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Former Male Prostitute Helps Hustlers Leave R.I. Streets

by Joe Siegel
Contributor
Wednesday Oct 19, 2011
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For 10 years, Rich Holcomb worked as a prostitute on the streets of Montreal. Now he is trying to help others.

In the summer of 2010, Holcomb surveyed 50 men who have earned money hustling on the streets of Providence. He has started a program dedicated to reaching out to male sex workers-Project Weber, named in honor of Roy Weber, a 19-year-old hustler who was found dead on Christmas Day in 2003. Weber’s murder remains unsolved.

Male sex workers work night and day on the streets of downtown, around the Amazing adult bookstores and areas around the Mega-Plex bathhouse. They typically range in age from 18 to 55.

"One participant was badly beaten and bruised from a random assault by several men from the night before and many appeared malnourished and sick with ripped and unwashed clothing," recalled Holcomb.

His research also showed that most male sex workers consider themselves heterosexual and only sell themselves for drugs-and many want to stop using. "They have no home, no families," added Holcomb. "They don’t know how to break the cycle."

Some of the IV drug users Holcomb interviewed reported having sex with as many as a dozen men per day. He notes these men are at an "extremely high risk" of HIV due to unprotected sex with multiple anonymous partners, needle sharing and other risky behaviors.

The sex workers were willing to open up to Holcomb and his friend James Waterman because they were former prostitutes who could relate to what they were going through.

Holcomb first became aware of the presence of male prostitutes in Providence when a man approached him in Kennedy Plaza when he was 10. As a teenager, Holcomb lived in Montreal. He became addicted to crack cocaine and began to sell his body to support his drug habit.

"I didn’t feel very good about myself," said Holcomb, recalling that his life became a "vicious cycle" of sex and drugs.

Holcomb had been sexually abused as a child and had to deal with an abusive father, who taunted him about his sexuality. "I wasn’t interested in sports," said Holcomb. "(My dad) called me faggot. I knew I couldn’t please him."

Life on the street was a nightmare for Holcomb, who said he was "close to dying." After 10 years of selling his body, Holcomb realized he needed to get his life together, so he sought treatment for his drug and alcohol addiction.

"I attribute my recovery to a 12 step program and the loving support that I found with other recovering addicts who have similar stories," said Holcomb. "I hit some obstacles with the many mainstream substance abuse treatment centers I attended who were not equipped to provide support for male prostitutes. The Pride Institute in New Jersey was helpful to me because they had staff trained and familiar with what I was dealing with."

Now 35, Holcomb is determined to offer a way out for male sex workers in Providence, many of whom travel here from other states due to the city’s sex-friendly climate. Rhode Island lacks the resources needed to provide counseling and treatment for them. Holcomb hopes to open a drop-in center that will have access to HIV testing and condoms.

He cited stigma, personal prejudice and lack of knowledge as reasons he has not received cooperation from some local social service agencies. Others, however, have offered support.

The Rhode Island Community Planning Group’s MSM task force encouraged the 2010 study; while AIDS Care Ocean State offered access to condoms, clean needles, and safe sex materials to conduct weekly outreach to male sex workers. Holcomb hopes to encourage others to find the strength to leave what he describes as a destructive lifestyle.

"I’m grateful to be alive and out of that lifestyle," he said.

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.

Comments

  • Anonymous, 2011-10-22 08:37:02

    Thank you Mr. Holcomb for your work. I’m a former sex worker (and male), and I’m in full support of increasing options for exit, provided that is what someone in the industry desires. However (and maybe this is the author), framing the profession as exclusively a question of desperate people "searching for a way out" of "selling themselves" is incredibly harmful to support and solidarity efforts! It sets up a "deserving" and undeserving dichotomy in which the people who do NOT want to exit are under-served, and any services towards improving working conditions, providing shelter and affordable housing, etc, are secondary to this threat to "exit." The word exit simply isn’t useful in an economy where there are no living wage alternatives. In any case, I’m glad a "gay" publication is at least writing about this. Check out this article from last year in the Gay City News: http://www.gaycitynews.com/articles/2011/01/05/gay_city_news/perspectives/doc4d250a2541c9d237084019.txt


  • Anonymous, 2011-10-23 09:50:49

    Their are many variations of male prostitution. some work as escorts, dancers at strip clubs and online. Our program is primarily focused on providing resources and support to the male sex workers who work the streets and the adult bookstores. These sex workers are mostly homeless and addicted to drugs. They are at a high risk for HIV infection, overdose and death. Most all of them do not want to live like this and are caught in a vicious cycle of sex for money to support their drug addiction. We take a harm reduction approach and meet these men where they are at, but gently push them in a direction of getting help for their drug problem. If they cut off their drug use, this group of people will most likely stop the behaviors that go with it. In the needs assessment survey I conducted in 2010, 68 percent of male sex workers did not want to live like this and want a way out of the lifestyle, but lack the services and specialized programs to do so. Check out my my most recent Project Weber video and my other documentary work on international male sex workers at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XbLAFCJWo0&feature=channel_video_title Thank you


  • Anonymous, 2011-10-26 18:16:31

    Hola Richie: I’m very happy to see that someone is trying to help others, and there by help himself.I started a NFP in Chicago in 2008 and this year we have modified our programs to help and work with LGBT homeless and other youth. We also have several board members that are gay, transgender, by and lesbian. We would be very happy to find out if you have and/or know of anyone who may have or want to start a group similar to yours in Chicago. I, and my son were watching some of the videos and are very inspired. We have quite a community of both male and female prostitutes here. We’ve tried to help in what we can but hope to do more in the coming months. You can email us at eltechnocolibri@yahoo.com, Lupe Avery


  • Anonymous, 2013-06-11 12:38:45

    Greetings! For a wealth of information relasted to male sex workers visit: http://www.youth-suicide.com/gay-bisexual/links6.htm Pierre


  • Anonymous, 2013-07-14 04:24:39

    Rich your are amazingly brave to not only change your life but reach out publically with your story. It is inspirational to see an individually confront stigma so boldly. Best of luck in your endeavors. Malcolm(Sydney)


  • Anonymous, 2014-08-06 22:25:39

    Faith in humanity restored Good luck to him.


  • Anonymous, 2014-08-16 01:41:01

    News like these one makes my day and I hate reading articles like: http://substancerecoveryservices.com/drug-and-alcohol-related-criminal-offenses/ that always losses my mood.


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