Davidson and Taylor - Sex Tourism

Davidson and Taylor - Sex Tourism - ARTICLE 41 Fantasy...

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Unformatted text preview: ARTICLE 41 Fantasy Islands: Julia O’Connell Davidsor Jacqueline Sanchez TayIOI Exploring the Demand for Sex Tourism In a useful review of prostitution Crosswculturally and historically, Laurie Shrage observes that “one thing that stands out but stands unexplained is that a large percentage of sex customers seek (or sought) sex workers whose racial, national, or class identities are (or were) different from their own” (Shrage 1994: 142). She goes on to suggest that the demand for African, Asian, and Latin American prostitutes by white Western men may "be explained in part by culturally produced racial fantasies regarding the sexuality of these women” and that these fantasies may be related to “socially formed perceptions regarding the sexual and moral purity of white women" (ibid: 48-50). Kempadoo also draws attention to the "over— representation of women of different nationali- ties and ethnicities, and the hierarchies of race and color within the [international sex] trade" and observes, "That sex industries today depend upon the eroticization of the ethnic and cultural Others suggest we are witnessing a contemporary form of exoticiSm which sustains postcolonial and post-cold war relations of power and dominance" (Kempadoo 1995: 75—76). This chapter represents an attempt to build on such insights. Drawing on our research with both male and female Western heterosexual sex tourists in the Caribbean.‘ it argues that their sex- ual taste for “Others" reflects not so much a wish From Sun, Sex and Gold: Tourlsm and Sex Work in the Caribbean K. Kempadoo, ed. Lanham. MD: Rowan and Littlefield, 1999. © Rowan & Littlefield, reprinted by permission. 454 to engage in any specific sexual practice as a de sire for an extraordinarily high degree of control over the management of self and others as sexual, racialized, and engendered beings. This desire, and the Western sex tourist‘s power to satiate it, can only be explained through reference to power relations and popular discourses that are simulta- neously gendered, racialized, and economic. White Western Men's Sex Tourism Empirical research on sex tourism to Southeast Asia has fairly consistently produced a portrait of Western male heterosexual sex tourists as men whose desire for the Other is the flip side of dis- satisfaction with white Western women, includ- ing white Western prostitute women. Lee, for example, explores the demand for sex tourism as a quest for racially fantasized male power, argu- ing that this is at least in part a backlash against the women’s movement in the West: “With an increasingly active global feminist movement, male-controlled sexuality (or female passivity) appears to be an increasingly scarce resource. The travel advertisements are quite explicit about what is for sale: docility and submission" (Lee 1991: 90; see also Jeffreys 1997). Western sex tourists’ fan- tasies of “docile” and “willing" Asian women are accompanied, as Kruhse-Mount Burton (1995: I96) notes, by “a dcsexualization of white women . . . who are deemed to be spoiled, grasping and, above all, unwilling or inferior sexual partners.” These characteristics are also attributed to white prostitute women. The sex tourists interviewed A R T I C L E 4 1 Fantasy Islands: Exploring the Demand for Sex Toms". by Seabrook (1997: 3) compared Thai prostitutes “very favorably with the more mechanistic and functional behavior of most Western sex work- ers.” Kruhse-Mount Burton states that where many impose their own boundaries on the degree of physical intimacy implied by the prostitution contract (for example refusing to kiss clients on the mouth or to engage in unprotected penetrative and/ or oral sex) and are also in a position to turn down clients’ requests to spend the night or a few days with them is likewise experienced as a threat to, or denial of, traditional male identity. Though we recognize that sex tourism pro— vides Western men with opportunities “to reaf- firm, if only temporarily, the idealized version of masculine identity and mode of being, ” and that in this sense sex tourism provides men with op— portunities to manage and control both them- selves and others as engendered beings, we want to argue that there is more to the demand for sex tourism than this (ibid: 202). In the remainder of this chapter we therefore interrogate sex tourists’ attitudes toward prostitute use, sexuality, gender, and “race" more closely, and further complicate matters by considering white Western women’s and black Western men and women's sex tourism to the Caribbean. Western Sexuality and Prostitute Use Hartsock observes that there is “a surprising de- gree of consensus that hostility and domination, as opposed to intimacy and physical pleasure” are central to the social and historical construction of sexuality in the West (Hartsock 1985: 157). Writ- ers in the psychoanalytic tradition suggest that the kind of hostility that is threaded through Western sexual expression reflects an infantile rage and wish for revenge against the separateness of those upOn whom we depend. It is, as Stoller puts it, ”a state in which one wishes to harm an object,” and the harm wished upon objects of sexual desire ex- presses a craving to strip them of their autonomy. control, and separateness——that is, to dehumanize them, since a dehumanized sexual object does not 455 have the power to reject, humiliate, or control (Stoller 1986: 4). The “love object” can be divested of auton— omy and objectified in any number of ways, but clearly the prostitute woman, who is in most cul— tures imagined and socially constructed as an “un- natural" sexual and social Other (a status which is often enshrined in law), provides a conveniently ready dehumanized sexual object for the client. The commercial nature of the prostitute—client exchange further promises to strip all mutuality and dependency from sexual relations. Because all obligations are discharged through the simple act of payment, there can be no real intimacy and so no terrifying specter of rejection or engulfment by another human being. In theory, then, prostitute use offers a very neat vehicle for the expression of sexual hostility and the attainment of control over self and others as sexual beings. Yet for many prostitute users, there is a fly in the ointment: Prostitute women may be socially constructed as Others and fimtasz‘zed as nothing more than objectified sexuality, but in reality, of course, they are human beings. It is only if the prostitute is imagined as stripped of everything bar her sex- uality that she can be completely controlled by the client's money/powers. But if she were dehu- manized to this extent, she would cease to exist as a person. . . . Most clients appear to pursue a contradiction, namely to control as an object that which cannot be objectified. (O'Connell Davidson 1998: 161) This contradiction is at the root of the complaints clients sometimes voice about Western prostitutes (Graaf et a1. 1992: Plumridge and Chetwynd 1997). It is not always enough to buy access to touch and sexually use objectified body parts. Many clients want the prostitute to be a “lover" who makes no claims, a “whore" who has sex for pleasure not money, in short, a person (subject) who can be treated as an object. This reflects, perhaps, deeper inconsistencies in the discourses which surround prostitution and sexuality. The prostitute woman is viewed as acting in a way wholly inconsistent with her gender identity. Her perceived sexual agency degenders her (a woman 456 P A R T s E v E N MaIe Sexuauues who takes an impersonal, active, and instrumental approach to sex is not a “real” woman) and dis— honors her (she trades in something which is con- stitutive of her personhood and cannot honorably be sold). The prostitute—using man, by contrast, behaves “in a fashion consistent with the attri- butes associated with his gender (he is active and sexually predatory, impersonal, and instrumen— tal), and his sexual transgression is thus a minor infraction, since it does not compromise his gen der identity" (O’Connell Davidson 1998: 127). A paradox thus emerges: The more that men’s prostitute use is justified and socially sanctioned through reference to the fiction of biologically determined gender roles and sexuality, the greater the contradic- tion implicit in prostitution. In order to satisfy their “natur " urges, men must make use of “unnatural“ women. (ibid: 128) All of this helps to explain the fact that, even though their sexual interests may be powerfully shaped by a cultural emphasis on hostility and domination, prostitute use holds absolutely no appeal for many Western men.2 Fantasies of unbridled sexual access to willingly objectified women are not necessarily fantasies of access to prostitute women. Meanwhile, those who do use prostitutes in the West imagine and manage their own prostitute use in a variety of different ways (see O‘Connell Davrdson 1998). At one extreme are men who are actually quite satisfied with brief and anonymous sexual use of women and teenagers who they imagine as utterly debased and objectified “dirty whores." (For them, the idea of using a prostitute is erotic in and of itself.) At the other extreme are those who regularly visit the same prostitute woman and construct a fiction of romance or friendship around their use of her, a fiction which helps them to imagine themselves as seen, chosen, and desired, even as they pay for sex as a commodity. Between these two poles are men who indulge in a range of (often very inven— tive) practices and fantasies designed to create the illusion of balance between sexual hostility and sexual mutuality that they personally find sexually exciting. How does this relate to the demand for sex tourism? Let us begin by noting that not all Western male sex tourists subjectively perceive their own sexual practices abroad as a form of prostitute use. This reflects the fact that even within any one country affected by sex tourism, prostitution is not a homogeneous phenomenon in terms of its social organization. In some countries sex tourism has involved the maintenance and development of existing large-scale, highly commoditized sex industries serving foreign military personnel (Truong 1990; Sturdevant and Stoltzfus 1992; Hall 1994). But it has also emerged in locations where no such sex industry existed, for instance, in Gambia, Cuba, and Brazil (Morris-Jana 1996; Perio and Thierry 1996; Sanchez Taylor 1997). Moreover, even in countries like Thailand and the Philippines, where tourist-related prosti- tution has been grafted onto an existing, formally organized brothel sector serving military demand, tourist development has also been asso- ciated with the emergence of an informal prosti- tution sector (in which prostitutes solicit in hotels, discos, bars, beaches, parks, or streets, often enter- ing into fairly protracted and diffuse transactions with clients). This in itself gives prostitution in sex tourist resorts a rather different character to that of pros- titution in red-light districts in affluent, Western countries. The sense of difference is enhanced by the fact that, in many places, informally arranged prostitution spills over into apparently noncom- mercial encounters within which tourists who do not self-identify as prostitute users can draw local/ migrant persons who do not self-identify as prostitutes into profoundly unequal and ex ploitative sexual relationships. It also means that sex tourism presents a diverse array of opportu— nities for sexual gratification, not all of which in- volve straightforward cash for sex exchanges in brothels or go~go clubs or on the streets, and so provides the sex tourist with a veritable “pic 'n’ mix" of ways in which to manage himself as'a sexual and engendered being. He can indulge in overt forms of sexual hostility (such as selecting A R T I c l. E 4 1 Fantasy Islands: Exploring the Demand for Sex Tourism a numbered brothel prostitute from those on dis- play in a bar or brothel for “short time" or buying a cheap, speedy sexual service from one of many street prostitutes), or he can indulge in fantasies of mutuality, picking up a woman/ teenager in an or dinary tourist disco, wining and dining and gener~ ally simulating romance with her for a day or two and completely denying the conunercial basis of the sexual interaction. Or, and many sex tourists do exactly this, he can combine both approaches. Now it could be argued that, given the fact that Western men are socialized into a view of male sexuality as a powerful, biologically based need for sexual “outlets," the existence of multi- ple, cheap, and varied sexual opportunities is, in it- self, enough to attract large numbers of men to a given holiday resort. However, it is important to recognize the numerous other forms of highly sex‘ ualized tourism that could satisfy a wish to indulge in various sexual fantasies and also a desire for control over the self as a sexual and engendered being. Sex tourists could, for example, choose to take part in organized holidays designed to facili- tate sexual and romantic encounters between tourists (such as Club 18—30 and other singles hol- idays), or they could choose to take all-inclusive holidays to resorts such as Hedonism or destina- tions renowned for promiscuous tourist—tourist sex, such as Ibiza or Cap d’Azur. These latter offer just as many opportunities for anonymous and im— personal sex in a party atmosphere as well as for intense but ultimately brief and noncommitted sexual romances. What they do not offer is the control that comes from paying for sex or the op- portunity to indulge in racialized sexual fantasies, which helps to explain why sex tourists reject them in favor of sexual experience in what they term “Third World" countries. This brings us to ques- tions about the relationship between the construc- tion of “Otherness” and sex tourism. “Otherness" and Western Men's Sex Tourism For obvious reasons, sex tourists spend their time in resorts and barrios where tourist-related pros- 457 titution is widespread. Thus they constantly en- counter what appear to them as hedonistic scenes-—local “girls" and young men dancing “sensuously,” draping themselves over and being fondled by Western tourists, drinking and joking with each other, and so on. Instead of seeing the relationship between these scenes and their own presence in the resort, sex tourists tend to inter- pret all this as empirical vindication of Western assumptions of “non-Westem peoples living in idyllic pleasure, splendid innocence or Paradise- like conditions#as purely sensual, natural, sim- ple and uncorrupted beings” (Kempadoo 1995: 76). Western sex tourists (and this is true of black as well as white informants) say that sex is more “natura " in Third World countries, that prostitu- tion is not really prostitution but a “way of life," that “They" are “at it” all of the time. This explains how men who are not and would not dream of becoming prostitute users back home can happily practice sex tourism (the “girls” are not really like prostitutes and so they themselves are not really like clients, the prostitu- tion contract is not like the Western prestitution contract and so does not really count as prostitu- tion). It also explains the paranoid obsession with being cheated exhibited by some sex tourists, who comment on their belief that women in certain sex tourist resorts or particular brothels or bars are “getting too commercial" and advise each other how to avoid being “duped” and “exploited" by a “real professional,” where to find “brand new girls," and so on (see O’Connell Davidson 1995; Bishop and Robinson 1998). It also points to the complex interrelations between discourses of gender, “race," and sexual- ity. To begin with, the supposed naturalness of prostitution in the Third World actually reassures the Western male sex tourist of his racial or cul- tural Superiority. Thus we find that sex tourists continue a traditional Western discourse of travel which rests on the imagined opposition beMeen the “civilized” West and the “barbarous" Other (Grewal 1996: 136; Kempadoo 199.6: 76; see, also Brace and O'Connell Davidson 1996). In “civilized” countries only “bad” women become , 458 P A n r s E v E N Male Sexualitles prostitutes (they refuse the constraints civilizav tion places upon “good” women in favor of earri- ing “easy money"), but in the Third World (a corrupt and lawless place where people exist in a state of nature), “nice girls” may be driven to pros- titution in order to survive ("they have to do it be- cause they‘ve all got kids” or “they're doing it for their families”). In the West, "nice girls” are pro- tected and supported by their menfolk, but in the Third World, "uncivilized" Other men allow (or even demand that) their womenfolk enter prosti- tution. In interviews, Western male sex tourists contrast their own generosity, humanity, and chivalry against the “failings” of local men, who are imagined as feckless, faithless, wife-heaters, and pimps. Even as prostitute users, Other men are fantasized as inferior moral beings who cheat and mistreat the “girls." In this we see that sex tourism is not only about sustaining a male identity. For white men it is also about sustaining a white identity. Thus, sex tOurisrn can also be understood as a collective be- havior oriented toward the restoration of a gener- alized belief about what it is to be white: to be truly white is to be served, revered, and envied by Oth- ers. For the black American male sex tourists we have interviewed, sex tomism appears to affirm a sense of Western-ness and so of inclusion in a privileged world. Take, for example, the following three statements from a 45-year~old black Ameri- can sex tourist. He is a New York bus driver and ex—vice cop, a paid-up member of an American- owned sex tourist club, Travel & the Single Male, and he has used prostitutes in .Thailand, Brazil, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic: ‘There's two sides to the countries that I go to. There's the tourist side and then there's the real people, and I make a habit of going to the real people, I see how the real people live, and when I see something like that . . . I tend to look at the little bit I've got at home and I appreciate it. . . . I’ve always been proud to be an American. . . . I always tip in US dollars when I arrive. I always keep dollars and pesos, because people tend to think differently about pesos and dollars. . . . They always say at hotels they don’t want you to bring the girls in; believe me, that’s crap, be cause you know what I do? Reach in my p0cket and I go anywhere I want. Meanwhile, sexualized racisms help the sex tourist to attain a sense of control over himself and Others as engendered and racialized sexual be- ings. Here it is important to recognize the subtle (or not so subtle) variations of racism employed by white Western men. The sex tourists we have interviewed in the Caribbean are not a homoge- neous group in terms of their “race” politics, and this reflects differences of national identity, age, socioeconomic background, and racialized iden- tity. One clearly identifiable subgroup is com- prised of white North American men aged forty and above, who, though perhaps not actually af- filiated with the Klan, espouse a white suprema~ cist worldview and consider black people their biological, social, and cultural inferiors. They use the word “nigger" and consider any challenge to their “right" to use this term as “political correct- ness." As one sex tourist complained, in the States. “You can’t use the N word, nigger. Always when I was raised up, the only thing was the F word, you can‘t use the F word. Now you can’t say cunt, you can’t say n...
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