Even though it is considered the world’s oldest profession, sex work remains a taboo in Africa, especially when practiced by men.
My name is René. I am 26 years old, and I am a sex worker. I have been doing this work for about two years. My loyal clientele is exclusively male.
The popular belief in Cameroon is that all sex workers are heterosexual. The reality is that over 60 percent of us are bisexual. Among male sex workers, you will find gigolos, married men who occasionally practice the profession to make ends meet. Unknown to their wives, of course.
I work in brothels and other favorite venues of sex workers in Douala and Yaoundé, but sometimes, my female colleagues in other cities need my services. This happens when they have clients who prefer either macho men or transvestites dressed as women. They also call on me when their clients demand effeminate men.
I am very proud of who I am and I fully embrace my profession. I chose sex work for quite specific reasons: 1) money; 2) pleasure and 3) adventure. But I am careful not to generalize these reasons for my choice to the entire profession. The men who work in this industry do so for various reasons.
We use different venues including dance floors and brothels as our cruising areas, although the most well-known and visible places we can be found are the streets. Violence at the hands of our clients is frequent. The most vulnerable among us are transgender sex workers and transvestites. When their gender identities are discovered, these men and women often become victims of violence both at the hands of clients and from the public in general.
During my free time, I volunteer at a local association that provides services such as information on sexual health and psycho-social support to both heterosexual and homosexual sex workers. I work as a sexual health resource person for my peers.
Although there are other associations that work on HIV/AIDS prevention and that focus on sexual health and counseling for sex workers, most of these associations do not welcome homosexuals or transvestite and transgender sex workers. Homophobia is very strong in our culture and is institutionalized by Sections 343 and 347 of the Cameroonian Penal Code, which criminalizes us.
Despite this climate of intolerance, abuse and misunderstanding towards sex workers in Cameroon, I am determined to exercise my profession with pride and dignity.
René is a young sex worker from Douala, Cameroon.