This article originally appeared on VICE France.
The shower boy has his back to his adoring fans, with his bare bum on show. As the water drips down onto his muscles and shaved chest, he rubs a shower puff over his broad shoulders. The stream of foam runs down his spine and right between his cheeks. The dancer poses before leaning against the back wall. He raises a leg to hide his junk, teasing the crowd. Moments later, he shifts his leg to reveal an erection. For his finale, he grabs a towel and wraps it around his dick to make it look as if a trunk was falling from between his legs.
Ryan – a stage name – is putting on a shower show on a Saturday night in January at the Raidd Bar in the Marais district of Paris, a popular area with the LGBTQ community. The venue is a staple of the gay nightlife scene because of its USP: naked models on display in shower cubicles.
Built into a wall and elevated above the crowd, the neon-lit, fabulously plastic cubicle is occupied every night of the week, with dancers performing in front of tourists, regulars and a sea of phones documenting every pose. The crowd is mainly gay men, but there are also straight couples and lots of women.
I visited Raidd over two weekends and spoke with two performers, Ryan and Andrea, about how they became shower boys, what they love about their jobs and how they deal with overeager fans.
After his performance, I meet Ryan in his tiny dressing room, just above the shower. By the time I make my way up the breathtakingly steep steps, Ryan is already dressed in a cap, shorts and a tank-top. The steam from the shower rises up and makes the room extremely suffocating.
Like the majority of the shower boys at Raidd, Ryan is straight. The 31-year-old is also single and a fireman. He started doing the shows seven years ago when a friend dragged him along one night just to have a drink. After many drinks, someone challenged him to get in the shower.
Though he was nervous and clumsy, he says, Ryan got noticed and was invited to audition for a permanent slot. From there, he started working night after night, earning €100 a show, plus tips. Along the way he met photographers who offered him modelling gigs.
"None of this was planned," he tells me. "I would never have thought of doing something like this. I'm a fairly reserved person." In the early days, it took him some time to get comfortable. "I was so nervous about people looking at me, it was impossible to get erect," he admits. "Today, I just get into character, knowing that my performances are appreciated. It's still rewarding, even if nowadays I feel like I'm part of the decor."
Still, you can't expect him to perform right on cue every night. Sometimes, to get a hard on, he has to tie the elastic of a condom around his penis like a tourniquet to control the blood flow.
Ryan's fellow fire fighters don't know about his side hustle. He describes his fire station as a "macho environment" where "a gay guy couldn't admit that he was gay", and where he fears repercussions if he were to come clean about his night job. "I'm really living between two worlds," he tells me.
He almost got burned once when a customer at the bar found out who he was and called his fire station to report him. Ryan denied it and cancelled all his gigs for the next several months, before returning to the stage. Now, he does one show a week on a Saturday night – the only evening when he has to deal with customers who think that just because they've seen him naked, they can sexually harass him at the bar afterwards.
"You're a piece of meat," he admits. "At first you enjoy it, but later you realise that some of them only come here to sleep with dancers. It's a bit like being a firefighter – you have to deal with cliches about you."
The following Saturday I chat to Andrea in the basement at Raidd. The 30-year-old gay performer from Milan is wearing a tank top and sporting the same large gold chain he performs in.
Andrea started at Raidd six years ago, just after breaking up with his ex-boyfriend. It was a local bartender who spotted him in the gym and told him he had the perfect physique for the job. He stopped briefly when he got back with his ex, but carried on again after the second break-up. "I sort of did it to both forget about him and make him jealous," he says.
Just like Ryan, Andrea also works a second job, in e-commerce. "I have a normal job, but I do this to escape normality," he explains. For a self-described homebody who doesn't drink, being a dancer allows him to go out and meet people. He sometimes goes home with customers, and explains that he does this work essentially to be validated in the eyes of others. "Even though I don’t like being the centre of attention, there is a narcissistic side to all this. I kill myself at the gym four or five times a week," he says. "At least here I can show that off to someone and can be appreciated for my physique. In the gay community, it matters a lot."
Andrea's first few showers were "very uncomfortable". Since then, though, he claims to have become a "pro". Across four showers a night, he shows his cock every second shower. "I can't stay very hard under the water," Andrea tells me. "Being naked doesn't really bother me anymore. You don't really see the audience when you're in the cubicle. It's like having a shower at home, but in a more sexy way and using lots of soap," he laughs.
Andrea says he's as popular with men as he is with women, and that he doesn't really mind the unwarranted touching. "It's funny, but I'm used to it," he says. "I just grab the guy's hand and move it away. The women are touchy, too. It makes me a bit uncomfortable, but it's bearable."
It's time for Andrea to get out there and give the people what they want. After the show, he strolls around topless in the bar while tapping away on his phone, attracting lots of attention. Three men ask him if they can have their picture taken with him. Another fan takes him by the neck to give him a kiss. "You're one of my favourites!" he shouts. A young girl, in her twenties, with short hair, comes forward. "She's a regular," Andrea tells me with a big smile. "She like to tap on the window of the shower and show me her breasts. It always make me laugh." His admirer is equally as enthused about him. "He's the best. I like his bum, and just this energy he gives off," she says.
Scroll down for more photos from Andrea's performance.
This article originally appeared on VICE FR.