Hustlers in South Florida: A Brief History

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There is evidence that "hustlers" have existed for centuries. Scrolls from the “Edo period” of ancient Japan describe the idea of a young male providing sexual services to older adult men for payment. Then the term used was “Kagema,” not to be confused with “cruising” or “gay-for-pay.”  

The term “hustler” as we know it probably comes from William H. Butts in his 1947 article in the Journal of Clinical Psychopathology aptly titled “Boy Prostitutes of the Metropolis.” He described it simply as male prostitution but typically the prostitute would be a young male targeting an older male, calling them "tricks."  Services were not always sex.  They could be companionship, nude modeling or dancing, body massage, or some other acceptable fee-for-service arrangement. 

Historically Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach all had known areas where hustlers would loiter and look for work.  In Miami Beach it was the 21st Street Beach. In Fort Lauderdale it was the beach area around A1A, Cortez St, Birch Road, and Las Olas near the Marlin Beach Hotel.  And, in West Palm Beach it was along Dixie Hwy around the West Palm/Lake Worth boundary (known as the spillway) and around West Palm's 25th Street near Broadway around where popular gay bar Man's Land was and the then very gay centric Sea Grape Motel.  The bar at the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach was also a good spot for a young guy looking for an older wealthy "trick." 

In the early 1960s it was still a shock to the South Florida community that there may be so many gay men living amongst them.  The Miami News ran a story at the time describing the issue....gay men would lure young teenage boy's attention with money and then that boy would tell his friends where they could make quick cash.  These boys were then "recruited" and in turn would now "recruit" more…at least that was the theory the media often came up with. There are not any concrete records detailing how much or how often this kind of cycle might have really happened.  One today might think that of the stories reporters often uncovered where they reveal the act of "recruiting" back in the 1960s was actually in fact many young guys coming to terms with their own sexuality but shielding it through this activity.  

Still despite that, hustlers by definition did still exist.  Young good looking guys (straight and gay) knew their desirability and certainly would capitalize on it when the opportunity arose.  Alive Magazine interviewed a few of them in the late 1970s when hustling in South Florida was at its height.  There was Jerry, the tall athletic bisexual.  He would make his rounds to various Miami Beach gay bars at night looking for "tricks" but had a traditional girlfriend by day.   

Then there was Hank, the short muscular type.  He claimed to be strictly straight and took a more traditional approach to hustling by walking up and down Ocean Drive looking for the right guy with a big wallet.  He claimed the money was good and all the sex action was on their part and that he did not actively participate since he was not attracted to men.    A former marine, he claimed he was lazy and never did well in school and didn't think he wanted to get stuck in a work grind so hustling was the only other thing he knew and it paid his bills. 

The last guy interviewed was Peter, the tall boy-next-door 19 year old.  He too would cruise the gay bar scene. Not all his clients were older wealthy men as the media often portrayed.  He claimed that nearly half of his clientele were men his age and they'd shell out lots of money if they were really attracted to him.  Peter himself was a self described gay but what makes his case unique was that he wasn't the stereotypical hustler you read about in the newspaper. He was a clean cut Florida Atlantic University student. He only hustled from time to time and during season he was a waiter at a Boca Raton restaurant.  Because South Florida can be very seasonal he often struggled with waiting tables in the summer and felt he had no choice but to hustle and often made more money doing so. 

The biggest concern these three guys had was being attacked or robbed.  A new concern began creeping into the hustler community in 1981.  All three counties experienced their first  

HIV outbreaks that year but it wouldn't be until 1985 that gay men were frequently becoming victim to the disease. With so many knowing so little about how the disease spread, the act of hustling slowing drifted into history.  Many straight guys were unwilling to risk their own welfare for the sake of making quick cash and many gay men themselves were becoming more cautious when it came to anonymous sex and less likely to hook up with a stranger. 

Now since HIV has become more controlled and treatable hustling has reemerged but the Internet has drastically changed how business is conducted.  Most recently Craigslist, Rent Boy and Backpage were just a few of the ways modern hustlers look for a trick often under the disguise of escorting.  Craigslist has since dropped its personals section and the government has shut down Backpage.  Until the next big thing arises, hustlers will just have to rely on Grindr, where their efforts may not always be welcome or just find tricks the old fashion way; cruising the local gay bar.   


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