taxi to the mountain resort. An hour later, when he arrived for the night, he would find the boy already in the room — cost, $20 for the night. This particular boy, Mohammed, had slept with at least one man every day for six months. He had run away from his home in Tripoli where he had been an apprentice barber-boy. While learning the barber trade, he had been seduced by one of the many customers who propositioned him. When his father learned of the seduction, he kicked the boy out of the house. The boy ran away to Beirut and fell into the hands of the pimp who trained him in the special dancing movements which intensify the pleasures of anal intercourse — one of the ancient, delicate arts of the Middle East. The boy was such a natural that he soon performed well enough to cause him to be reserved for the “luxury trade”.
After the war and until 1964, when a few arrests were made, there was brisk trade in German and Austrian boys who were “sold” into the Middle East. In Vienna, one American witnessed the sale of two 13-year-old Austrian boys for $50 each. These particular boys were purchased by an oil-rich Arab from Saudi Arabia for his own “harem”. The boys were taken by plane to Athens and then by boat to Sana in Yemen from where they were to make the last lap of the trip to the harem.
Arabs are very partial to blonds, both male and female. Some German boys were traced to a Syrian brothel in Aleppo — a piece of detective work which led to the closing of one of the last “wide open” establishments in that city. (It was an institution which had been in business without significant interruption for 400 years!)
The Aleppo brothel, similar to some of the places in Damascus (also recently closed), was an upstairs all-night coffee house where men came to eat and smoke after work. Street boys were allowed to come and sleep there, and often, after midnight, they would undress for the men by simply lifting their nightgowns as an invitation for someone to take them home to bed. Other more professional prostitutes worked at the bar as waiters and kitchen boys. A customer simply asked for a private room and gave the number of the waiter he wanted for the night. Some of the boys were Syrian, Armenian or Kurdish (often blond and beautiful) and a few were Europeans or half-Europeans. Those supposedly Bulgarian, Italian or Polish were actually little Greeks. Poor Greek boys in Aleppo and Damascus were sometimes impressed into the business to pay for their fathers’ debts. These are the “playful coffee shop boys” that Edwardes speaks of in Jewel in the Lotus. When Aleppo and Damascus were under Turkish rule, many of the boys were Circassian. Some came from the Balkans, others from Greece. During the many centuries of the Ottoman Empire, sexual relations with boys over 13 were legal — punishable with boys under 13 only if there were four witnesses!!
As a result of the zealousness of present popular reform governments, there has been a decline in boy prostitution of late. The decline is not terribly serious. There have been other reform governments which have tried to take even more severe measures, but, so far, their efforts have had only a temporary effect. Perhaps only when poverty is eliminated from the area can there be any real control of prostitution — especially control of amateur boy prostitutes like the ones who operate in the balconies of cheap motion picture theatres. The corruption of police and prison officials is almost impossible to regulate in a culture where salaries are low and bribery is an ancient custom. A pimp can get a boy out of a prison in just a few hours by bribing the judge, prison officials, and a lawyer or two. It is, therefore, impossible for officials to take a boy away from his pimp and to keep him away for long.
Indeed, in 1965, when a Turkish police officer was sent to jail for some departmental offense, his superior officer claimed the jailed officer’s 11-year-old son in payment of a debt, then sold the boy to a pimp. The boy was first offered to a visiting Britisher as a houseboy for the sum of $100. “You can have a lot of fun with him” the police officer said. “I guarantee he is a virgin and doesn’t yet know anything about anything.”
One pimp told the diarist that the best age to begin training a boy is when he is about 8 years old. A boy prepared psychologically and physically through anal massage and dilation at that age will always be more pliable and affectionate. He will give more pleasure because he enjoys more pleasure himself. The pimp’s system is to give each new boy an anal dilator of carved ivory. He uses it on, or rather in, himself as much or as little as he wishes (but sugar and sweets are withheld until the dilation has satisfactorily readied him for the next phase of training.) He is best prepared according to the pimp, by memorizing songs and poems and by watching more experienced boys having sexual relations together. No boy prostitute is as aggressive or as affectionate with his customer as the Arab-trained boy. Few boy prostitutes in other parts of the world can probably enjoy their trade as much.
Since the recent crack-downs of reform governments, a new type of prostitute has appeared in Arabian cities — the “auto boy.” At dusk or after dark, these young hitch-hikers stand at certain corners where automobilists must stop. If the driver looks at them and waves, one of the boys comes and gets into the car for preliminary conversation and bickering over price, if a deal is made, a drive is taken out into the country. Foreign tourists have been astonished at the aggressiveness of the youngsters who come up to their car windows and offer propositions. Many of these boys work in teams as part of a gang of street boys who are managed by a man who pimps for them (and also fences stolen merchandise they manage to pick up from careless clients, distracted during love-making.)
In 1966, there was a raid on a Beirut house where a man was living with some twenty orphan boys he was “protecting”. He was a genuine 20th century Fagin. The boys often wound up being tortured. One boy had been drowned, or so his would-be murderers thought, but he survived the treatment to report the operation to the local police. The newspaper reports didn’t say so, but all of these boys were salesmen by day and “auto boys” by night. They were from 9 to 13 years old.
There is a great deal of prostitution by shoe-shine boys who will go to a customers apartment “to shine all of his shoes” on request. These boys are usually homeless street boys who come to the city from a village or sneak across the border from some neighboring country. They often operate in pairs, the younger being the prostitute while the older keeps watch. The older boy, in exchange for protection, enjoys the favors of his young associate in their “spare time.” Street prostitution in Middle East countries grows out of a situation where there is a great deal of sexual activity among lower class adolescent boys because girls are so strictly secluded and protected. A boy of 15 who does not have a little boy lover is the exception in the village or the city. Often their activity consists only of mutual masturbation during “off” hours.
Runaway boys are easily seduced. The boy apprentice who works in a garage or shop with a large number of young men is subjected to sexual overtures and pressures that would be unbelievable in the West.
The large number of single men who marry late in life provide a large clientele for both female and male prostitutes. When the apprentice’s salary is only a few cents an hour, he is quite understandably tempted to accomodate this ready-made clientele. After all, boys the world over crave luxuries which only money can buy.
All Arab boys know a few men who will buy them some luxuries in exchange for little favors from time to time. It is but a short step from this type of seduction to part-time work in a brothel, especially if a boy’s regular job is in a brothel area. A poor, fatherless boy is often encouraged by an uncle or cousin to take advantage of his youth to “get ahead” in this way. Fatherless boys are also frequently seduced by their employers and then offered to customers as an incentive to increase business.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, no other area anywhere had as much and as many elaborate types of boy prostitution as the Turkish Empire which continued to be a beehive of boy activity right up until World War I. Homosexual acts with boys over 12 used to be completely legal in many areas and common everywhere in the empire. There are arguments in scholarly journals over whether or not the Turks brought their sexual interest in boys with them from Central Asia and/or whether they inherited these proclivities when they conquered the luxurious Middle East where boy prostitution had flourished for so long. In Jewel in the Lotus, Edwardes speaks of the reputation of the Turks and describes the “ginks” who were often young prostitute boys. Burton covers much of the same material in his Terminal Essay to his edition of the Arabian Nights.
Not only did the Turks have the taste, but they also had the tremendous opportunities offered by slavery. Boy and girl slaves were purchased from outside the country all the way from Circassia to France. Charles Verlinden in I’Esclavage Dans I’Europe Médiéval, reports that young boys sent to Turkey were a major French export. Egyptian and Turkish rulers in the 10th century had many beautiful French boy slaves. Dealers in Marseilles specialized in filling orders for special types of youngsters for the Eastern trade.
The second source was made up of “tribute children”, taken as taxes from the European provinces of the Ottoman Empire. Every few years, the tax collectors came through and walked off with the handsomest and most talented young boys for the Emperor’s service. Conquering Turkish armies were followed by slave traders who rounded up victims for city slave markets. The “child tax” victims often ended up in slave markets too. Just as corrupt officials were tempted to steal money, they were doubly tempted to siphon off the cream of the most attractive children — even as recently as this century, individual kidnappers also captured children from the Greek Isles and elsewhere for the boy brothels of Istanbul and other Turkish cities.
Descriptions of Turkish slave markets are legend. The victims, often with hands tied to a rack above their heads, were exhibited entirely in the nude. Busbecq tells how young and beautiful boys were highly prized. Some were purchased to be transformed into eunuchs, some to be personal attendants, and others were destined to staff brothels.
It is probable that the Turks had a fondness for young boys before conquering Asia Minor and the Greek areas, but the idea of a boy brothel was new to them. They founded, in Constantinople and other Eastern cities, not only the boys’ houses of entertainment, but also special houses that were schools for the training of boy prostitute entertainers. Boys were usually brought into these training houses at a very early age — 4 or 5 often, and never older than 8. Some began to ply their trade by the age of 8 or 9, and by the age of 10, they were old hands at all kinds of perversions. They continued in the houses for as long as there was a demand for their services. Some especially skilled entertainers remained “active” through their twenties. These establishments were never exclusively brothels in the Western sense. Some were cabarets, some coffee houses and many were Turkish baths (the boy attendants in the baths and swimming places in Turkey were always available for sexual services.) When the formal, semi-legal houses of boy prostitution had to go underground, organized professionals had to rely largely on coffee houses, restaurants and baths for regular assignations.
The most common sort of boy prostitute was the dancing boy — almost until this decade. Today, now that the “public” dancing boys are about gone, there remain only gypsy boys and outcasts from large impoverished families whose lack of money will cause them to do just about anything to earn enough to stay alive. Occasionally, ambitious intelligent lads will take to the profession to finance their educations. As for the dancing boys, they are still very much in vogue, but primarily for dancing. Their arts are now preserved mainly by private clubs which devote a great deal of time to the training of young boys who still begin their careers by the age of 7 or 8.
The clubs cannot, of course, practice the brutality that characterized the earlier training of boy dancers. However, the trainers still use the fear and even the hypnotism which were widely practiced in the old schools. We find no reports of the actual routine or procedures of the schools’ training except those which explain that a great deal of attention was given to grooming and beauty. At the height of the Turkish Empire, boy dancers were always more beautiful than girl dancers, although their beauty was quite different. There were no boy dancers who were not prostitutes except for occasional stars privately owned and maintained for the exclusive entertainment of their own masters. Even so, a private dancer was commonly sent to bed with an honored guest as part of the hospitality of the house.
Public dancing slave boys and boy prostitutes were imported from great distances. One house in Constantinople had boys from the British Isles and from the Celebes. Irish boys were common and popular. They were bred into a “feeble effeminacy which excites compassion — trained in debauch — their hair was adorned and they wore sensuous dresses of silk — trained in lewd dancing that could excite a statue of stone.” Such were comments of contemporary observers.
There were supposedly more boys’ brothels than women’s houses in Istanbul in the middle 1800’s. The boys were available for both oral and anal contacts as well as even more exotic diversions. Their singing, alone and in groups, left most agreeable impressions especially combined with their unbelievably erotic dancing. Castrated English boys made up only a fraction of the 3,000 little sodomite boys in public brothels alone.
From one of the sources in the Kinsey collection (Davenport’s essay), we learn that hyacinth root was used along with hemlock and various other treatments on the skin and sexual parts of young boys to give them the complexions and soft skins which made them so sought after by men. With vigorous frictions, trainers were able to arrest signs of maturity in favorite boys. French lads were highly prized because of their charm, their sensitive nipples and pale skin — as well as their docility. Circassian boys had the reputation of being sweet tempered and Arab boys as having sweet tasting mouths. “The vice” was extremely popular among top officials of the Empire. It was they who set standards for the masses. One Turkish official was quoted as saying “my favorite coffee house dancer is 8 years old. He is the most charming little whore in the world.”
R. Walsh, writing in 1838, tells of raids on Greek Isles (Scio, for example) by men from Istanbul, seeking pretty young boys “for a very dismal fate. Some were brought into harems; others were kept at infamous public places in Galata while others were exposed in coffee houses.” He interviewed one youngster from a Greek Island, available in the balcony of a coffee house for “every low Turk passing on the road” who begged to be killed in order to escape from the degradation. He told of the torture of young boys — how they were hung by their legs or bastinadoed.
The coffee house boys were all under 14. They were beautiful even before their eyes were painted. They wore their hair long and curly and generally wore only short robes which could be easily thrown up for teasing, dancing and sexual acts. They were without protection and as vulnerable as the boys in the regular brothels. In 1797, Sir Edward Suelman reported a tourist visit to see “the dancing boys in the coffee houses.” The boys were described as depilated, agile and extremely crafty in their entertaining. Lieutenant F. Walpole in 1851, saw a seven year old boy sold for 5,000 pounds into such a life. From the age of 6 or 7, many young boys were given over to such villainy. Such young boys often had their little hands tied behind them for days on end — until they learned to be “charmingly” obedient and complaisant.
Popular poems and love songs were written about dancing boys in the coffee houses and brothels — in some eras, they were as popular as the leading pop singers and actors of today.
In addition to boys in brothels and houses, there were many amateur boy prostitutes in the streets. There were street musicians, acrobats and all kinds of entertainers as well as just poor children who learned to exploit their charms, if they had any. Turkish culture was callous about poor children and accepted sodomy. An article in the 1922 Rassegna de Studi Sessuale, reported that boys of poor families at the age of 8 or 9 were prepared by their fathers both physically and mentally for their inevitable eventual encounters with men. A boy would have to learn to sleep each night with a wooden cylinder in his anus which, as a result, progressively enlarged itself until the boy could endure a carnal violation without pain. Nearly 90% of the Greek boys of Asia Minor (i.e. all boys from poor families) were so prepared by their parents. It was inevitable, the article suggests, that later these ragged, hungry urchins would put their training to use by soliciting in the streets. Parents would even brag when a 12-year-old son succeeded in seducing some prominent citizen and could then contribute substantially to the support of his family. Such boys were, of course, victimized in a variety of ways. Some of them are suggested in the novel Kyra Kyralina which reports in vivid exciting language the callous use of a young boy in prison by all of the officials and inmates.
While boys are no longer imported into Turkey, and the number of poor refugee and poor outcast boys has declined, there are still pedlars of the young in larger cities. In Istanbul, it is not too hard for a tourist to find pimps who will provide young boys at a very cheap price. The boys, however, are often diseased and dirty — a far cry from the beautifully depilated, perfumed and richly attired boy prostitutes and dancers of the Empire. Furthermore, the tourists are easy prey for robbers and blackmailers posing as pimps. As for the Turks themselves, boy prostitution as a mass enterprise went out with slavery and went on to lose the rest of its legitimate approval with the revolution. Lord Kinross reports the locally well-known fact that Kemal Ataturk, the “George Washington” of the Turkish Revolution, had sexual liaisons with young boys, as was not uncommon in “the bisexual Turkey of the era.” However, there is no evidence at present to indicate that boy prostitution is more common now in Turkey than in any other country. The habits of centuries are not easily erased and Turks are still notorious as customers of boy prostitutes when they are away from home as tourists. It is certain, however, that “clubs” and private brothels “for Turks only” are still functioning — they are difficult, to say the least, for outsiders to penetrate.