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Keywords:

  • [male sex work;
  • HIV prevention;
  • Indian homosexualities;
  • subjectivity;
  • community-based research]

Growing public health attention has been placed on the HIV vulnerability of males who sell sex to males in India. However, there is little research that outlines the trajectories through which males come to be involved in practicing sex work in India. Locating “male sex work” within a vibrant social, political, and erotic landscape, this article explores the intertwining of “sexual subjectivity” and “sex work.” The authors refer to 70 sexual life histories generated from research conducted in Mysore to unsettle dominant public health notions that regard male sex work as rooted solely in poverty or as a decontexualized “behavioral risk factor.” Such perspectives are countered by demonstrating how male sex work in Mysore encompasses a complex interplay between self-realization, sexual desire, social interaction, and public health discourse. Local conceptualizations of selfhood are discussed to suggest the limitations of prevailing empowerment discourses that advance Western notions of individuality.