Are they “Hung”?

Male escorts on the truth -- and fiction -- behind the HBO show

Topics: Sex, HBO, Gender Roles, Sex Work, Hung, Love and Sex,

Are they "Hung"?

Ray Drecker is impotent in all the ways that Viagra can’t help. The hero of HBO’s “Hung,” played by Thomas Jane, was once the golden boy of West Lakefield High’s football team, but now he’s middle-aged, divorced, depressed and earning a pathetic paycheck teaching history and coaching basketball on the same grounds where he was once regarded as high school royalty. Worse still, an electrical fire guts his house, leaving him with but one major asset … in his pants.

Cue angels’ voices and heavenly beams of light on his junk: Ray may be a failure in nearly every arena, but he does have the gift of a really big penis. So, after a bit of fumbling, he gets a pimp: Tanya Skagle, played by the fantastic Jane Adams, a struggling poet he meets in a get-rich-quick workshop.

Despite its dry humor and indulgent sight gags (flagpoles, cucumbers and other phallic images abound), the show expects viewers to buy its basic premise. There is certainly a thriving market for gay and bisexual escorts, but just how believable is a straight male prostitute? After all, legendary madam Heidi Fleiss recently abandoned plans for a Nevada “stud farm” that only catered to women because she decided it isn’t “where the money is,” and the recession, which looms large in “Hung,” is making it tough for even female sex workers to get paid. Even in more prosperous times, the idea of there being a real market for gigolos goes against our assumption that women don’t have to work for sex and that, well, they just aren’t that into it.

At the same time, we’re likely to fall for most any fiction about studs for sale, because we don’t know any better. From “Pretty Woman” to “The Girlfriend Experience,” we’ve walked millions of imaginary miles in working women’s shoes, but straight male prostitutes are still a mystery. It’s been decades since “American Gigolo,” and “Deuce Bigalow” didn’t exactly drill deep into the authentic experience. So, I talked to some real-life Rays — yes, they do exist — about what’s realistic about “Hung” and what isn’t.

For the first man-whore myth, look no further than the show’s name, which attempts to explain in a word why Ray is meant for escorting. Greg, a 48-year-old escort represented by an international agency serving wealthy businesswomen, says he’s “been blessed in that area,” but finds that “a lot of women really aren’t into it — sometimes it hurts them.” For those who missed sex ed, most vaginas are no deeper than five and a half inches, meaning an abnormally large penis would likely hit the opening of the cervix — and, as any woman who has had a pap smear can tell you, it isn’t an erogenous zone. Yet, when Ray and Tanya get it on for the first time, she screams out in pleasure as he repeatedly slams into her: “Oh my God, you’re so big!” Watching this scene as a straight woman is like watching a mainstream porno: It’s hard to relate to the spastic, rapturous woman on-screen.

But unlike, say, “Big Cocks in Her Little Box,” it’s our man Ray who is being treated like a piece of meat: In one scene, a woman old enough to be his mother asks to get a peek at his penis. In another, a female client instructs him, “Show me your pecs,” much like a man might shout: “Lemme see your tits!” It’s a wry and refreshing inversion of the traditional gender script — but working men say it entirely misses the point of M4W escorting.

Sometimes, sex is only a distant thought. “Male companion” James Craig — a 40-year-old Englishman with a taste for fine wines, James Bond tuxedos and women – wrote in an e-mail, “No one wishes to appear the single person at that office function when everyone else has a spouse or date, so having a partner to take with them, who will not only blend in but treat that person like the special woman that she is, would be the solution.” I couldn’t help imagining him delivering the line in a soft-focus, late-night commercial for himself.

You Might Also Like

Male escorts can also be just pawns in a larger game of social chess. The men I spoke with have accompanied women to high school reunions, office parties and weddings. Sometimes they hit the town and, oops, “accidentally” run into the client’s ex, who has the privilege of meeting the handsome, successful and adoring new man in her life. Greg just recently returned from a three-day stay at a winery with a client and her friends, who all believed he was her boyfriend. “It’s been three days and I’m still getting e-mails from this lady about how all of her friends were like, ‘Where did you find this guy, he was great!’” The kind of great that costs a couple thousand a weekend.

There are certainly women out there who are just looking to get off, but Greg says he’s never had a client ask him to “come over and bang their brains out” like Lenore, Ray’s first client, did. Women are looking for “a men-tal se-duc-tion,” he says with the syllabic precision of a motivational speaker. He primes them with conversation, flirtation, compliments, but sometimes it never comes to sex. “I can’t tell you how many times the evening [comes to a close] and they are so content they’ve forgotten all about it. They just lay down and pass out.”

Alex, a 39-year-old straight male escort with a thick Russian accent, reiterates the importance of patience, rather than a large package. “You don’t make money off the sex, you make money on the time spent talking.” Sometimes men talk with a potential client for weeks through e-mail or go on several paid dates before anything physical happens, if it ever does. “Do you know any woman who would want to pay to get fucked in five minutes? They’re paying for the imagination, the fantasy,” he explains. “Emotionally and physically, the women suck your energy, your life out of you for the money they’re paying you.”

It isn’t some velvet-robed playboy fantasy; it’s a job. You would never turn down unattractive clients — as Ray initially does with a plump, middle-aged married woman — because it would ruin your reputation and the demand is so small that you can’t afford to be picky. You sleep with a client whether she’s a nubile secretary or a grey-haired granny. Unless, that is, she just wants to talk, which is sometimes the case. David Sterry, author of the memoir “Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent,” liked that part of the job so much he became a marriage counselor: “I was doing the same work only I was clothed and getting paid much less for it.” Those who trade in sin, from bartenders to sex workers of all persuasions, know all too well the worth of a sympathetic ear. 

Male hooking isn’t always talk therapy, though. Sex can be bizarre and menacing, even (or maybe especially) for those who do it for a living. Sterry had clients who seemed to be reenacting a past sexual trauma. One woman in particular would lie in bed and have him silently crawl under the covers and “orally pleasure her while she laid there like she was dead.” He says, “I knew someone did something to her, you know? Every single time she wanted exactly the same thing.” And some of these darker dynamics are starting to trickle in to “Hung.” While Ray’s first two clients were randy caricatures, his latest is a heartbroken woman who uses our well-hung hero to playact her way through past hurt. The waters of sex for pay are getting murkier, more difficult to navigate, and there is hope yet that “Hung” will sail beyond gigolo cliché. Jane Adams’ character, Tanya, is certainly doing her best to convey to Ray that a woman’s fulfillment depends on more than a big dick. Maybe he’ll actually start to listen — just like a good male escort would. 

Tracy Clark-Flory
Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    DAYA  
    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    MORELLO   
    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CINDY   
    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CAPUTO   
    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    BOO   
    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    SOSO
    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    POUSSEY
    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    PENNSATUCKY
    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CHANG
    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    HEALY
    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NORMA
    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NICKI
    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>