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I am writing this letter because I am deeply disturbed by the article written on Whitman-Walker’s outreach efforts to male sex workers (“Professional Hazard,” 12/5). As coordinator of the Male Sex Industry Project at the Whitman-Walker Clinic, I am responsible for providing HIV/AIDS information and education to men who are participating in commercial sexual activities with men, including hustlers, escorts, and erotic dancers. This effort is a component of Whitman-Walker’s Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Related Services contract with the government of the District of Columbia.
I am concerned about this article because it seeks to undermine and misrepresent the outreach efforts of the clinic, specifically the Professional’s Club, a discussion group for male escorts, hustlers, and erotic dancers. It is not a “group therapy gig” for male sex workers, as misreported in the article. The point of the group is simply to facilitate an open discussion of issues related to HIV/AIDS among male sex workers. Experienced HIV prevention educators know that this is an effective HIV prevention strategy.
The reasoning behind the group is not—as the article states—because male prostitutes “aggressively transmit the AIDS virus.” In fact, research—if the reporter, Jason Cherkis, had done any—suggests that male sex workers are quite vigilant about safer sex in their professional lives. During meetings of the Professional’s Club, we discuss various strategies for HIV/AIDS prevention, sharing stories and techniques. This type of information sharing is essential to any sustained prevention effort. Whitman-Walker has supported this group, because, contrary to what the article suggests, Whitman-Walker is committed to all prevention efforts, including needle exchange, which the article suggests that we do not do.
Also, contrary to what the article implies, I am not at all ashamed to pass out pamphlets for the Professional’s Club. The simple fact is that I had gone to the club that night to pass out fliers to dancers, which I accomplished. I can’t understand how the reporter got the impression that I was at all ashamed about the task that I had just successfully accomplished.
As the article states—for once, correctly—I am a former stripper, something that I also have no shame about. Why, one must ask, would I be ashamed about my fliers for the Professional’s Club but not ashamed about my past as a stripper?
I do, however, take exception to the claim that I received my job simply because of my past as a stripper. I believe my M.A., two years of teaching experience at the university level, presentations at various conferences related to sex work, and numerous publications may have also had something to do with it.
I also want to make it clear that I am not only targeting strippers for the Professional’s Club. As any sensible person might suppose, I target strippers in strip clubs because that’s where they are. There are other ways that we target escorts and hustlers. Since the article was published, I have spoken to the escort quoted in the article. He said that he did not say that I focused on strippers or that I was “missing the mark.” He simply said that at one of the meetings he attended there were more strippers than escorts. He wished there had been more escorts, which there were at the future meetings he attended. The article, of course, does not mention this.
Another significant problem with the article is that many times I am misquoted or my comments are taken out of context. A particularly bizarre example of this is the quote where it appears as if I am likening Whitman-Walker Clinic to The X-Files. At the time this occurred, I felt as if the reporter was trying to make me say something disparaging about Whitman-Walker as an institution. I was simply trying to make a statement about how Whitman-Walker was like all large institutions. There are many competing interests, and you have to negotiate to get things done. I was not trying to bash Whitman-Walker at all or make it seem in any way bizarre or strange.
I also never stated or meant to imply that “the clinic’s institutional mind-set dogs me every day.” In fact, the institution of Whitman-Walker has enabled me to coordinate a program that is saving people’s lives and is showing many of the most marginalized members of the gay community that someone cares about them. For these reasons, I can state without reservation that I am proud to be an employee of the Whitman-Walker Clinic and I am also proud of Whitman-Walker Clinic, as an institution, for standing behind the prevention efforts of the program.
Coordinator of the Male Sex Industry Project/Gay Men’s Outreach and Education