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Trade is a gay slang term originating from Polari and refers to the (usually) casual partner of a gay man or to the genre of such partners. Historically the motivations may at times include a desire for emotional fulfillment and admiration, but the term often refers to a straight man who partners with a gay man for economic benefit, either through a direct cash payment or through other, more subtle means (gifts, tuition payments, etc.). Trade originally referred to casual sex partners, regardless of sexuality as many gay and bisexual men were closeted, but evolved to imply the gay partner is comparatively wealthy and the partner who is trade is economically deprived. Examples of this include wealthy Englishmen finding partners among deprived Cockneys in 1930s Londonmarker; traveling men finding partners in places such as Rio de Janeiromarker, Brazilmarker, and Bangkokmarker, Thailandmarker and locals picking up military personnel who are generally seen as being physically appealing and eager for extra income or benefits.

More modern usage has centered on any casual sexual encounter between men.

Royal favourites

Royal favourites may at times have been trade. The label could perhaps be applied to George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, the favourite of James I of England.

The Victorian and Edwardian eras

While members of the British army and the Coldstream Guards in particular have long been regarded as coming from relatively elite backgrounds, guardsmen have also had a long and celebrated reputation as sexual partners to wealthier partners. This has led to their figuring in plays by playwrights such Georges Feydeau and Ferenc Molnar as partners to adulterous society ladies, as well as to their performing as partners of men. The novelist J. R. Ackerley wrote in his memoir My Father and Myself that he considered his guardsman father to have been the lover of an aristocrat for a long period of time before pursuing a wife and family, economically bettered in the end by the support he had received from his male partner.

Rough trade

Often, the terms "trade" and "rough trade" are treated as synonymous. Often the attraction for the gay male partner is finding a dangerous, even thuggish, partner who may turn violent. That is not to say that people necessarily desire to be physically hurt, but the danger of seeking a partner in a public park, restroom, or alleyway may be exciting.

Another variation is in comparison to regular trade, rough trade is more likely to be working-class laborers with less education and more physical demands of their work, therefore with a body developed naturally rather than in a gym. They will have a less polished or Cleancut style than an office worker or professional businessman.

Gender roles

Usually, it is very important to the bi or straight identified partner that he maintain his stereotypical masculine identity and not be particularly emotionally available, nor cuddlesome, nor as the bottom. Often, with rough trade it is his stereotypical masculinity (i.e bottom vs top,top vs bottom)being questioned that pushes him over the edge into physical violence.


In any relationship with rough trade, one takes a risk of becoming the object of violence. The 1975 murder of film director Pier Paolo Pasolini has been attributed to Pasolini's dalliance with rough trade. Similar rumors circulated about the 1976 death of American actor Sal Mineo but statements from his killer cite a botched mugging and allegations otherwise are unsubstantiated.

See also


  1. Fantabulosa: A Dictionary of Polari and Gay Slang by Paul Baker; Published by Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004; ISBN 0826473431, 9780826473431.

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