A few months ago at an award ceremony called The Hookies, an awards show put on by Rentboy.com to honor the best of the best in the male escorting business, host Alaska Thunderfuck presented the award for Best Newcomer to Viktor Belmont. Viktor was the first trans man to win a Hookie, an award given to him by his peers. Trans people and issues have been getting a great amount of media attention the past year or so, especially in comparison to the almost complete lack of attention the trans community has typically experienced. We've seen beautiful trans women like Laverne Cox grace the covers of magazines, and people within the gay community become increasingly sensitive about language that our trans family might find offensive.
But Viktor isn't just a trans man, he's a trans gay male escort. It's a whole extra layer of stigma to deal with, and one that Viktor handles with aplomb. I had the chance to chat with Viktor about his recent Hookie win, how he got his start in the industry and what it's like to work in the highly stigmatized field of professional escorting.
What initially attracted you to Rentboy.com?
There are a couple sites that you can advertise on -- there was one that was really great for trans men called "myredbook" that got shut down a couple years ago, and I was looking for another avenue to advertise on. Another trans escort I know told me about Rentboy, and when I got on the site there were actually two other trans men advertising on it. Rentboy's attitude is very much that everyone has an itch, everybody has a want and need and they're super welcoming. Very much like, "We appreciate diversity, come on board!" and I've only had positive experiences.
What misconception about working as an escort bothers you the most?
I think people really don't understand my job. The biggest misconception is that people have this idea of the type of person who is a sex worker, and what I don't think a lot of people realize is you can't throw a rock in a city without hitting a million escorts. San Francisco is expensive! People don't treat my job as work. They think that folks just throw money at you, and that it's really easy. I advertise as curating experiences -- you can tell me the kind of thread-count you like on your sheets, I'll get you a specific type of coffee, I do everything I can to make the experience exactly what you want. I'll get done with an overnight or something, and have people say, "Oh that's so awesome, you made all that money and it seems so easy!" And I'm just kind of like... well, every fiber of my being is making sure that everybody is getting the best time possible with me. It's difficult when people think my job isn't really work -- it's like, yeah it really is!
Did you expect your fellow Rentboys to be accepting of a trans newcomer, or did you anticipate some tension/transphobia?
It's interesting because a couple of my friends, other escorts who are cisgender men, were nominated for awards, and I kind of gave them a little shout-out on Instagram asking people to go vote for them. After I made that post I got a couple text message from them saying like, "You should totally try -- you should campaign to get an award!" I was just like, "I don't know, man..." It was a little scary, but I put myself out there. I could have never expected as welcoming and warm of a reception as the one I got -- it was really incredible. I posted something online and the likes just started coming in, the followers started coming in, everybody was like, "Yes, we want this! This is awesome!" I've had absolutely no tension or competition with other escorts -- it has only been support. This community is really tight; we really help each other out.
The Hookies keep becoming a bigger deal as time goes on; I keep seeing them referred to as the Oscars of the escort industry. Why do you think female escorts aren't getting in on the award ceremony game?
From a completely business perspective, we do live in a society where men tend to get passes where women can't. It's unfortunate, and is clearly a sexist problem that I have a big issue with. When it comes to the law, the kind of work we're doing is very sensitive, and laws are definitely more enforced with women comparatively to men. I talked to my friend who is a female escort at the Hookies, and she was like, "This could not happen for women. We would definitely get shut down, and we would all be arrested." I couldn't tell you how we could really change that, but destigmatizing our work in general by being out and proud, showing people that there are everyday people who are escorts, that we're all around you and it is a valid career choice, is definitely important. We're also not really protected by law. Our work, depending on what you disclose, can be illegal. I think that those laws really target women, whether they're cisgender or trans, comparatively to men. The bigger answer I guess is that we live in a slight state of patriarchy.
You've mentioned in other interviews that you're a visual artist -- how much does your work affect your art?
I've got a couple projects going on -- I've got a photobook that's about my experiences with escorting. I have another one that's a series with all these disposable cameras that I bring everywhere, which I've done since I was a teenager. Ever since the Hookies I've been taking more pictures with these disposable cameras kind of following my journey, meeting other escorts and having these beautiful relationships and capturing these beautiful morning-after and traveling moments. Just getting a little peek into what life is actually like as an escort. It's a really intimate photobook, I feel really excited about it. I also have a book coming out with a collective called Young Blood -- they're going to follow me around for a day and capture what it's like to rent an escort for an entire day, taking photos the whole time.
The Internet can be a messed up place -- what is the most unsettling experience you've had online from a suitor?
One of the more unsettling things that has happened wasn't really from a suitor, but it's been people who I actually know. I've had someone's partner approach me before, and I know they're monogamous, and they'll approach me on the Internet for whatever it may be, and that can be awkward. Like OK, I just saw a dick pic... and you're my friend's husband. It's always turned out fine, but when it's close to home like that, I never want to compromise somebody's integrity.
Did you have a "coming out" experience surrounding your work as an escort, and if so, how did it compare to "coming out" as being transgender?
I'm not one of those people in my experience coming out as trans where I had one of those bright lightbulb moments where I was like 7 years old saying, "I'm a boy! This is my life!" I've always been fairly androgynous -- I don't feel hyper masculine or feminine all the time, so coming out for me was more like trying on a few identities and then feeling like something was a little off. I realized that not only was I attracted to men, but also on top of that I knew that I was a boy. Being a gay trans man... that's an identity that took me a long time to get to.
In terms of coming out as being an escort, I've been doing sex work for a long time. For me it started as survival sex work. Hormones unfortunately aren't covered by insurance, and it's very hard to get that much money when you don't come from an affluent community. Through those experiences I met some wonderful people in the community who helped support me, and who viewed sex work in this really positive light. As I became a little bit older and started working in bigger cities I became more "out" about being an escort, because for me my work is really important. I don't just have the "run of the mill" escort experience that most people think of, very few escorts have that. I've been with one of my oldest clients for like six years, and was there when his partner passed away. I've been a really needed caretaker. Once I started having those strong relationships, I didn't want to hide my identity as an escort because I thought the work was so important. I started by "coming out" about it to my friends a little bit, and now it's just like when people ask me what I do I just say, "Oh, I'm an escort." There's no need to beat around the bush with that -- I'm proud of my work, and there is no shame in it.
What do you think would surprise people the most about your average day's work routine?
The mundane aspects of you know, changing your sheets, taking a shower, making sure you have the right toothpaste or whatever. The routine of getting ready for somebody. That's definitely unexpected for a lot of folks. I'll go shopping at Ikea with a client. It's not like the most exciting, but I'll be shopping for a new bedframe, holding someone's hand and talking about what we're going to cook for dinner. There are a lot of those moments that I think people wouldn't expect me to have, but clients are looking for genuine company and I'm going to give that to them. If that means going to Ikea, then so be it!
This year has been great in terms of visibility for the trans community, with more and more transgender people becoming visible to the mass public via the media. I can think of two relatively well-known transgender men, Chaz Bono and Buck Angel, but I've hardly seen any trans men being asked to talk about their experiences on cable news channels (for instance). Do you think "the public" has an easier time accepting trans women than trans men?
First of all, I want to congratulate the trans women who have been all over the media for being so brave. They have done so much for the community, and I can't thank them enough. I think that they are "passing" in a way that is very accessible to the cisgender community, and these are people that folks can relate to in the way where they can look at them and think, "Oh, you look like me." I think that definitely has affected it. Also, being a trans man, it has been very scary to be out. The amount of violent reactions that people have to trans people, especially trans people who aren't particularly "passing" (as male or female) is very frightening. To come out and be forward with your trans identity can be very scary. It's still a little scary for me! I do see more trans men stepping up to the plate, and I do see more trans men being represented in media. I don't think there is any particular reason that trans women have been at the forefront... I really encourage never having a split between trans men and trans women. We are one strong trans community, and we are all family. I think everyone has their time. I've been watching the increase of attention towards trans men in media and couldn't really tell you why it's happening. I've just been sitting and watching and all of a sudden the past year things have kind of exploded and I'm just like, "This is awesome!"
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I have one driving life goal, and that is to make every person that I meet and every person in the world know that they belong here. I would love to spend all my time and all my resources helping my community -- making sure that people have basic human rights, and get their basic human needs taken care of. I will definitely push as hard as I can to create a space where people don't have to live in fear of being who they are. Growing up, I had some access to resources with the Internet, but now there is this huge community with YouTube and everything else online that's really amazing. We can create a space where people don't have to be afraid to be themselves. Ten years from now if I could just be spending all of my time doing that, however I can directly help the most, that's really what I want to be doing. I want everyone to know that they're loved.
Check out what Viktor has to say in his own words:
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