It was two nights after Christmas, three years ago, when Joe received his first visitation from a sex professional. The dark stranger came east to Joe's apartment, where a one-hour massage appointment stretched into four hours of more than shiatsu. Alejandro gave of himself generously that night -- not freely, of course, but four hours for $150 is a great markdown, even for right after Christmas.
Despite the bargain price, Joe says the night never felt cheap. "It was the purest, least complicated, least guilt-ridden sex I'd had in so long ... I don't feel like I exploited him at all. He was willingly participating and he enjoyed it and he profited from it. I'm not naive enough to think I was his ideal partner, but I liked that he enjoyed it." (With male prostitutes, the client doesn't have to wonder if he really came.) To Joe's surprise, paying for sex exorcised some of his gay-hating Catholic school demons -- and they've stayed away. "It really is a Christmas miracle," Joe exclaims breathily.
A screenwriter and video store manager, Joe is smart, funny, thoughtful and talented. He is not, however, buff, tan, high-cheekboned or 24, and the second list tends to overwhelm the first in the dating world. Pudgy guys need lovin', too, though, so Joe has cruised the bars and, before Mayor Giuliani closed them down, the peep booths on 42nd Street. The plastic partitions between the stalls had been jimmied so men could suck or jerk each other off, Joe says, shuddering at the memory. "It's unseemly and creepy, and horrible loud porno music is playing and it smells bad." Men sometimes left the booths together, "but even that's a competition," Joe laments. "The best-looking people paired off and you had to take what was left."
Three years ago, Joe spent Christmas Day with his family, which did not fill him with goodwill, and came back to New York a few days before his roommate. He hadn't had sex in a few months and he'd stirred up a little lust Christmas Eve by flirting with the record store cashier. "That put the idea in my mind ... I was alone and I thought, I don't have to be."
He looked through the ads in the back of a gay entertainment guide. He picked Alejandro's ad, which included a photo of his body with his face cropped. Alejandro offered massage, the ad said, and he was "versatile" and "affectionate." They made their massage date for midnight, because Alejandro was going to the movies with friends: Coincidentally, he and Joe both saw "As Good As It Gets" that day. "It wasn't very good," Joe remembers, "but I thought that Skeet Ulrich was kind of cute -- remember, the one who ended up robbing and beating Greg Kinnear?"
After they hung up, Joe went to the cash machine, then tidied the apartment and made up the futon in the living room. His bed was in a low-ceilinged loft, so he figured there'd be more room to play out by the Christmas tree. He lit some candles and waited nervously, both guilty and excited that money would change hands.
Joe was a devout Catholic until he was 17. "Then I realized being gay wasn't just a phase and I said, 'That's it, I'm not going back to church.' I decided not to be part of this group that doesn't want me. I'd believed in J.C., Mary, the whole gang. And I felt so hurt that these people I'd accepted on faith wouldn't accept me."
Alejandro turned out to be a handsome Spaniard in his mid-30s with long, curly hair in a ponytail and a crucifix around his neck. He told Joe later that he still goes to church. Joe theorizes that Alejandro "transcended that Catholic guilt better than I have because he grew up in Spain, where they're more sensual. Plus, Mary Magdalene did do that job, too."
The two men shook hands and introduced themselves, then Alejandro whipped his clothes off. "Considering what I was doing, this is probably pretty puritanical," Joe says, "but I was a little shocked he wasn't wearing underwear. He had this really nice body, not overly muscular but well-defined. His chest was completely hairless like he'd had electrolysis, and he had a tan in December." Alejandro told Joe to lie on his stomach, then he hopped astride. He gave him a thorough shoulder and back massage, his dick flopping pleasantly on Joe's lower back.
Joe chattered nervously and found they had a lot in common. "I was afraid he might be like those porn stars you see on [the cable TV show] 'Robin Bird,' all strung out, barely able to string two sentences together. But he was bright and nice and could have been the boy next door except for the ponytail. We talked about music, Christmas and 'As Good As It Gets.'"
The bonding deepened when Alejandro spotted Joe's huge collection of Barbra Streisand CDs. Joe told Alejandro about his most prized relic -- bootleg video footage of her recording her "Back to Broadway" album. "After that, there was no way we were going back to the massage until he'd seen it," Joe says, so they got up and watched Barbra outtakes for an hour. Alejandro reassured Joe that he was off the clock.
A few minutes after they resumed, Alejandro told Joe to flip onto his back. "When he did my legs, he'd brush his hands by my balls, which was so exciting," Joe says, and he worked up his nerve to ask if he could touch Alejandro. "Then I started fondling his balls and stroking his dick and he got hard. That was sort of my favorite part, taking a little control." Alejandro kept massaging.
After a few more minutes, Joe blurted, "Do you do any more than massage?" and Alejandro gave him the breakdown: $200 for a just-sex hour, $125 for just massage and $150 for "the mega-mix." Jim selected the mega-mix, which was "kissing, caressing, licking and exploring each other's body, back and forth. It was really nice, which may be a funny word for sex with a stranger, but it was gentle and really sensual. I was glad all that happened after the Barbra break, too."
Alejandro went down on Joe for a while, not to orgasm, then Joe went down on him "and there was kissing and caressing and talking, it was all very natural and flowing ... We ended up getting each other off by hand almost at the same time. I was lying down and he was sort of kneeling over me. We both kind of came all over me."
Up until that night, Joe had been stabbed with guilt every time he had an orgasm, even by himself or with a regular boyfriend. "I felt like I should be married. The church just gets you young, and if you're gullible at all, you really believe you're bad and wasting your time and it's for married people. And even though I didn't believe it on a conscious level, it still permeated what I did.
"And somehow Alejandro helped me break free of that. Maybe it was because it was so much about pleasing me that made me feel worthy, that it was OK to want pleasure, to get and give pleasure."
After a moment, Alejandro went to get towels and washed Joe off. "I thought that was sweet; nobody had ever done that for me before. He was attentive, like a really, really good waiter, the kind you want to give a 30 percent tip to."
They got dressed and chatted about their respective plans for New Year's Eve. Joe lent Alejandro some Tina Turner CDs "because I felt like I'd met a kindred spirit, he was as excited about music as I was. I completely trusted him." Joe paid, they hugged and kissed goodnight and said "nice to meet you."
Joe called him six weeks later. "If I had the money, I'd have a mega-mix every week, like a vitamin," says Joe, but for budgetary reasons, they average three times a year since then, sometimes at Joe's apartment, sometimes at Alejandro's sparsely decorated studio. They also talk on the phone occasionally about music, movies and Alejandro's attempts to break into fashion design.
They've never stayed together as long as the first time, and Joe admits it'd be nice to spend the night some time. "I'm not going to pay $500, though, to just get up and have breakfast with him. Plus, when you've been on your own for a couple years, it's kind of nice to have them go on their way; you have your own space back and you can be yourself."
But Alejandro's gift of guiltlessness has persisted with other men, whether Joe picks them up or pays for them. Joe says his progress was bolstered recently when he saw Sister Wendy, the nun and art historian, interviewed by Bill Moyers. "She said, 'Sexuality is a gift from God, but it wasn't a gift I ever felt the need to open.'" Joe continues in an outraged voice, "I thought, How ungrateful! Someone goes to all the trouble to give you a gift, and you can't even be bothered to open it and try it on! And I thought, It is a gift and it is mine, and there's no strings attached. Nowhere does it say, 'Do not open till wedding day.'"