Mohie, a homosexual sex worker talks morality, family values and shows a little bit of the world he used to belong to.
The morals of this world are baffling; people could stand idly by and witness genocides and the displacement of entire populations, but a woman wearing a short skirt can spark a riot in outrage over her 'morality'. Laughable, still, is the fact that all the world with its morals is obsessed with sex, we see it everywhere, from TV commercials, to sci-fi films and music.
The first structures built by settlers of most cities in history were homes for shelter, pubs or taverns for laughs and fun, and brothels for sex. A profession as old as humanity, prostitution has been the subject of many films and novels in Egypt and the world throughout history, and the archetype of the 'whore' is one we have encountered much too often. In spite of an image that has been eternally judged by civilisation and its moralisation of sex, the power and sway of the 'whore' is legendary. Which brings us to Mohie, a 35-year-old denizen of Cairo’s underground, a former sex worker who spent 5 years of his life catering to the 'needs' of a certain segment of Cairo’s homosexual male population.
Born and raised in Cairo, and blessed with sharp good looks, Mohie is instantly witty and street smart; talents that have kept him out of prison amid a wave of morality arrests during Morsi’s rule and similar waves of arrests in 2014 and 2015. He has now ceased his operations because of a variety of reasons, but mainly because he started to fear for his safety and consequently the safety of his wife and three children.
“I have worked all my life, I was 14 when I started going on handyman jobs with my older brother, so this was no different, it was a job with hours, a right way to do things and a specific skill set. In the beginning, you are excited, so many people want your body, there is a certain power in that. But later, you start to resent the job and the reasons why you have to do it, and when it won’t validate you any longer, it gets much more difficult to take,” recounts Mohie.
Mohie identifies as a gay man, a fact he realised after his first child was born, and he catered to other gay men who had the money and desire to pay for his time. His longest and (by his admission) most profound relationship was with another sex worker, a relationship Mohie had to end as he feared for his safety. He was a sex worker and by dating another sex worker, the chances of his getting arrested were higher. He decided to end his relationship and lay low for a while, at least until the arrests blew over.
For the most part, Mohie met his clients online, they would reach an agreement and set a meeting with a time and place. Each time he went out, he feared he may not return home that night, that he would be arrested and have to call his family to bail him out and explain to them where he was and why; a scandal. But there was no other option and he vowed he would be smart and careful each time, so he could avoid landing himself in jail. He would wait a distance away to survey each john, to make sure it wasn’t the police waiting to bust him, as is their M.O. when it comes to arresting gay men.
When you’re broke, you sell your belongings for cash, until you figure things out, but when you’ve got nothing of value but your body, you sell that too.
Though he had been educated, the prospects, even for an educated man in Egypt are few and far between if his class does not afford him the luxury of being able to keep his family safe, send his children to good schools, and on some days even food for himself and his family is a luxury. Before Mohie’s decision to become a sex worker, he had been in dire need of more funds for years. The factory where he worked as a manager paid him next to nothing, and he would have to stay on site and work all the overtime opportunities he could just to make ends meet, especially when he had his second child. There was no way of getting promoted and no hope for change on the horizon. He decided to take out a loan, and thought he could invest the money and make small payments each month.
“Taking out that loan was the worst thing that ever happened to me. The little money I was getting from work had to include my loan payments as well. I would get 3 hours of sleep every night for about 3 years. My health started to deteriorate and I started to despair.”
After the revolution, Mohie lost his job and he was pressed to move out of an unsafe neighbourhood amid a city that was going up in flames after Mubarak’s ousting. He needed money, so eventually he resorted to sex work when a friend of his suggested it.
“When you get married they tell you that you have to be responsible, that your wants and needs don’t matter, because the well-being of your wife and kids is more important. Sure that sounds easy in the beginning, but when it comes down to it, any money you make is spent before you make it, because in your house, under your protection are 4 people who have needs that must be met, it was the role I took on.” explains Mohie.
Though you might find it surprising, Mohie is not a naturally sexual person and explains that the secret to being good at sex is not caring about it too much, that without the hazy vision you can really analyse what satisfies your clients. It seems that his ability to sacrifice his needs for his family is just what made him a good sex worker. He explains that despite his distaste for the job and the fact that he identifies as a moral person, he found a great deal of security among the ranks of other sex workers and indeed a lot of Egypt’s homosexual population, of whose company he had been deprived of because of the discrete nature of his lifestyle. He was a gay man with no outlet for his sexuality, so being closer to other homosexuals, even if it was in a context he didn’t like helped keep him sane. He expresses that he would have liked to meet other homosexuals through “normal” means where the encounter started with a conversation over coffee or something like that, and not over the internet as you both quiver in fear.
I always thought why am I not talking to girls like my friends?'My answer was always that I am polite and well-raised and that it was improper.
“I regret not knowing that I was gay earlier on in my life. Maybe things would be different now. I would have not gotten married maybe. They don’t teach you that being gay is a thing, they explain that this is what men do. I am a man, I never questioned my gender or any of that. Although I was never interested in women, not really. Even when I did engage with girls, even my wife, it was always because they wanted me and that felt good," he explains. "I wanted to see myself in that way, the caregiver, the protector. I always thought, 'why am I not talking to girls like my friends?' My answer was always that I am polite and well-raised and that it was improper. I came to realise that my friends were polite and well-raised as well, and were taught that flirting with girls is improper, but they did it anyway. Why? Because they wanted to, I didn’t.”
There are many cases like Mohie, of men who discover later in their lives that they are gay, often they abandon their families to pursue a new lifestyle. Mohie couldn’t, he explains that it was his love for his children that made him stay and deny his sexuality, and indeed that same love is what made him become a sex worker, and risk his life night after night.
Mohie’s view on morality is much more sound than many people out there, many of whom come from good families, and educated backgrounds. He explains that in all his years as a sex worker, he never met any bad people who were sex workers, they were a little rough around the edges because they had to be, but once you get to know them, they were just people who were persecuted by society and could find no other way to make money or find work, like trans women who couldn’t afford their hormones and had to hide away from society’s eye to live the way they wanted.
“They were always scared and defensive. They would find a group of friends and feel safe, like, the people in their group would take on anyone, even the state, for them, and, even though they knew full well that if they were to get caught, they would go through hell. The feeling they had together is what many of them imagined families felt like, seeing as their families had cut most of them off and severed ties with them. If this is what bad looks like, then we should all be thankful,” he remarks.
Mohie explains that when you’re a sex worker, you deal with the most honest version of people, the clients have requests they can’t ask of anyone else, things they have to conceal, they don’t conceal it with a sex worker. "People are at their most vulnerable in that state, and you see that all they want is 'something' and their lives would be better, if only they could have it, even if it is something that everyone tells them is bad. Their health is not harmed, they are not hurting anyone, they just want to feel good in the way that they want to feel good. If people felt good more often, a lot of things would sort themselves out," he says.
After years of feeling worse and worse about being a sex worker, Mohie found a job that paid him adequately and he finally started to have more money to cover his expenses. He didn’t stop sex work right away, however, because he was still paying off his loan. Come 2014, Mohie’s friends and acquaintances started to drop like flies amid the morality arrests that broke out all over Egypt. Suddenly being careful wouldn’t cut it anymore and Mohie started to worry. At that point, he had paid off his loan and a huge weight was lifted, so now there wasn’t so much of a need to do sex work. He warned his lover at the time, but he wouldn’t take his warnings seriously, which left Mohie with one choice, and that is to break it off and get off the radar for a while. Although it was a significant part of his life, one he will likely never forget, Mohie is happy to leave it behind him, but he is proud of his ability to take care of his family and to do the dirty work when it was necessary, and if nothing else, that is an accomplishment.
“It was not a good job and it was not something I would’ve chosen for myself. But it was the only way I could survive, the only way my children could survive, and if people spent as much money and effort into helping those in need as they do in trying to put us in jail, maybe I wouldn’t have had to do this.”