Trade 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 usually the term referred 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.). Usually, the concept of trade occurred when the gay man 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 London, or men from the United States and elsewhere finding willing partners in places such as Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Bangkok, Thailand, today.
However in recent times in the western world the usage is more common for any casual sexual encounter between men.
The Victorian and Edwardian erasEdit
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.
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 style and more "manly" attributes than an office worker or professional businessman. In England, a British soldier, a squaddy, embodies the idea of an exploring the highly developed physique like "an adventure playground."
Usually, it is very important to the straight partner that he maintain his masculine identity and not be particularly emotionally available, nor cuddlesome, nor as the bottom. Often, with rough trade it is his masculinity being questioned that pushes him over the edge into physical violence.
The question, of course, is whether the "straight" man is indeed straight if he has sex with other men. The answer may be clear where poverty drives young men in Brazil or Thailand (for example) to prostitution, but is less clear in the case of "happily married" men in first world countries.
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.