When gentlemen explorers began to rove the world, they realized that people in different places arranged their lives in quite different ways from the European conventions. This realization eventually gave rise to the interesting discipline of anthropology, which tried to understand how people fitted themselves to their ecologies. The great advantage of humans, of course, is that they can adjust themselves and rebuild their place enough to survive in some very hostile locations: the far north, the deep jungle, the tropical island and... even the desert. As they adjust, they become more exotic and more attractive to “us.” Tauregs, stained blue by their robes, racing on camels, Bedouins on Arabian horses bedizened with tassels, Mongols with eagles on their arms (no messing around with mere hawks). Read “At Play in the Fields of the Lord.” Read “Lawrence of Arabia.”
There are books about how tribes had to rearrange themselves into villages in order to move from a nomadic hunting or grazing economy (which Paul Shepherd feels was a major mistake and a loss of our human relationship to the planet) to an agricultural life based on grain and domestic animals. Then came the walled cities that grew into the huge jumbles of elegance and slum we know today, people constantly moving there in spite of our near-worship of small town America. With a dense population, cities could provide a base for high culture: opera, great libraries, orchestras, ballet. But some built-in factor of rot, the discarding, oppression, and criminal enterprises destroyed human beings. Regulation, policing, penalties and the sequestering of dangerous people in prisons try to confine the danger away from the oligarchy and celebrities, as well as to some degree to protect the middle class.
Whether tribe or metropolis, the basic economic unit is generally considered to be a family with a man at the head, the key to the income of the unit, either as the manager of productive resources or as a wage-earner. The woman or women is a producer of children and maintainer of the household. Her status can range from relating the family into a larger web of prestige, to covenanted partnership with the man, on down to being simply owned labor and sometimes enduring forced captivity. In the more oppressive models, women can be forced to stay through devotion to the man or to the children. When the oppression comes down on the man, either in psychological terms like loss of status or economic terms like no jobs except crushing ones, it is easier for him to leave, discarding the burden of family and starting over on new terms.
In all these models there is a problem with male children growing into men, potential rivals to the father. Elk, horses, and some societies simply push adolescent men off into same sex cohorts that must try to survive, probably doing better if they work together. Some arrangements, like small farms, press the sons into the labor of their fathers, with the promise of inheritance eventually rewarding them. In prosperous circumstances, they may marry, drawing their wives and children into an extended family, or if there are not enough resources they may remain bachelors.
If a man and a woman join as an economic unit, much depends upon the man’s ability to earn. The next variable is whether the woman is willing to earn money or the extent to which she can support and enhance the man’s earning. But our society presses women to stay with their men by making sure their wages are less. Also, they cannot escape the daily necessity of child care. If a man dies, fails, is military, or simply goes missing, the government can and will step into the breach up to a point but not generously. If a boy in such a mother-led household is difficult, he is likely to be thrown out.
Increasingly boys live subterranean lives in basement rooms improvised to keep them and their messes and excesses away from the rest of the family. Like the foxes and bobcats Bob Scriver and I kept as pets, they go on noctural explorations and sometimes they don’t come back for days. When they are grown, they simply leave. In some places they are likely to die. The kind of work there used to be for young uneducated men is scarce.
For whatever reasons, we end up with boys alone in the streets of cities: runaways, throw-outs, addicted, starving and therefore willing to do whatever is necessary to survive, including whoring. They form gangs, live off girls in exchange for the rite of passage of getting them pregnant (marriage being a distant option), steal, attach to older powerful men and so on. Kids are resourceful and adaptable. The ones who go to jail generally get better care (food, shelter, medical, dental, education) than the ones on the street.
When I was an animal control officer, I was technically a deputy sheriff and therefore stepped through the invisible cordon that keeps much information protected by law enforcement protocols. Therefore, I knew which block in downtown Portland, Oregon, (next to a parking garage that had a low parapet around it, a convenient bench) was where the boy hustlers waiting for tricks. Once I parked and watched for a while. It was just like the BBC movies about “rent boys.” In the US we don’t make many movies about it, but remember than Gus Van Sant is from Portland. It was common knowledge that one of the county commissioners was a regular, a “chicken hawk.” (This was when the mayor was screwing his young female babysitter, but that was pretty much forgiven as “an affair.”) The police laughed about chickenhawks, considering it pretty much a victimless crime with the boys being predators as much as prey.
One is not supposed to talk about such things. It's not supposed to happen. What are the alternative arrangements? The military? Consider Basquiat, who was lucky enough for his street graffiti to become valuable gallery art worth big amounts of money. Did it save him? I would argue that it did not, because he never learned how to handle what he learned on the streets: drugs, hustling.