Reflection on the Rentboy.com raid

Rentboy Closed

Okay, so perhaps it isn’t quite so surprising that in the days following the mandated legalization of gay marriage that there might be some pushback against any freer expression of sexuality in our society.  Indeed, in the States we seem so hellbent on denying that a little physical affection is so necessary to our well-being individually and societally to the point of actually demonizing those needs that those who refuse to utilize those resources available to them hence feel they have to refuse that right to everyone else.  Misery does indeed love company!  Thus we have laws which regulate our morality instead of protecting us from criminal activity, and morality is subjective.  How long did we labor under legal constraints that precluded any sort of non-missionary non-heteronormative sex or even social engagement?  How long was it legally codified in our country that folk of African descent were less citizens than those of European descent?  As it has come to be understood that these laws were injurious to one demographic and did nothing to protect any other, they have been overturned.  And there have been objections from “moralists” to these changes every step of that way.

It is not enough to call something criminal simply because there is a law against it.  If that law exists, it is in place (or should be) to protect someone, perhaps many of us, from becoming a victim.  Rape laws are in place to prevent unwanted sexual intercourse.  Theft laws are in place to prevent people from taking our personal property.  Laws outlawing murder are there to deter folk from taking away our lives.  In all these instances, there is a victim in the crime, someone who loses something, life, property, dignity.  Anyone wishing to deprive us of these basic rights is indeed a criminal, and their capture and punishment should be the aim and objective of the criminal justice system.

Who exactly is the victim of escorting?  Is it the escort, who has entered into the arrangement of his (or her) own will and on his terms?  Has he been somehow forced into the seraglio, indentured as a sex slave?  Or is he an entrepreneur, who identifies a resource he has, and has entered into a business venture to share this resource with a public who has something to offer in return?  Is the victim the client, who understands the nature and terms of the transaction before he signs on?  Is he somehow being deprived of his money in exchange for something of no value to him?  Or is he perhaps a person desiring some company, perhaps some physical affection, and somehow lacks or hasn’t the time to pursue the normal societally-accepted means of coming by that?  Or is the victim society in general?  Does escorting bear some corollary criminal behavior the same way the inner-city drug trade is closely allied with organized crime and gang warfare?  Does providing individuals with company, and if company is of an intimate nature then providing that behind closed doors, somehow corrupt the morals of future generations any more than any other societal norm we exhibit?

Prostitution laws were enacted to protect what was viewed by the upper ends of society as a weak, victimizible class, specifically women of poor means.  The idea was that women were being forced into prostitution by unscrupulous men for the man’s profit, and hence these women needed protection.  Never was there any acknowledgement that perhaps this was the woman’s only means of survival in a world where men refused to give women the same rights to education, to run a business, to start a household.  Nowadays we have more specific laws to protect such classes of folk: we call this human trafficking, and this is a vile and horrid practice, with lots of victims of the sorts described before.  Prostitution in the meantime, having spent so much time lumped into society’s understanding of what we’ve come to call human trafficking, has only seen confirmed the veneer slapped over it by society that anyone who would sell their sex and companionship must be morally corrupt.  Folks who are sexworkers are constantly called whores and leeches; people accuse them of being too lazy to hold a “real” job, and too dishonest to declare their income to the IRS; they are told they are disease-ridden like vermin.  It is possible that examples of any of those can be cited, but I’d challenge anyone to produce evidence that the gross generalization proves true.

Similarly, it’s not the clients hiring these escorts who are victimized.  Escorts do not show up, take the cash, and just leave; these men were approached for something the client in fact needed, be that amatory or just companionable.  And judging by the number of men who have returned to hire an escort again, often the same escort, it’s certain that in fact it works for them.  Many buddies of mine who escort will say that, not unlike being a bartender, there’s far more therapy involved in many meetings than anything else, even whether sex happens or not.  Most clients simply need some physical affection, someone to listen to them talk, someone who will reassure him, despite not having someone in their life who will hug them, curl up with them, listen to their problems, or give them someone to go with to do things he enjoys, that he is still loveable.  Escorts do exactly this.  To suggest that this carries less meaning because they are paid for it is to also suggest that the comfort therapists provide is suspect because they charge, or that a doctor’s Hippocratic oath is rendered violate once he accepts payment, for instance.  Where do we draw the line?

Reading through the accusations in the complaint, not once is there any mention of any nonconsensual practice.  No instance is brought forth of a single human being being harmed, even tangentially, by letting men pay for sex with other men. Contrast this with the often exaggerated claims of trafficking and human slavery that are used to justify cracking down on heterosexual prostitutes, treating willing female sex workers as default victims: this complaint doesn’t even bother with such niceties.  The complaint’s objects are portrayed just as sickening depraved faggots violating New York’s prostitution laws, and the only apparent reason the Department of Homeland Security needs to get involved is because it involves interstate commerce.  I mean, really; that men have sex with each other and instead of one buying dinner for the other that there happens to be an exchange of cash is somehow a threat to our American borders and freedoms?

Rentboy.com has been in business for a whopping eighteen years.  They have always protected their interests by insisting that all transactions are for the escort’s time, never for the services involved.  What happens in that time is something determined between consenting adults.  Indeed, perhaps sex is expected, perhaps sexual qualifications are included in the advertisement, but the pay has never been for sex.  Rentboy has hardly operated under a veil of secrecy in that time; indeed, beyond offering the company of men they have also been quite visible in their advocacy for sex workers.  They have been public advocates for sexual health and mental well-being, not only of their advertisers but also for the gay community at large.  They have supported education programs, notably the separate nonprofit HookOnline, founded and run by sexworker advocate Hawk Kinkaid, and offering classes and podcasts to help improve safety and social image for escorts without judgement and without overtones of “we’re here to rescue you.”  Rentboy has offered events celebrating our gay culture, dance parties under the HustlaBall aegis and the Hookie Awards.  And recognizing the sheer number of young men in their ranks who are using this means as a way to subsidize an education, they just started a scholarship program (happily still taking applications).  Why exactly are they being targeted now?

Rentboy 2

Follow the money, is the answer.  Rentboy has grossed well over $10 million; if the prosecuting bodies can make three citations stick and invoke RICO laws, those assets are deemed forfeit, and are divided up between these bodies.  Nice little money grab, no?  Some are suggesting that this is the principal reason the Department of Homeland Security is involved, and I agree that I think it unlikely that the Rentboy records are going to reveal the name and address of the next Paris train gunman.  The other clue may be in the unsubstantiated mention of money laundering in the complaint, and the only thing documented therein which might possibly fall under this heading is a single mention in item 58 of a line item expense in Rentboy’s records, a line item that says “Sean — Viagra”.  On one level, that might be an attempt to confirm that Rentboy was in the business of sex, not of companionship, but I wonder if someone didn’t see that as a use of corporate funds for non-corporate use.  It’s tiny, but if the authorities only after 18 years of legal hunting finally found this one little crack to wedge their crowbar into, the timing of the raid might make sense.  It would explain the multitude of national and state organizations involved in the raid, as the only true legal justification they had was financial malfeasance and potential money laundering, and thence they’re just praying they find the proof they need in the seized records and data from the Rentboy offices to make the rest of the accusations stick.

Even we in the gay community who live on the better side of the tracks tend to forget that lots of us come from far more difficult circumstances.  There’s a host of LGBT youth with no welcoming homes and families to return to and no resource for education or social improvement.  Studying at the university level requires funding beyond the means of most student-age men; for those with parents lacking or unwilling to help with these expenses, how is such an education to be acquired?  The sort of legitimate jobs available to such students don’t begin to cover the expense unless they take up all the student’s time.  I find myself wishing I’d had this as a financial resource in my own college days: I would have saved myself and my parents a lot of financial embarrassment.  Further, the history of sex work is inextricably tied in with both the feminist movements and gay struggles for equality; to turn against these escorts is to turn our backs on a public that has been our support for decades, if not longer.

There are some great minds weighing in on this.  Read columns by feminist Yasmin Nair, one by gay sex-positive columnist and advocate Dan Savage.  Florida attorney and South Florida Gay News editor Norm Kent posted a scathing critique published by Str8upGayPornScott Shackelford wrote a really smart column for Reason.com, some of which I’ve drawn on in writing this post.  He makes this statement, which I want to quote:

The larger gay community and gay leaders need to jump on this and get loud, fast. We’ve been fighting for the right to define our relationships as we choose, not allowing the government to decide what is legitimate. Marriage recognition is just part of that fight. We are not free as long as the government is dictating the terms of our sexual interactions. I expect to see outrage from every major gay and lesbian organization at the callous disregard shown toward those men who seek to sexually connect on their own terms.

Addendum of Sept. 1, with a few more awesome things written or that I’ve found since writing this post:

Three entries in the Gay Voices section of the Huffington post, one by Matt Baume, one by JamesMichael Nichols (the deputy editor of Gay Voices), and one by Matthew Ebert.

David W. wrote of his experiences on his Facebook page.

An anonymous writer contributed this smart narrative to The Guardian.

Justin Vivian Bond, writing on his Facebook page about the statement he was asked to make to the New York Times and then cited by Dan Savage.

The New York Times published an editorial looking total askance at the Rentboy raid.

There’s this awesome argument for the legalization of prostitution by German Lopez.

And for those who don’t like to read (why would you be here, reading my logorrheic prose, though, I’d wonder), there are these two amazing videos.

One by Matt Baume again:

And one produced by Jake Jaxson of Cockyboys, featuring an powerful narrative by Rob Yeager, well known to the porn, sexwork, and BDSM worlds.  This video was originally posted to YouTube, but was reported for inappropriate content and was taken down.

And can I say…  My day was made yesterday evening when it was brought to my attention that this very blog post was cited by no less than Dan Savage.  I’m just floored. 

What’s my own personal involvement in this?  Of the seven men arrested, three have been close friends for years, one (Hawk) nigh a brother to me.  One cannot work in porn and not know dozens, possibly hundreds of colleagues, friends and folk one cares about who have been or currently are escorts.  These men have done nothing to hurt anyone, are merely capitalizing on one of their own personal assets, and have just found their income slashed.

And me, I’ve escorted, and make no secret of it.  After years of a successful career in music working at the top of the field in New York City, the economic “wisdom” of a bunch of greedy bank owners toppled the economy.  Want to catalog victims?  Folks lost their savings and their homes.  Businesses tightened their belts, and cut back on philanthropic outreach.  Arts organizations, long dependent on corporate sponsorship, withered and died.  My work went from more than I knew what to do with to nil.  And as a quarter of the rest of the workforce was suddenly finding themselves jobless too, I found myself confronted with competition from people with MBA’s and law degrees for mere Starbucks posts and bartending gigs, let alone career-track jobs.  In the succeeding two years I went from living comfortably though not luxuriously on the Upper West Side of New York City, having savings, and being able to travel a little bit, to being sorely in debt, under investigation by the IRS over the complexity of my many years of tax returns, and unable to find an apartment I was able to afford to move into when my lease ran out.  Just in case it has never entered your thoughts as to how such things transpire, this is how homeless people are made.  At the risk of sounding like the stereotype of someone forced into prostitution through desperation, it was putting an ad on Rentboy that saved me, at least making it possible to move to cheaper living conditions in Chicago for a few years.  It has in a few tight moments since kept me in rent.  It has in a number of ways made possible my slow but steady return to my music career in these succeeding years.  Without it, I think it quite likely I would have been forced into being one of those poor grubby smelly folk on the New York City subway, begging for change, and enduring the turned-up noses of all those folk who are already turning their judgemental noses up at the fact that I’ve been a whore.  Truth be told I would never have let it come to that; of the options available to me, I’d have chosen a tombstone instead.

Hence the real victims are the guys who are legitimately offering a business arrangement on this website.  Thanks to a society that demonizes sex, they find their job made substantially more difficult, and possibly more dangerous.  It is the world’s oldest profession, so closing Rentboy.com won’t stomp it out of existence; it will resurge again.  But if we let this go by unchallenged, we know that they will inch that moralistic line back further.  How long until we find some personal freedom you and I value has slipped over that line?  If they are willing to push back, we also need to be.

14 comments

  1. Chris Braham says:

    Great post Dirk! This post is one of the reasons I love You Guys! This once again shows how You are more than just a physical specimen! Glad to see someone using common sense on this subject! No reason this should still be illegal! Thanks to You and Jesse for Your honesty and insight! It is much appreciated! Looking forward to listening to Your CD when it arrives! Can’t wait! Hope We get to listen to much more of Your beautiful music in the future!

  2. Anthony Warner says:

    Dearest Dirk,
    Well said!
    As a Canadian Gay Man and a big fan of yours I appreciate and admire your point! We need more fine folks like yourself who are not afraid to speak up or out
    Love and Support always

  3. rhonda woodburn says:

    I want to state right away that I am on very heavy drugs right now so my understanding of heavy subjects are pretty much , fire bad tree pretty . but with that said , what is the difference between what rentboy was doing and what 10 minute dating does? 10 min dating has you fill out forms attesting your health , you wants desires and needs in a significant other , you pay a fee to be part of the event sometimes quite a significant fee and you go in and try to hook up with someone to pretty much do what rentboys do . right ? what am I missing ? the gay thing ? why oh why in this day and time cant people be more concerned about the homeless people they stepped over to make the raid or the hungry kids going without lunch in school ? the amount of money they spent on these raids would have gone a long way to something real . sorry if I have insulted , but it seems we are repeating history sand it didn’t turn out well for politicians the first time theyt tried to keep ther lgbt community down , what makes them think its going to work this time ?

  4. aBuck Nrut says:

    Dirk,
    Ur lookin at t trees instead of t forest ! It’s all about political ammunition for upcoming elections n political power n t US! They’ve got t Ashley Madison accounts now they have t accounts of RentBoy. How many powerful people do U think they have information on NOW to manipulate?????

  5. Jeremy Barcan says:

    Kudos to the eloquence with which you posted this latest manifesto. It could not have been said better. Yes, the trouble with our society is that we frown upon casual sex. Frankly, I don’t see any difference whatsoever between a session with my therapist and a session with my escort/sexologist. They each provide me with a much needed service and get compensated for their time. If I like my therapist, I go back to him and if I like my escort, I do the same or seek another one. Like in any profession, be it therapist or be it escort, one size does not fit all, you should pardon the pun because our needs are individual. How can escorting be considered a criminal act when an agreed upon service is provided, there is no solicitation on the part of the escort (just advertising) and there certainly is not a victim and a crime perpetrator.

  6. Rain Carrington says:

    I can’t tell you how this article hit me. You put into words all I was feeling. Outrage, sadness frustration. Thank you Dirk! This whole thing has had me up at nights, wondering how a country that can see mass shootings almost weekly now and do nothing about guns can target a company known for doing so much good and make them and the men who work for them the devils. Money does motivate, however. It’s disgusting, but true. Thank you for this, and I for one will do whatever to help in this fight. Big huge hugs!

  7. Tony says:

    Dirk,

    I unfortunately live in the Mid-west. Part of the bible belt. I grew up in a poor family and know hardships involved in being poor. We were considered White Trash even though we were far from it, we were just very poor. We were still treated that way, I had a very hard start after high school. I didn’t go to college because the college I was getting ready to go to wanted $3,000 more before I could start so I didn’t go back until my mid to late 30’s. I got a good accounting job and was making good money. I bought a house and then had to buy a new car too. Then one day I got sick and found out I had HIV/AIDS and was in ICU for 3 months. The entire spring of 2003. Was a great birthday that year as that was when I found out. Not long after I missed work and my boss wanted me gone and fired me under wrongful circumstances. I won the lawsuit btw. Didn’t help me out though for years later. When they fired me I lost my house and my new car and was just days away from being homeless when I put an ad on a website for an escort and I did it one time and got enough cash for 1 more months rent. I didn’t what I had to do. With in that month I found another job and worked for a little over 3 yrs and was fired for being HIV and gay. But they covered their asses so I couldn’t sue them. Now my heath is worse and I’m now on Social Security Disability for the HIV/AIDS and about 8 other issues and diseases. Living this way really sucks!!! If it wasn’t for be POZ I would have posted with Rentboy and done that to cover the bills that SSD doesn’t cover. So I so support Rentboy and You. There is nothing wrong with being a companion for a night at the movies, dinner and maybe a roll in the hay or a week being taken on a cruise. It shouldn’t be a problem. It’s just a job. People get hired for companions all the time. The only difference is most of those are str8 and this is from being gay. I feel it is the ultra religious that are behind it and are probably supported by 1 or more Republican Presidential candidates. Funny how it wasn’t a problem until we won the right to marry and a President election time. Thanks for hearing me rant. I do support you and Rentboy. All for one and one for ALL!!!!!!!! Let’s stand together and fight.

    Tony

  8. Dandy says:

    Do you really think our so-called leaders will stand up for hustlers? We’ve got the right to marry now-the right to be Respectable with adopted kids and a surburban picket fence. Respectable people don’t go to bat for prostitutes. Perhaps part of the timing for this is a calculated bet that the Gay Community will hang Rentboy out to dry. Over the next few years, I expect the mainstream G/L community to become only slightly less prudish than a Catholic church lady. Deep down, the right to marriage was all about getting acknowledgement that we are “good enough” and now we have to prove we really are. And just like straight people, our fascist monogamy will include calling a hustler on the sly for a little extra marital business trip fun but you can’t talk about it! Behind the mask of every Respectable American Prude lies a hypocrite.

  9. What’s that saying? An once of prevention is worth a pound…cure, something like that? Join us in funding the historic court case challenging California anti-prostitution law. http://Www.esplerp.org

  10. Carlos Chavarin Jr. says:

    Dirk: This is an excellent piece, thank you for expressing your thoughts on the subject.

  11. Cyn Duby says:

    I find this extraordinarily well thought out and to the point. Laws should protect real victims, not promote some people’s judgmental narrow-minded sex-shaming fear of an armageddon to save our souls from that dirty sex stuff. (that sounded way better in my head, sorry). But the thing is, we are adults. We get to choose. We’re not hurting anyone and it’s no one’s business but our own. You nailed it in your post and it’s very much appreciated that you and Jesse continue to fight for us, all of us. Using your powers for good is never a bad, lazy, or stupid thing. Now, where’s my secret decoder ring? 😉

  12. Gijs says:

    The eloquence of your post certainly matches the truth of what your saying, Dirk. I wholeheartedly agree!
    As a Dutch guy I often hear visitors tell me how tolerant my country is – true, if you also believe we still walk in clogs…
    Then again, it is true that most people here could not care less about living arrangements. The governments we had adopted a practical approach to shifting public opinion around matters like soft drugs and sex work: just legalize it and tax it. The good news is it is no longer illegal. The bad news is: that does not mean you can easily tell other people you’re an escort or that you used an escort’s services. Even worse: as in the past it looks like the sex worker is frowned upon more than the customer, even though both willingly undertake the transaction – to put it in business terms.

    So – in our case public opinion in this area is not as developed as the law. We may have been the first country to have a fully equal gay marriage, we’re certainly lagging in other areas.

    Posts like yours help, so hats off to you, Dirk!

  13. Rock-hard19 says:

    I really think the USA Justice System need to look at how male & female escorts website is helping there country, it’s taking a lot of the male & female prostitute off the Street’s where police have to watch for them.. The police forces is needed elsewhere where it’s more important.. Let’s stop wasting taxpayer money

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *