The directors of the Re: News series Red Light Boys (out now!) were given intimate access to the lives of New Zealand’s male sex workers. Sharing those stories is a chance to break the prejudice these men face, write Azita and Johnny Agnew. 

It was an emotional moment filming Allan Heta Cleaver – one of the male sex workers featured in Red Light Boys – become teary as he watched Georgina Beyer’s impassioned speech in Parliament from the third reading of the Prostitution Reform Act in 2003. 

Beyer, the world’s first openly trans MP, told the House how she couldn’t seek help from police when she was raped during her time as a sex worker, because at the time, prostitution was illegal. 

Seeing Allan’s reaction gave us a first hand appreciation of how far we’ve come as a society over the last 20 years and what that means for sex workers. 

We were privileged to be introduced to Allan through the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective. His extraordinary life and his 40 years working in the sex industry serve as the backbone to our series. 

Watch episode 1 of Red Light Boys 

In June 2003, New Zealand became the first country in the world to decriminalise sex work. 

This meant people 18 and over who engage in consenting paid sexual services wouldn’t be punished or prosecuted by the law while also protecting children from exploitation in relation to prostitution. It also meant acknowledging prostitution as service work, with the same employment and legal rights given to any other occupational group.

New Zealand citizens over the age of 18 who pursue this career no longer have to hide from police or fear the dangers of being assaulted by clients with no recourse to justice. 

But they are still forced to live in a society where their work is shamed and their lives judged.

The life of a male sex worker has rarely been explored by filmmakers. The handful of documentaries made in the past 20 years generally focused on the negative sides of prostitution, portraying a world of drug abuse, hopelessness and victimisation. 

As opposed to this one-sided viewpoint, we saw Red Light Boys as an opportunity to open a healthy and balanced discussion around the topic.

Our stories are told through the diverse voices of those directly engaged in the sex industry. 

It is true that some young men face traumatic and damaging experiences in sex work. However, as we researched the series and got to meet young sex workers, this was far from the case for most of those involved. 

Many of the men we met find a sense of self-worth, empowerment and gratification through sex work, all whilst exploring and embracing their own sexuality. 

The internet has created a new autonomy and access to clients for sex workers. 

For these men, reaching clients online feels safer and more accessible as opposed to operating in a brothel or lurking on dark street corners, which is how many people assume sex workers do business. 

Red Light Boys gives an intimate glimpse into the hidden world of New Zealand's male sex work industry in 2023. We explore the human need for intimacy, emotional connection and the efficient access to sex. 

Our documentary is not about glorification or sensationalism, but rather about humanising and acknowledging a profession that is still vilified by our society. 

Each story is an authentic lived experience, told with honesty and bravery by real people within our communities.

We encourage you to watch the series with an open heart and mind in the same way that these men opened their hearts and minds to us.

Watch the full series of Red Light Boys – made with the support of NZ on Air – here

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