issue 252 - February 1994
A fantasy by Maureen Freely.
The facility is housed in a converted manor that was, until the last election, a minor public school – a British term applying to private schools. Despite its changed circumstances, it retains an aura of privilege and tradition. The grounds are maintained to an impeccable standard. The beautiful stonework looks newly sandblasted, and there was not a stone out of place in the grand circular driveway. The carpark was packed with Volvos, BMWs, Espaces and Range Rovers. As for the crowd that was milling around the entrance...! A stranger could easily mistake the scene for a sports day or a prize-giving ceremony. A group of casually- but expensively-dressed women were discussing holiday plans. An assortment of small children played around the signs that asked them not to play on the grass. It was all as normal as could be... but for the fact that there were no fathers.
A white-haired, tweed-suited woman met me at the door and took me briskly through the dark main hall, which smelled of furniture polish, and into the cosy, carpeted office wing, which smelled of computer cleaning fluid. The manager was waiting for me in what must once have been the head’s office. His dark suit and bland manner did not clash with the decor. He answered my general questions courteously. There were, he told me, 250 boys at the facility. Roughly half of them were weekly boarders. Admissions criteria were rigorous, and included a personal interview as well as a three-month battery of tests. All new entrants had to attend an induction course: there were, in addition, retreats and update training days for all senior boys. Hygiene was, of course, a priority, and discipline was strict, although it was controlled to a large degree by the boys themselves through a rotating system of patrols, monitors and prefects. Fagging had recently been banned and replaced with a ‘big brother’ scheme in which the onus was on the senior boy to be an advisor to the novice.
All boys were expected to play sport twice a week – here the manager directed my attention to the window. In the field beyond, a hundred or so matrons were boisterously supporting a muddy rugby match. ‘As you can see,’ he said, ‘it’s a great crowd-drawer. And it teaches the boys the lifelong value of teamwork, while at the same time addressing our most serious structural problems with regard to the male libido. The combination of fresh air, exercise and condoned aggression does wonders for them. They are then in a position to pass the benefit on to the client.’
He went on to prove his point with a rather alarming-looking sheath of computer printouts, which allegedly showed the exact degree to which his programme has stretched the boys’ performances. ‘We’re not just for high-fliers, you know. We do believe the slower boys have something just as valuable to contribute. We do our best to bring out the artistic abilities of all our charges, even though this takes time and patience and a certain broad-mindedness. That’s why we’re so very alarmed at the Government’s new league tables. There are certain very important factors they’re just not measuring.’
‘But this is something I would prefer you to see for yourself,’ he said. With that, he took me off to the senior boys’ common room, where he passed me over to Dean, the head prefect. Here again I suffered a piquant sense of déjà vu. Little had changed here since its previous incarnation. There were the battered lockers, the comfortable chairs and sofas that lacked some of their stuffing. The pool table. The smell of shoes. And now here I was, sitting with this affable young man with his bright eyes, fresh complexion, coltish smile and regulation haircut. His manners were more than good: he answered my questions quickly, respectfully and thoughtfully. Head prefect, indeed. I kept forgetting that I was a researcher here to inspect the world’s newest profession. Everything I saw told me I was a prospective parent taking a tour.
He was wearing military camouflage. It was partly to fight off the lull I was falling into that I commented on his clothes. He explained that the facility offered a variation on the Duke of Edinburgh scheme. It was not all it might be, but he participated in it because it was going to look good on his CV when he applied to go to pilot school.
I asked him what the circumstances were that had brought him here. Without a moment’s hesitation he said, ‘money’. After watching his elder brother cripple himself financially with the loans he had to take out to pay for his university education and his elder sister suffer academically by trying to combine full-time schooling with a 40-hour-a-week waitressing job, he had decided that it made far better sense to defer university for two years and work here while he was still in what he called his libidinal prime. ‘And it’s been all right,’ he said. ‘I have my weekends free, and all my living expenses seen to. I put 85 per cent of my earnings straight into the bank.’
I asked him about the physical challenge of his work. How did he manage to perform consistently to standard? ‘There are various mental tricks we are taught to play. All of them derive in some way from our reservoirs of natural aggression. But equally, the manifestations are either harmless or just what the client ordered.’ A greater problem was keeping up what he called ‘a good batting average’. ‘There are all sorts of things written into our programmes that allow for the fact that the best of us can manage only a certain number a day, even,’ he added with a laugh, ‘if we eat all our greens’. These measures include being assigned to clients in groups of three or more. There were also many different role-playing formats that had proved popular and that involved ‘more fantasy than action. Because, you see, most of the clients come for the taboo-breaking aspects more than for the actual physical outlet.’
What did he think of them – really? Dean shrugged his shoulders and we both gazed out of the window. It was, I now thought, a sorry sight. The women at the sidelines of the rugby match had become very rowdy indeed. Not only were they singing loud and tuneless rugby songs, they were brandishing whiskey bottles and throwing crisp packets and fire crackers onto the pitch. Is this what women became if afforded the luxury of turned tables? Dean, alas, seemed to accept the spectacle without question. ‘I think clients are just normal women,’ he said. ‘Their problem is simply that they want a kind of sex that their husbands are either not willing or not able to provide. And some, of course, want sex without the strings attached, by which they seem to mean sex without having to put up with the same old boring act their husbands expect. A lot of them complain about how draining it is to have to pretend that they are silly or passive or pleasant or accommodating. Or always under the missionary, if you follow my meaning. This gives them a chance to overturn traditions – sometimes quite literally.’
Had his work changed his attitude to women? ‘I have no trouble trusting the ones my age, but then you almost never find girls of my age coming to this type of facility. As for the next generation – well, let’s just say that if I happen to be at a friend’s house, and I seem to be making a hit with his or her mother, I don’t go out of my way to linger in the kitchen.’ He chuckled as he added that once or twice there had been a problem with a new friend’s mother turning out to be ‘someone I had already met under rather dramatically different circumstances’.
How had these women reacted? ‘Not very well.’
Did he mind? ‘I suppose I did in the beginning, but it is something we address routinely in our update training sessions and what have you. We have several names for the syndrome, all of which mirror the problem known as madonna/whore. One term is the toyboy/sugardaddy split. Another is rider/provider. It happens when a woman has a hard time accepting that a single person can play both parts, and it is a real problem. I have had friends whose girlfriends’ families actively blocked their marriage plans. But I don’t let it get to me. If someone can’t accept me for who I am, then it’s time to move on.’
‘It’s just a job, after all. I’m selling my body, not my soul. I take pride in my work – particularly my work as a health educator. I don’t think that most of my clients had the faintest idea before they came here of the possibilities of the normal condom.’ Here he stood up to bang on one of the white machines lining the wall that I had stupidly assumed were hand-driers, and treated me to a slightly alarming demonstration, the details of which I have decided are not necessarily relevant to this report. When, to my relief, he discarded his teaching aide and resumed his seat, he told me with considerable pride that he considered himself a footsoldier in the war against AIDS. ‘I also think this job has been useful in helping me to re-channel my sexual energy in the direction of those who most desperately need it. This also means when I go away at the weekend to see my own girlfriend, the last thing I want to do is... well, you can just imagine. I want to take it slow. You could even go so far as to call me the feminist’s best friend.’
But was he? As encouraged as I ought to have been to find him so happy and apparently unexploited, I had a pang of regret about his ability to rise so blithely above the classic problems faced by women through the ages who have had to sell their bodies. Two episodes I witnessed on my way back to the car park reinforced this impression. One was a chance encounter as Dean led me down the main stairs. Another senior boy was climbing them with a client – presumably taking her up to a room. The client seemed flushed and uncomfortable. She kept asking the boy if he was sure ‘this was all right’. The boy’s reassurances were nothing if not patronizing. As he passed us, he gave Dean a knowing wink.
‘Breaking in is hard to do,’ was Dean’s comment. ‘But sometimes preferable to the end result.’ This last comment was in reference to the scene that awaited us outside the front door. Five strapping boys were carrying one of the rowdy rugby supporters against her will in the direction of the car park. Laughing, Dean asked them what had happened. One responded with an obscene gesture, another shouted: ‘Professional foul’. As I watched them proceed merrily onwards, I had my last, my saddest, and indeed my only authentic moment of déjà vu. Nothing had changed. The rules of prostitution had been turned on their head, but still it was the women who were being had, and the men who were on top. Even here, women were still being directed and disciplined by a different set of insider games devised by men. What I was witnessing was the old-boy network in its new disguise.
A final disturbing nuance, which you may or may not wish me to include. As we were standing by my car, Dean showed me a photograph of his girlfriend. For reasons that are now beyond me, I found myself asking how serious they were. Not very, he said. Although it was beyond the scope of our enquiry, I asked him why. He said it was because she was too much a woman of the world. He went on to be distressingly adamant about his determination to marry a virgin.
Maureen Freely is a North American novelist and journalist now living in Bath, UK.
© Maureen Freely.