On August 18th, the publicist of Rentboy.com, Jeff Dorta, contacted me to tell me about their new ‘Cash4Class’ contest. They were promoting the fact that Rentboy was offering college scholarships to the escorts on their site and wondered if I might be interested in doing a story.
At first, I believed, that maybe this was a good thing – offering these men some sort of ‘out’ if they in fact wanted an ‘out’. Shortly afterwards, I learned that the scholarships were for a mere $1,500. That wouldn’t even pay for books for a few college courses. It was then that I realized Rentboy wasn’t using the scholarship program to give guys an ‘out’ – they were instead using the scholarship fund as a recruitment tool. This was an attempt to market to the young college men. However, $25,000 scholarships would have shown me they were serious about education. $1,500 is not serious. $1,500 is a joke. It’s an insult; it’s a slap in the face. Most of the men on the site make that sucking dick in just a few hours.
Nonetheless, I lined up an interview with Jeffrey Hurant, the CEO of Rentboy, and was ready to ask him some tough questions. My biggest question was ‘This scholarship fund is a blatant attempt to recruit young men, so how do you expect these boys survive if they get arrested? Prostitution is, as you know, illegal in most places. What happens if they go to jail? Or get assaulted?’
Furthermore, what is the exit strategy for men who want to move from prostitution to some sort of legitimate career – and how will this impact their chances at a better future? Can they give up the lifestyle and quick cash? Are you informing these newcomers of the dangers and the consequences?
The following Tuesday, Rentboy was raided by the Department of Homeland Security. Jeffrey Hurant was arrested, along with six other colleagues. The timing was impeccable. I reached out again to the publicist to confirm my interview. Needless to say, there was no response. There would be no interview. The full legal complaint against Rentboy can be read online.
Even more insulting, I learned that Rentboy had over $10M in the bank. They certainly could have afforded to make these scholarships worthwhile if they truly wanted to.
The argument is that Rentboy is simply a listing service for escorts and for men who enjoy the company of other men. They are an ‘advertising site for adult entertainers’. They do not condone or encourage sex. Regardless, everyone is aware that these are just semantics. We all know exactly what the men on that site will do for money. The actual ads on the site tell you just what you can expect sexually from your Rentboy. Aside from the price, it gives you specifics, letting you know if you can piss on your date (watersports) or smoke crack with your hooker (PNP.) I suppose these are good things to know before going into it.
The discussion on Facebook in my circle of friends was fascinating. There is one group who sees being a hooker as a viable part-time job. They see it as an honest way to make some quick cash for an upcoming vacation or to help catch up on your bills. Some people argue that it’s better than ‘working at McDonalds’. Why not? It’s easy money. Honestly, you can make up to $300 an hour (if you’re hot enough) just getting pounded by some married businessman or fingering the dirty asshole of some random guy whose boyfriend is out of town. Some may rationalize ‘Hey, I’ve actually given it away for free, so why not charge for it? It’s just sex. Who cares?’
There is another segment that views being a prostitute as a choice of last resort. A prostitute, they reason, is a person who has run out of options and is someone we should feel sorry for. Runaways. Homeless youth. Uneducated people with no skills or an ability to get a ‘real’ job – those people become hookers out of desperation. It’s a way to survive in this cruel world. After all, you never hear a story about a hooker that ends well – so how could anyone choose that if they had other choices? Hookers are found in dumpsters. Hookers are stabbed to death in hotel rooms. We’ve all watched CSI. This is how the media portrays sex workers. Hookers are drug addicts that eventually land themselves in prison or rehab. You never hear a story about hooker that ends ‘and he lived happily ever after’. Well, except maybe for Pretty Woman.
Let’s be clear, Julia Roberts was a whore. Even though in that fairy tale we found Richard Gere scaling a fire escape with roses in his mouth, you can bet that had there been a sequel to that movie, it would have been salacious.
We would watch Richard Gere struggle with the fact that his girlfriend was a confirmed prostitute and had been with hundreds, maybe even thousands of men. Oddly, there is a double standard for women who work in the sex industry; often they are victimized at a much higher rate than men. There would be a scene at a dinner party when other women were whispering about Julia Roberts, all of them knowing that she could be found at one time on Hollywood Boulevard spreading her legs for any man with $200 in his pocket.
Perhaps there would be a scene while out to a nice dinner with Richard Gere, Julia Roberts runs into an old client and his wife. There would be a flashback and we’d see Julia Roberts on all fours getting drilled by this random man whose name she can’t quite recall. Richard would look at Julia while Julia would keep her eyes on her plate in awkward silence.
Even in the film, Julia Roberts wasn’t completely happy about working in the world of prostitution. She wanted out. This wasn’t a life that she dreamed of for herself.
I have no moral objection to prostitution. It is, in my mind, simply a choice that one makes for reasons of their own. I will say, however, that I have been destitute. I have been poor. I have been between paychecks and eating peanut butter and crackers – and never once was selling my ass an option. It’s not something I could do easily or willingly. So when someone says to me, ‘I didn’t have any other choice’ – I call bullshit.
Like everything in life, it’s a choice. It’s a choice with very real consequences. When you post something online, with images and a complete listing of the things you will/won’t do sexually, you are taking a risk. Even if we do take away the legal and criminal consequences, we will still be left with the emotional, mental and physical consequences. How do we address those? Will we now start encouraging young, pretty men to pursue a life of prostitution? Will there always be the stigma?
Some gay men decide to prostitute themselves because they believe their own hype. They are incredibly well-built or well-hung or both. Most of them are common whores and circuit boys who simply like the attention – and let’s be honest, prostitution wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a demand for their services. Rentboy and other gay escort listing sites pander to those men by presenting prostitution as ‘sexy’ and ‘glamorous’ and ‘fun.’ They even give awards to the best hookers in their annual ‘Hookies’ contest, pitting them against one another in a battle royale for ‘best bottom’ and ‘best newcomer.’ Hookers battle it out to see who is the ‘best’ in the business.
Being a hooker in the gay world is not just a way to survive, it’s a way to make a lot of money, tax free – and in a relatively short period of time. It comes with notoriety in some circles and with some sense of ‘gay recognition.’ It gives some guys an illusion of fame. It’s empowering – and there is nothing wrong with that. However, some would like to call it ‘easy money’ but I have learned from friends who do this sort of work that there is nothing ‘easy’ about it. It can be incredibly hard to make a living as the money is unreliable.
Many guys who have been in the business for a while have experienced violence and even tales of difficult clients who didn’t pay them or tried to rob them. Often they get the runaround and waste hours of their time on people who are not really interested in connecting. Some guys have lost their day jobs; some have also lost their partners and family. Let’s be honest, there is nothing ‘easy’ about doing an outcall with a stranger in a shady part of town at 2am, especially when drugs and alcohol are involved.
When you make a choice to work in the sex industry, whether it is as a prostitute or in pornography, you are immediately shrinking your dating pool. I, personally, would have a hard time dating someone who was in this line of work. For me, it’s just not a lifestyle that I find appealing. I went to college, got a job and worked my way up in my boring career. I would feel more comfortable with someone who was also on that path; I would relate more.
Now, before you start screaming at me and telling me that ‘sex work is respectable’ and that I am ‘closed-minded’ let me just stop you right there. I don’t give a fuck. The truth is I personally would never subject myself to a How-was-your-day,-honey? conversation with a partner who took anonymous loads for a living. That just doesn’t work for me. Furthermore, I would not want to be out to dinner with my hooker boyfriend wondering how many people looking at us are wondering if he’s on the clock – or worse, how many people in the room were clients. I don’t like to share. I am too selfish. Finally, I work in a professional industry. I would feel a bit embarrassed introducing my partner to anyone in my professional world as a ‘sex worker.’ That would be hard for me.
I don’t care how handsome and sexy you are. I don’t care how smart you are. I don’t care why you are doing what you do. You absolutely have the right to suck dick to pay your bills, I support your right to make that choice – but I have a right not to want to date you. We can be friends. The moment you say to me ‘You know, I think I want to get out of this and try something else’, I’ll be the first one to help with your resume. That’s not a judgment; that is more of a standard I have set for myself. There are some people out there who don’t see anything wrong with a man who makes his living having sex with strangers – so go find one of those people. My recommendation is that you date someone who is also in that industry and understands it. I feel like it’s hard for someone on the outside of the industry to relate to it.
I agree that sex work should be legitimized and legalized and regulated. Sorry, but you need to pay taxes on the money you earn. I don’t get to keep everything I earn, neither should you. It should also be noted that Rentboy’s demise wasn’t about the morality of prostitution. Instead, it was about money. Rentboy owed the state and city of New York quite a bit – and when they didn’t pay up, they were investigated and shut down. It’s that easy.
Ironically, most of the hookers I know are able to be hookers only because it’s illegal. Most of the hookers in San Francisco are profoundly average. No offense, but 90% of the guys who have listings on Rentboy are not guys I would fuck for free. If prostitution were legalized and more men could do it with impunity, then I suspect the market would be flooded with a lot of incredibly hot men who wanted to make some quick cash. I mean, if you’re going to hire a hooker, get the fantasy. Get the guy you can’t get at the bar. This might even drive the price way down. Oddly, the men who are complaining about Rentboy’s demise and at their ‘loss of a source of income’ would be out of a job anyway.
Whether we agree with it or not, currently prostitution is illegal in most places. However consenting sex between two adults is their business – whether there is an exchange of money or not. That is nobody’s business. When you publicize the fact that you are accepting money for sex from strangers on a popular website, then you’ve exposed yourself to a wealth of problems, including criminal charges. Moreover, when you celebrate prostitution the way Rentboy did and host parties, sponsor award shows and hand out scholarships, that’s probably not a good way to fly under the radar.
Furthermore, this is San Francisco. Everybody is a hooker. (I include myself in this because God knows I’ve had my hooker moments.) We live in the age of hook-up-apps and social media. There are enough horny people looking for dick at any given moment, there is no reason you can’t simply schedule a mutually beneficial play date with someone in your league. Who needs to pay for a hooker when you can go to the Eagle or Powerhouse and hook up the old-fashioned way? As a last resort, there’s always Steamworks. You are pretty much guaranteed to get laid if you go there.
However, this isn’t about getting laid. This is about making a living. This is about money. Or is it about so much more than that? Is it about acceptance? Is it time to decriminalize sex work and openly allow men and women to make a living this way? To be honest, I think most gay men understand that there will always be an element of sex for money anyway – so, why not?
My opinion is simply this: If you WANT to be a prostitute and you see it as a way to pay your bills, I fully support you. If you are mentally and emotionally prepared for it, by all means, proceed. Make sure you understand what you are getting yourself into. One must also understand, however, the stigma that surrounds this activity is very real. Regardless of legalities, many parents are not going to encourage their children to be hookers; furthermore, many employers will be reluctant to hire someone with this kind of history. Is that right or fair? Maybe not. But this is the reality; this is the world we live in.
Let’s decriminalize prostitution and find a way to make it safer for everyone involved.
However, if you feel you MUST have sex with strangers to survive, then we’ve failed somewhere along the way as a community. If you are having sex for money because you feel like it’s your only choice, then that is something we need to work on.
No one should be forced into sex work.
No one should ever feel like this is the only way they can survive. If someone wants out of the business then let’s get them the resources they need – and not a $1,500 scholarship. Too many men (and women) get caught up in the business, and it becomes harder and harder to connect with other people. The ‘sex worker’ suicide rate is appalling; drug use is rampant.
Let’s start telling the truth about sex work – it’s not always glamourous. It’s not always fun. There are real dangers involved and real consequences. There is a stigma, and that stigma will always be there whether we like it or not. While it’s a necessary service and it’s the oldest profession – like everything, it’s not without consequence.
When someone says to me ‘So, I wanna be a hooker.’ I give them them all the same advice: ‘You should try something less competitive.’
David Helton is the Publisher and Creative Director of Left Magazine.
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