Apr 21 2011 9:00am

Just a Gigolo...Romance Hero?

The Shadow and the Star by Laura KinsaleDespite the plethora of courtesan romances out there, male prostitutes in romance are rare, especially in contemporary settings. There are many likely reasons for this: Readers who prefer the “Alpha” hero might dislike the idea of a man who has sex with women (or men) whom he does not choose. Other readers might be uncomfortable with other possible implications of prostitution, such as sexual abuse or disease.

In historicals, the male prostitute tends not to have chosen his profession. He might have been forced into prostitution as a child or young man. Examples include Laura Kinsale’s The Shadow and the Star, Kate Pearce’s Simply Sexual and Simply Sinful, and Judith James’s Broken Wing. Or he might, like the hero of Evangeline CollinsHer Ladyship's Companion, have been raised in a brothel and come to prostitution via that route. In Gaelen Foley’s One Night of Sin, the hero unhappily becomes a woman’s kept man because of his gambling debts; this situation is a little more common in historical romances among rakish heroes with little cash.

The Spiral Path by Mary Jo PutneyMary Jo Putney's The Spiral Path is an example of a contemporary in which the hero was forced into child prostitution, and keeping that secret becomes a major factor in the plot; however, since it’s a secret for most of the novel, it’s addressed indirectly.

The most commonly mentioned contemporaries featuring prostitute heroes are The Fifth Favor by Shelby Reed and Fallen from Grace by Laura Leone; I also took a look at a newer book, Finding Home by Lauren Baker and Bonnie Dee. Perhaps because of their unusual heroes, all three of these novels are from smaller presses (Ellora’s Cave, Five Star, and Samhain, respectively). The newest, Finding Home, pushes the most boundaries (in my opinion, at least).

In The Fifth Favor, the hero Adrian meets the heroine, Billie, when she interviews him for an article she’s writing. Billie is relatively innocent, sexually, at least in comparison to Adrian. Adrian has chosen his profession as a male escort for the money and the glamor, but is becoming disillusioned with how his job is preventing him from forming personal relationships. Constantly having to restrain his emotions is affecting his self-esteem. It’s one of the few male prostitute novels in which the hero isn’t a victim of any sort, nor does he harbor hidden secrets or deep angst.

Ryan of Fallen from Grace chose his profession only because the woman who rescued his teenaged self from the streets runs an escort service. He’s under pressure, sometimes violent, from his boss whenever he tries to quit the life, and that aspect of the plot is the main barrier to his romance with Sara, a mystery writer. At first Ryan hides his true profession, telling her he’s a model. The relationship is also complicated by Sara feeling she’s too old for him (nine years older). The age reversal as well as the power differential lends an interesting dynamic to the plot.

Finding Home by Lauren Baker and Bonnie DeeFinding Home, by Lauren Baker and Bonnie Dee, features a young man turning tricks (with male clients, unlike my two previous examples) to survive. As in The Fifth Favor, the heroine, Megan, is a journalist, aspiring to do a piece that will earn her a promotion, but overall the plot is more similar to Fallen From Grace. Megan rescues the hero, called “Mouth,” from the streets. Finding Home addresses an assortment of issues; for instance, the heroine feels responsible for the hero both because of the rescue and because she is older than he is (though not as much older as Sara in Fallen from Grace). She’s uneasy when their relationship begins to change. It’s a darker book than the others I’ve described.

Judging from these three books, I predict that male prostitute heroes will become more common in romance, and especially erotic romance, and will explore deeper and darker themes as more of a canon develops and the novels can be in dialogue with one another. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing how authors play with this type of hero.


Victoria Janssen is the author of three erotic novels and numerous short stories. Her latest novel is The Duke and The Pirate Queen from Harlequin Spice. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more

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Myretta Robens
1. Myretta
In her In Death series, J.D. Robb gives us Charles Monroe, who is not the hero, but is a very visible secondary character with his own story arc. Charles is a Licensed Companion, the legal prostitute of the 2050s. The way Robb handles the LC job, it becomes less fraught than the illegal prostitution of historical and contemporary novels, but it's still problematic for a relationship.
Victoria Janssen
2. VictoriaJanssen
Charles is a great example because the LCs have some of the same issues as in the contemporary world, with the addition that they're legal, so the issues are all social. I did think of including him, but decided he didn't quite fit the category since he's a secondary character. Even though he is a great character, and he's one of my favorites of that series.
Megan Frampton
3. MFrampton
Victoria, these contemps sound worth hunting down--I'd be interested to see how such a non-traditional hero is portrayed. I remember hearing a lot about Laura Leone a few years back, and it reminds me I never got to read it. I did like Shadow and the Star, and I've been meaning to read Kate Pearce, too.
Kate Pearce
5. Kate Pearce
Great blog, Victoria! Another great author of male prostitute stories is Robin Schone, (The Lover and Gabriel's Woman) whose heroes are even more dark and angsty than mine. I was lucky enough to read an early copy of the Evangeline Collins book ,and I loved it.
The reason I chose to write about two Regency heroes who ended up in a Turkish brothel was because of a discussion on a Regency loop about the White Slave Trade and the big female fear of being abducted while on board ship. I thought it would be interesting to turn that around and have it be two males who were captured and write about what would happen to them when they were found and returned to Regency society as adults.
I haven't tried any contemporaries so these look like a great place to start. :)
Kate Pearce
6. Ros
There's My Gigolo, reviewed here by Dear Author. I read it on the strength of that review and was surprised how much I liked it. It's a contemporary romance and I think it does a good job of both making his job as a prostitute integral to the plot and the conflict without letting it dominate the whole book.
Kate Pearce
7. Magdalen
Victoria -- I wonder if physiology has something to do with it. Women can "fake" sexual arousal and climax, whereas men have to feel some actual arousal to perform (pre-Viagra and the other "if you have an erection for more than four hours called your physician" drugs...).

So, if the hero is sleeping with women, we as readers want to know how he's able to get it up for total strangers and does that fact diminish his capacity to feel sexual desire coupled with emotional desire for the heroine. And if he's sleeping with men, is he bisexual -- or was he not aroused, in which case did his johns not care about that?

I suppose Viagra could finesse some of that but then there's the whole objectification of the sex worker problem. (I've been trying to defend the fairy tale that is Pretty Woman over at The Uncrushable Jersey Dress.)
Carrie Strickler
8. DyslexicSquirrel
In Shannon McKenna's Ultimae Weapon both the hero (Val) and heroine (Tamara) were forced into prostitution when they were younger. The fact that they worked out their myriad problems (you know, like, trying to kill each other) made the story that much better. Wha they did when they were younger, by force or to survive, made no difference to me.
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