Whether it is South-East Asia or Latin America, sex tourism is something that not only exists, but happens in extremely high frequency and out in plain sight. The subject is relevant almost everywhere you travel. In fact, I have even written about it in the case of Costa Rica prostitution. But the truth is that I’ve always seen one side of the topic. I’ve only seen western men smoking cigars while enjoying the company of a half dozen young women all trying their best to look entertained. However, in The Gambia I came to the realization that there is definitely another side to the sex tourism trade.
On just about every single beach in The Gambia you see it. Strapping local boys, all chiselled to the core, walking hand in hand with middle (if not well beyond middle-aged) women. They call the men “Bumsters” in the Gambia, although the term doesn’t always refer to the male prostitutes. The bumsters are everywhere, as are the women looking to “use their services”. It’s something I didn’t expect to come across in my travels, nor is it a story you ever hear make the news.
To many of us the idea of a gigolo is almost amusing. Whereas female prostitution is seen as a serious issue, we often joke about the male version as being the perfect profession. And perhaps it’s because sex among men is seen as a privilege, but our optics when focused on the issue doesn’t look as punishing as it does when viewing the female circumstance.
Unlike the sad stories you hear of desperate women looking to earn a living when it comes to female prostitution, in the case of the Bumsters, I kept hearing about how the bumsters themselves were taking advantage of lonely European women shackled by years of work-imposed boredom. In many ways, it comes down to gender doesn’t it? Well, at least how we look at gender as a society. But does the fact that historically men have held a sexual dominance make this case any less important?
The general perception of men in our society is of power, control, and command; whether we admit it or not. So when we see a bumster walking with a white woman in West Africa rarely do we look at the idea that he is being exploited by the woman because he is poor and needs the money. Rather, we look at the bumster as taking advantage of a situation, a means of income. Hell, we even look at the bumster and think that he’s probably pretty happy with his means of employment. I mean a man being paid to have sex? I sounds like a dream come true.
The truth of the matter is likely completely different. Although these men may in fact take some pleasure in their employment – truthfully the sheer mechanics of the male physical engine requires such – we have to wonder if the world will ever look at them as victims.
But really, who is taking advantage of whom? Is anyone being taken advantage of? Does it even matter?
You see, in many ways seeing the trade being plied from the other side of the coin seems to give it different light. I’m not for, nor against prostitution. I believe in freedom of choice. I believe that if one’s choices doesn’t negatively impact the lives of others than they should be given the freedom to do as they choose. In much of the world pimps create victims, in which case there are obvious issues. However, in The Gambia, just as is the case in much of Costa Rica, these workers are freelancers and enter the industry by their own choice.
Who are we to say that their choice of how to make a living is right or wrong if it hurts no one in the process? Sure, on the surface you can question the Johns, or in this case the Susans(?), on ethical grounds. And you can of course derive a number of other questions such as should it be legal to do something that can damage your own being? But at the end of the day, those who judge should learn to make their own peace with the decisions they make in life and hope that their teachings of what it means to be a “good” person carry forward. Judgement is made by the weak and insecure, and as the old adage goes, unless you have walked in someone else’s shoes, one has no right to pass judgment.
In my opinion, the bumsters of The Gambia are an issue. They make certain people feel insecure, worried for their safety when walking the beaches alone, and annoyed by their persistence But at the end of the day the onus of their trade, and the status of their existence, relies entirely on those who buy into their service. For me, I’ll avoid the beaches of The Gambia to avoid them. But I’m not going to judge the women who travel to find conpanionship, even if they pay for it. Regardless, the case of the bumsters in The Gambia provides an interesting case study not only in regards to the other side of sex tourism, but also gender roles and perceptions in general.
What are your thoughts?