Obie-won memory

I was fascinated and very moved by Jerry Tallmer's story about the inception of the Obie awards ["Watering the Off-Broadway Garden," May 11-17]. I actually received one of those first Obies for my performance in Genet's Deathwatch (1958).That year the awards were held at the Village Gate and presented by Anne Bancroft, who was starring in Two for the Seesaw at the time. I remember every theater, every play, and every actor Tallmer referred to (including the great Julie Bovasso) and went on to work with many of them, including Jason Robards and Edward Albee (for whom I created the Orderly in The Death of Bessie Smith). What great theater! What great actors! Thanks for the memories.

Hal Scott
Newark, New Jersey

Safer sex

Aina Hunter's "School for Johns" [May 11-17] is full of ignorant anti-sex bias, which does not belong in an enlightened journal like The Village Voice. I am the owner of a Bangkok massage parlor for men by men and am also a board-certified physician. I can assure you that there is nothing inherently dangerous about commercial sex and would also like to remind you that not all sex workers are women and not all clients are men. We have a small number of loyal and happy female clients. It is completely wrong that all sex workers are emotional cripples or do this work because they are incapable of doing anything else. Many of my masseurs go to college or have graduated from college. Some are married or in stable relationships. Some are good fathers and most have close and healthy relationships with families and friends. There is also a good support system in the shop. My masseurs are expert at massage and also like making the massage sensual or sexual. Most of them really enjoy what they do and take pride and pleasure in making another person so happy.

I educate my masseurs about safe sex and provide them with all the condoms they need. You must be 18 to work in my shop and all but two of my 30 masseurs are 20 or over. The customers are told that they will pay a minimum tip directly to the masseur. I encourage the clients to be generous and give more. I also remind my clients that the masseurs are not obligated to do anything they do not want to do. I emphatically support my masseurs if there are any disputes on this matter. Also, the minimum tip is approximately double what I receive directly from the client for use of the room, oil, towels, etc. I do not take money back from the masseur. I am not a pimp and the masseur is not a slave. He is not under contract with me and can leave at any time. One time a client refused to pay for the work he had done. I quickly intervened and he still refused. We called the police, who arrived immediately and told the client to pay or go to jail. The masseur got his money and did not have to give any of it to the police or to me. My typical client is a well-to-do, well-dressed man in his forties. In any event, my shop is beautifully decorated and immaculately clean. We treat our clients with kindness and respect, which is usually reciprocated.

The greatest burden our masseurs bear is the negative stereotyping and the associated negative societal stigmatization of this work. These businesses can be legalized, regulated (for health and safety), and taxed. Pimps can be eliminated. Sex workers can have clean and safe working conditions. Brothels can be made clean and safe for clients and workers. Sex workers can be taught about safe sex and provided with the tools to engage in it. Brothel owners can support their workers against abusive clients, especially if they have police to back them up. This is not utopian dreaming. It is already happening or has happened all over the EU and even in Brazil. You must realize how damaging it is to refer to us all as perverts, pimps, pedophiles, criminals, and emotional cripples, as this only reinforces negative stereotypes and avoids the real issue, which is that criminalization created most of the problems associated with commercial sex and decriminalization can solve most of the problems associated with commercial sex.

Henri Lucas Santos-Dumont
Bangkok, Thailand

Aina Hunter replies: The former prostitutes I quoted are entitled to their views, as unenlightened as they may seem to you. Your massage parlor sounds like a wonderful place; it would be great if all sex workers had managers as thoughtful and generous as yourself.

Josephs's john story

While researching a story on prostitution in Williamsburg two years ago, I accidentally interviewed an undercover cop, who accused me of propositioning her. She must have had a quota to fill, because despite my press credentials and tape recorder I was sent to jail, where I stayed for two days. My literary agent convinced me to attend John School instead of fighting the charges, saying it would make a great story. I pitched it to the Voice but no one responded. Thanks a lot!

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