We usually attribute prostitution to women alone. But there are quite a lot of male prostitutes as well - those that have existed before and those that are still existing now. Most of them of which have actually made history - they’ve inspired poets and artists, led rebellions, brought down powerful political figures, and become infamous serial killers.
Here are some of the most famous prostitutes—from ancient times to today.
Phaedo Of Elis
Phaedo, a handsome young man from an aristocratic family, was captured in the war between Elis and the allies, Athens and Sparta. He was enslaved in Athens and made to serve as a prostitute.
Phaedo was serving clients at an event where the philosopher Socrates was present and pleaded for his freedom. Socrates’s friends bought Phaedo’s freedom, and he became a philosopher himself.
Plato’s dialogue Phaedo is named for Phaedo, and he was present at Socrates’s death. After Socrates’s death, Phaedo went back to Elis and formed his own school of philosophy.
During the regency of Qin Shi Huang, ruler of the Qin state and later the first emperor of China, Lao Ai was recruited to become the queen dowager’s boy toy. He was smuggled into the court as a eunuch, although he was no such thing. In fact, it was the size of his equipment that caught the queen’s eye.
Lao took advantage of his hold over the queen and publicly boasted of his power. Lao and the regent Lu Buwei conspired unsuccessfully against the future emperor with the queen’s tacit approval. After their coup attempt failed, Lao was killed, Lu committed suicide, and the queen was placed under house arrest.
Febo di Poggio
Febo di Poggio was one of Michelangelo’s many male models and lovers. According to Michelangelo’s poetry and contemporary rumor, di Poggio was fickle and mercenary and demanded so many gifts that Michelangelo called him “little blackmailer.”
Michelangelo was so enamored that he wrote two poems to di Poggio, G. 99 and G. 100. In keeping with Renaissance poetic tradition, Michelangelo included several plays on words in these poems, referencing di Poggio’s last name (which means “of the hill”) and his first name (equivalent to “Phoebus,” another name for the god Apollo) in these poems.
However, the relationship ended after a relatively short time and Michelangelo moved on to new loves.
Jean Genet was one of the best-known dramatists and thinkers behind French Modernism, inspiring Jean-Paul Sartre and Jacques Derrida, among others. The son of a prostitute, Genet wrote about his experiences servicing sailors in his autobiographical novel, Our Lady of the Flowers.
This book’s frank depiction of life among prostitutes and the criminal classes became an instant scandal and is now considered a classic piece in the literature of gay liberation. Genet followed the book with the plays The Balcony, The Blacks, The Maids, and The Screens. He also wrote the novels Querelle of Brest, Funeral Rites, and The Thief’s Journal, and a short film, A Love Song.
Genet became a political activist as well as a playwright and even inspired a David Bowie song, “The Jean Genie.”
Denham Fouts led a colorful life. He counted the wealthy, artists, and royalty among his clients as well as many of the period’s most famous authors and Bright Young Things among his friends.
In the 1920s, after Fouts robbed a Greek millionaire client and was sentenced to jail, the Welsh poet Evan Morgan (the 2nd Viscount Tredegar) bailed him out and supported him. Fouts left Tredegar for Prince Paul of Greece, but Paul ended the relationship when he became king.
Fouts then took up with Peter Watson, an industrialist and publisher of the literary magazine Horizon. Christopher Isherwood said Fouts was “the most expensive male prostitute in the world.” He fell in love with a picture of Truman Capote and sent Capote a blank check and his address in Paris. Fouts died young of heart failure in Paris.
Shai Shahar, a former soldier in both the United States and Israel, was the first man to go on display in the famous windows in Amsterdam’s red-light district. He claimed that his clientele, there and elsewhere, included royalty, politicians, and movie stars.
Shahar also claimed to have had sex with 500 different women and 40 couples. After retiring from prostitution, he became a singer and promoter for burlesque productions as well as an advocate for legal prostitution and sex worker rights.
Mike Jones, who prefers to be called an escort rather than a prostitute, became famous for outing his client, Reverend Ted Haggard. Haggard was one of the best-known evangelical leaders in the United States and was a regular adviser to President George W. Bush.
Haggard, a married man, was an active proponent for the Defense of Marriage Act, which banned same-sex marriage. This advocacy made Jones decide to out Haggard, despite knowing that it would almost certainly cost him his career. “This [hypocrisy] is so strong for me, and it hurt me so deeply, that I simply reached the point where I had to say something.”