Sex Talk: Tough Straights

That hard-as-nails, ostensibly straight, definitely disreputable thug with a heart of tin? He’s commonly known as “rough trade.” Want him? Well, plenty of gay guys do. Says one, “I know it’s stupid, but I get horny for men who’d be more likely to rob me than kiss me.”
At his most archetypal, Mr. Rough Trade is a macho, lower-class hustler who’s willing to screw you and happy to be sucked, as long as the price is right. Dangerous dude? You bet. Many men have been roughed up or even killed by rough-trade tricks. But that peril can be part of the scene’s appeal. Explains one observer of gay culture, “Servicing tough hets can be edgy and exciting, the proverbial walk on the wild side. For a submissive bottom, giving one’s butt to rough trade—especially if he’s paying for the privilege—represents hard-core self-abasement. And, less appealingly, going after tough-guy straights can reflect internalized homophobia, the idea that gays aren’t ‘real men’ or that we queer men should suffer for our desires.”
It might well be that the lure of rough trade is no longer as widespread as it once was. Continues our observer, “Before gay liberation hit, plenty of men, often closeted and without much self-respect, went out cruising…both for sex and for a possible bruising. I really think that fewer queer guys are into that now.

These days, if it’s “masculine” you’re after, there are plenty of macho, muscled men out there who are openly gay. And masochistic fellows have many more safe outlets now; the increasing visibility of sadomasochism and related kink makes it pretty easy to enact dominance-and-submission rituals in negotiated, safe scenes. Still, the shaft-stimulating appeal of real rough trade remains a lure for many gay dudes. As one self-described submissive bottom explains, “When I do nasty role-playing, I enjoy it, but I still know it’s basically fake. In my twisted heart of hearts, I want a genuine tough guy, not someone who’s just pretending to be.”
Part of the appeal of a hunky het hustler is that he’s emotionally uninvolved, thereby keeping messy attachments to a minimum. There may be a question of how straight he really is, but business is business, and blowing rough trade is something a guy can walk away from. It’s pure sex without the trimmings, a cut-and-dried matter of cash, not cuddling. And there’s no question of who’s the sexual top in the arrangement.
Still, paying for sex is a double-edged sword; it may be a sign of desperation, but it also gives a client power…as long as the scene remains under control. A wealthy john might grovel before a working-class lad whose muscles come from hauling freight, not pumping iron. But at the same time, the rich guy is buying the brute like he’s a prime piece of meat. That butch bruiser may be theoretically off-limits, but in reality, he can be had for a few bucks.
Not every rough-trade encounter sees cash change hands. As one man in his early 30s says, “I don’t have much of an education, and I was even in prison for a while. I guess I’m kind of bisexual. So sure, I like to get sucked by a well-off man with a nice apartment. But that doesn’t mean I’m a prostitute. Still, if a gay guy wants to buy me a drink…”
Even if you’re brave—or perhaps foolhardy—enough to consort with real rough trade, there are things you can do to lower your risks. Let a close confidant know what you’re up to. Hide your wallet and credit cards. Carefully gauge the guy you playing with. Don’t get cute; it’s no time to question a hustler’s sexual identity or discuss gender roles. And stay sober, and hope your tough guy’s sober, too. Says one fancier of rough trade, “If a guy seems tweaked, all jumpy and sweaty, he doesn’t get past my door. Even so, I once hired a hustler who, I’m embarrassed to say, stole some of my stuff.”
As with barebacking, drug use during sex, and other venereal vices, consorting with maybe-dangerous dudes is always going to have a perverse appeal to some—perhaps many—men. Sex is, after all, an animalistic enterprise, and there are those who love to run with the beasts. The trick is to keep tricking with hard-guy hets from getting out of hand. Stay safe…or at least safe-ish.

Simon Sheppard is the editor of Leathermen and Homosex: Sixty Years of Gay Erotica, and the author of Sex Parties 101, Kinkorama, and In Deep: Erotic Stories, and can be reached at [email protected] Visit Simon at

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