One hundred stories to change a stereotype

Toronto artist explores the lives of sex trade workers by interviewing them about their grandmothers

Aceartinc has been made to look like a grandmother’s living room as part of a new exhibit. hannah_g
Artist Peter Kingstone talks about his video project, 100 Stories About My Grandmother, currently on display at aceartinc. Jen Moyes

It’s not everyday that you hear the word “grandmother” and “sex trade worker” in the same sentence. But in Aceartinc’s new exhibit 100 Stories About My Grandmother, both play an important role.

The video exhibit by Toronto-based artist Peter Kingstone features four televisions which continuously play 100 different interviews of male sex trade workers telling stories about their grandmothers.

The gallery is decorated to look just like a grandmother’s living room, complete with sofas, doilies, coffee tables and those famous multi-colored area rugs (donated from the Goodwill Thrift Store on Princess Avenue).

At an artist talk on the opening night of the exhibit Aug. 20, Kingstone explained that the reason he wanted to explore stories about male sex trade worker’s grandmothers stemmed from his own past. Kingstone never knew his own grandmother, who had been a sex trade worker.

Experimenting with working as a sex trade worker himself at a young age, Kingstone wanted to hear these stories from men that he could somewhat relate to, because he didn’t have any stories of his own about grandmothers.

“I was trying to find men who were like me,” he explained.

Kingstone added that hearing the men’s stories about their grandmothers shows a very different view of sex trade workers than what is generally perceived by the media and society. He expressed his thoughts on how many people don’t understand sex trade workers and think of them as a problem to get rid of because of their occupation.

“I wanted to understand who the men were and learn about them and not about their profession,” Kingstone said.

One of the reasons the men agreed to be interviewed was because “they argued that they wanted to show their humanity,” he added. The men Kingstone interviewed did not know many other sex trade workers themselves, and were curious to see what others in their position were like.

Interviewing men from Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Miami and London, Kingstone met with many different men ranging from ages 17 to 64. Some of the things he found would break most stereotypes of male sex trade workers.

Kingstone revealed that, for some of the men, working in the sex trade was a part-time job in addition to other jobs they held. The men ranged from being impoverish to wealthy. Many had wives and girlfriends.

The men’s stories often reveal their grandmother to be the main caregiver in these men’s lives. One man tells about how his grandmother used to send him $5 a week for a bottle of Coke, while another described how his grandmother cared for him in a unique way that others could not; she had a “way of compassion, way of understanding, way of loving that my parents wouldn’t show.”

Needless to say, Kingstone does an excellent job of breaking down the stereotype of the sex trade worker by letting the viewer have a look into one of the most precious relationships there is—the one between a grandson and grandmother.

The touching stories give insight to a different side of the subjects’ lives, one this is not often broadcast by the media. By questioning society’s view of what a sex trade worker is, Kingstone changes it to a more positive one.


Published in Volume 64, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 3, 2009)

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