When I Was a Rent Boy 

Stud-for-hire's memoir recalls bell-bottoms, bad odors, good advice.

A hippie chick called Rainbow who once hired me said, 'The key to opening the garden of earthly delights is a woman's pleasure,' " says David Sterry, whose new book Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent, is the first memoir ever published by a heterosexual male prostitute."That has stood me in good stead, lo these many years. It was such a profound lesson, and I was happy to have learned that at such a young age," says Sterry, who lives in Marin and is now house-hunting in Berkeley. "Men are always saying they can't get women to do what they want, but if you genuinely make a woman's pleasure your number-one priority, the woman will do anything for you."

He should know. Twenty-eight years ago, he got plenty of hands-on experience, servicing mostly well-to-do Hollywood wives. Alienated from his parents -- who were in the midst of their own midlife meltdowns -- Sterry set off for his first term at LA's Immaculate Heart College with no dorm-room reservation and just $27 in the pocket of what he remembers as "nut-hugging" bell-bottom jeans. Even in those days, that wasn't enough for a hungry college boy to live on. His life went into turnaround when, instead of asking the nuns for help, he took to the streets, and within 24 hours found himself in the care of a fry cook/pimp called Sunny. It was among the innocent, the battered, and the criminal who occupied Sunny's stable that Sterry found his new family, and morphed from fresh-faced suburban teen into young stud for hire.

"Sunny was my father confessor/fairy godmother/pimp," Sterry recalls. "He was a maternal guy. He took care of his people. I think he really did love us. He was much nicer to me than my parents were at that time."

Sterry found refuge from his usual feelings of isolation and fear in the knowledge that, by the end of a shift, he'd be carrying home a wad of cash. And while he made a ritual of blotting out unpleasant memories -- he cites certain perversions and bad odors -- with postcoital junk-food orgies, sometimes he found himself having a good time with the women who were his clients.

"Often they didn't even want to have sex: they'd just talk about their fantasies or about their pain-in-the-ass husbands or have me take my clothes off so they could look at a pretty, naked boy," he says. "I liked the attention."

When Sterry left the business he found himself oddly well-equipped for his next job.

"Five years later I was a marriage counselor, performing many of the same exact functions as a prostitute when I listened to women talking -- only now I was fully clothed and being paid much less for it."

Off the street at last, he still found himself "uncontrollably drawn" to the old life. "I used to make friends down in that world and have sexual partners there, and the schism precluded me from being in happy relationships."

Years of hypnotherapy, and writing this book, found Sterry disentangling his old feelings from current reality, helping him to recover from his sex addiction.

"When I feel the tug of 'Now I want to go to skanky ho-ville and do bad things,' I say it out loud and ask myself if that's what I really want to do, and the answer is no. It immediately puts a halt to it. But I have to be conscious of it all the time, like with any addiction," says the author, who is now planning his next book -- about a stint onstage as a Chippendale's emcee -- and is romantically linked to his literary agent, Arielle Eckstut. ("I hesitate to admit how many times I've been engaged," he says sheepishly.)

"On our first date, we were in the bed together," says Eckstut, who has accompanied Sterry to this interview. "And I was my paranoid Jewish self and asked him if he had any venereal diseases or had ever slept with a prostitute and there was this long pause and then David said, 'I was a prostitute.' It was a very awkward moment."

"A look of shock and amazement crossed her face, but when I started to tell Arielle the true story of myself, she said that's the book I had to write," says Sterry. "As the universe would have it, when you finally don't care anymore, when you're just ready to be yourself, that's when love came into my life.

"My fiancée has so little sexual experience next to me, but there is something so pure about her loving that I learn from it. That's encouraging to me, having been through all this, that I'm still learning about sex and sexuality."

But he's never forgotten what Rainbow said.

"I was once on a television show called The Other Half -- it's supposed to be the man's perspective on women's issues -- and Dick Clark and Danny Bonaduce were asking me for sex hints. I gave them the rap: pay attention to what your woman wants, make her know that you want to satisfy her ... and they said, 'Yeah, but what are the sex hints?' I had to tell them, 'This is the sex hint.' Women are not that hard to satisfy. That you make the effort goes a long way."

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