Prague, city #27 and of the 26 sex workers I had interviewed 26 were female. Of course it is a profession dominated by women, but there are men in the business too, so I wanted to find one, to try to balance things out a bit.
And Prague was the right city for this attempt, because the sector is quite big and well organised: online you can find many sex workers, arranged according to size, age, and even gender. Still, there were not many men, but there was a small section of shemales, men who have undergone surgery to get breasts. Melissa was one of them, and his agent told me he was based not far from where I was staying. It would be the strangest interview in this Youropeans-series.
He opened the door of his 5th floor apartment dressed in a blue bikini and high heels, a slender boy, Brazilian I assumed, as most shemales are either Thai or Brazilian. And yes, it was clearly visible that Melissa was a man…
‘I’m not here for sex,’ I tell him.
‘But then why are you here?’ Melissa has not been informed that I am not a paying client but a journalist, and at first he isn’t amused. I sit down on a couch in the apartment’s bedroom while he calls his agent, discusses the matter with him, in Italian, and finally agrees to be interviewed. Probably because it is only 3 in the afternoon, not exactly rush hour, and possibly because he likes the project, but most probably because he is rather bored, I assume, and quite lonely: it is not much fun for a 23-year old Brazilian, based in Rome, to be stationed in Prague for a couple of weeks – as I would learn later.
‘When did you come to the Czech Republic?’
‘Ten days ago.’ He is sitting next to me. ‘Monday I go back to Italy.’
‘Do you like being in Europe?’
‘I like it so much. And I like this city too, it is beautiful. I like the boys here too.’
He tells me he is from a city near Sao Paulo, and no, he had not worked there as a shemale. ‘The surgery was done one year ago, in Italy. Do you like them?’ He doesn’t wait for my answer, but takes off his top, then grabs my hand, placing it on his breast.
‘They feel nice,’ I tell him, thank you,’ desperately trying to keep the interview professional. ‘Is it true that there are more shemales in Mediterranean countries?’
‘When did you start doing this work?’
‘Three years ago.’
‘Is it a nice job, do you meet interesting people also?’
Melissa doesn’t understand: his English isn’t that good, and he asks me to ask him again, this time talking into some translation app on his phone. He reads the translation and answers: ‘No.’ Then he speaks into the app, and I read his reply: I don’t know these people, they’re clients. I see them for only one hour and then they’ll leave.
‘Do you have a boyfriend, or a girlfriend?’
‘I had a boyfriend in Italy, for one year and nine months and six days. I have been single now for a month.’
‘Are you sad?’
‘Yes, a bit…’
‘I guess it is difficult to have a boyfriend when you have this job?’
‘Yes, it is difficult,’ he says, while moving over to sit on my lap.
‘Now you’re making me nervous, Melissa,’ I say, but he is not impressed and looks at me seductively.
‘Your clients, are they mainly gay or straight?’ I continue.
‘No, not gay, because I’m not a man.’
I had heard this before from a male gigolo on Ibiza: these men want to receive anal sex, but when they look around they want to see breasts, not a hairy chest. Because they’re not gay. Pleasure is a strange thing…, Melissa’s app says.
‘What about your family, how do you keep in touch with them?’
‘Through Skype, mostly.’
‘Do they know what you are doing? Do they know you are a shemale now?’
‘Yes, they do. They understand it.’
‘Can you compare Brazil to Europe?’
‘Here I am respected, in Brazil they don’t. There they shouted at me, threw eggs at me.’
‘Even before your operation?’
‘Yes,’ he says, moving over to sit next to me again.
‘What were you doing before?’
‘I was a hairdresser.’
Which job do you prefer?
‘It is hard to compare… In Brazil I had to work 12 hours a day, 6 hours a week, for 100 euros. Now I make that in an hour.’
Is it easy for you to travel?
‘It’s easy. I went to Belgium, France, Germany.’
‘To Holland too?’
‘Yes, but not too Amsterdam, but a village nearby. My client there has a big house.’
‘Your job is never dangerous?’
‘Only one time. Normally they are nice.’
I get up. ‘Thank you, Melissa, it was nice talking to you. You’re a nice man.’
‘I am a girl,’ he protests.