Vol 1. No 5. February, 1998
Bar Work in a Foreign Tongue
Just how do local sex workers communicate with foreign customers across a language barrier? How do they say "no" to unsafe sex?
Questions like these are the focus of research being done by Graeme Storer, working on a Ph.D at Macquarie University in Australia. Storer's approach is to study the discourse of it all, specifically, how the bar-based male sex worker in Thailand communicates with his customers. How does he negotiate customer satisfaction as well as payment? How does he tell a customer that he does not want to have unprotected sex?
Storer says this field of research is important because it seeks to locate the discourse strategies that the bar workers have developed, which in turn, can provide tools to help other sex workers negotiate these obstacles. He's found that there exist a variety of negotiation responses. For example, when the customer refuses to use a condom, how does the worker resolve it without the customer becoming unhappy and still ensure payment?
One of the common responses to this problem, Storer says, is to turn the tables on the customer and say something to the effect that "How do you know I'm safe, that I don't have Aids?" These responses can help greatly in intervention efforts.
There are three major components to the sex worker/customer relationship that must be addressed, Storer says.
First, the initial meeting must be managed, either by a "host" at the bar where the worker is being picked up, or by the worker himself. In less tourist-oriented situations, the worker usually relies on the host to do the management - to figure out what the customer wants, and what the worker will do. Secondly, payment must be negotiated. And thirdly, the customer must be satisfied.
Storer says there are, broadly speaking, two types of "off bars" where male sex workers may be found. The first, and more prevalent, serves primarily Thai customers. In these bars, the sex workers sit together in front of the customers, and have little say in the negotiations that take place concerning them. The second is tourist-oriented establishments, where the workers are able to fend for themselves.
With a background in linguistics, Storer says he became fascinated by how workers manage to communicate with foreign customers.
"Sex workers are workers, who have the same needs as any other worker. They also have personal sex lives above and beyond their work."
- Nick Wilde
Page last updated 18 May, 1999
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