Male sex workers in India

By Isabell Zipfel for Bharosa Trust

They have the same customers. Their life histories and experiences are similar. They have the same problems and worries. The stories they have to tell are similar: stories of missed opportunities, of poverty, hopelessness and exploitation. But one thing is different: female sex workers in India are visible, male not. But they are there. It’s just that their reality – if not even their existence – is denied.

Most are Kothis – men who feel themselves to be women and to be attracted to men – or gays and bisexuals, who pursue sex work in India. Mostly they are driven by lack of money. Many have no job at all, or an underpaid one.

I conducted the photo reportage and the interviews at BHAROSA TRUST. The staff helped me to make local contacts. In India the sexes are strictly separated. Sexual contact outside the traditional marriage is forbidden. Men don’t necessarily go to a male sex worker because they are homosexual, but because access to male sex workers is easier than to female. It’s less a matter of preference than of availability. In addition, female sex workers are more conspicuously clothed and made up than other Indian women, whereby they are easy to identify for everybody. The risk of being picked up by the police as a customer of a female sex worker is high.

Men who pursue sex work in India are doubly criminalised. On the one hand, same sex practices are prohibited by article 377 of the Indian penal code. On the other hand, sex work is illegal. Male sex workers operate thus outside the law, which leaves them unprotected and defenseless. They are often victims of violence, unfair treatment and rape.


Photographer: Isabell Zipfel / professional

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Award Year: 2009

Non Profit: Bharosa Trust

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