One week ago yesterday, I was in the laundromat a few blocks from my apartment. Dropping a load in…like ya do. The news was playing on the TV, as it often does in laundromats, when I heard the newscaster utter the words “male prostitution”.
My first thought was “Ooh! Fun”! so of course I turned to see what it was all about. I saw the word “Rentboy” and my brain immediately switched from intrigue to dread. I tried to tell myself that the images of intimidating-looking men removing boxes from a familiar office building were not as scary as they looked. But after only several seconds of listening I knew that this news was not good.
In case you haven’t been following this piece of news, Homeland Security and the Brooklyn Police raided the offices of Rentboy.com, a well-known global database for male escorts, armed with accusations of money laundering and, yeah, facilitating prostitution. I’m not the best with the legal lingo, so you might be better off reading this or this.
I’ve had a fond, but not-too-intimate relationship with Rentboy’s headquarters for the last year or so. I have several friends who work in the office. I’ve attended a couple meet’n’greets with them. I went to the Hookies this year. Yes, I even attended one of their workshops on marketing (where I was mistaken for an experienced escort, which I am obviously not, but I was immensely flattered). Not being an escort, I don’t have many reasons to hang around with these folks often, but when I do, it’s always been a welcoming environment.
Because of my level of attachment to the story, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to write about it at all…not for fear of outing myself or anything, but worried I wouldn’t do the story justice… but after sitting on my feelings for a week and some change, I wanted to vocalize my support at the very least. Because simply put, it’s bullshit. Even if selling sex is against the law, (which it is, but technically they weren’t) we have bigger problems in our country…in our city even… than a little bit o’ completely consensual companionship (that could involve cocks.)
I’ve been dealing with conflicting issues over the last week. I’m horrified and infuriated by what is going down, and deeply sympathetic to my friends who are affected by this crackdown. But I stopped and asked myself…if I didn’t have friends who were affected by it…would I feel the same way?
I know plenty of sex workers. I’ve considered sex work myself. Hell, some might even say I’ve already performed various forms of sex work. But I also have a lot of apprehensions about sex work as a whole that I hadn’t really noticed until I started following this story. I am fascinated by those who partake in it, both as a worker and as a client, but for every two steps closer I get the industry, I take another step back.
I think I would go so far as to say…it scares me.
I hadn’t really thought about it before this past week, but something about the sex work industry scares me. Why? Because I haven’t seen what happens behind closed doors? Because all of the prostitutes I’ve seen in film and TV have been hopeless drug addicts? Because I just did a three-month tour with a one-man show about STDs so I’m horrified about the thought of fucking anyone right now? (That last one is definitely true.)
Because from our youth, we’re all taught that sex work is ‘bad’. That it’s something you do when you have no other option. No valuable skills. This is far from the truth. Some of the smartest people I know are sex workers, and needed that income to make to where they are now. And thank the gods, they did. But how often do you hear their side of things? Who wants to tell the story of a ‘Happy Whore.’?
Fear is quite obviously the main culprit in this crackdown. Either because the people involved are scared of sex work, or because they think (or in some cases, know) that they can muster up support from others who are. They claim to be protecting the workers in question, yet they are making their lives more dangerous, and they don’t take the steps they ought to to actually protect them because they’re afraid of what they might learn in the process.
I’m not so naive that I don’t think most of the officials involved have met plenty of sex workers in their time…maybe even a few from Rentboy.com…but that fear of understanding will still be very present. It you come too close to something, it becomes too real.
We need to see more stories of sex work. More tales of happy whores. More declarations from clients about how the sex workers they’ve hired have changed their lives. There is a need for sex workers in our society. And the more we embrace them, the more we can protect them, and the more they can help others with their very valuable skills, bodies, and brains.