I was a teenage rent boy. In 1983, when I started working for Male Express in New York City, 25 percent of my wages went to a coke fiend. I was a freshmen in college, and Male Express was a way for me to foot the bill. I had many jobs that paid the way for my education, but at $250 and hour--hustling was the most efficient. I hooked almost every weekend, and I had many repeat customers, including a U.S. District Judge, an NFL player, and a catholic priest--all of them in the closet.
I had some shame about what I did, and I didn't tell anyone but a few friends. Now, I have no shame about it at all. I was a rent boy for eighteen months, and then, by 1985, AIDS changed the marketplace. I will say that even though I carried some shame, I was very surprised by how liberating sex work could be. The judge taught me all about fine Italian wine, Beethoven, and the pleasures of anal. I had previously hated football, mostly because I associated football with the bully boys back home. Now, I could love not only the game, but the player. And I learned that a gay man can embrace his masculinity, and lose nothing in the bedroom. My player was African-American, another first for this white bread farm boy, and he remains the only client who made love so well, I had to stop charging him--season tickets to the game notwithstanding. The catholic priest was a rebellion against the Jesuit who molested me as a child, and the oppressive nature of Roman Catholicism on my youth. I charged him double. And like a good catholic, I made my peace by depositing his over-ring in the collection plate of the Catholic Worker.
As I said, I have no shame now. I shed my shame, and I urge others to shed theirs too. Open, above board prostitution in the LGBTQ community is a wonderful thing, especially as practiced by Rentboy.com. The heterosexual world could learn a thing or two from gay men. The site was safe, fun, sexy, and it made no cut on a sex worker's pay. Young men could advertise for a flat fee, and it didn't require a client to pay anything. Rentboy.com's CEO and his employees were not middle men and women, they liberated sex workers from the power of the pimp, and they elevated the profession, took away the shame, and made it open to community discourse--which is enviable. The Hookies, their yearly award given to the best rent boy, were seen as a real badge of honor--they also started sponsoring college scholarship. Since a rent boy at Rentboy.com could now ply his trade with no pimp, no money being made by the company for his sexual service--by shutting it down, are we not concerned about Rentboy.com's right to free speech? And hasn't that right been violated by Homeland Security?
This, of course, begs the question--why did the Department of Homeland Security chose to bust Rentboy.com in the first place? DHS was created to stop domestic terrorism--and if you're going to attack a website for promoting prostitution, how about stopping one with a long list of sexual exploitation like backpage.com. Rentboy.com never had a single complaint as egregious as underage prostitution, and yet backpage still operates today. How much money did it cost taxpayers to close Rentboy.com? In the affidavit, company employees have not been charged with the federal crime of sex trafficking across state lines, or money laundering--DHS is looking for ten million dollars--the company's five year profit. One has to ask, how much money did DHS, and the city of New York, spend to seize ten million dollars?
One also has to wonder about the sexual health of a community already at war in an epidemic of neglect, with a rise in sexually transmitted diseases. New York recently relocated Chelsea Clinic, the largest sexual health center in the state. With a community clinic relocated a hundred blocks away, the LGBTQ community are now at risk for contracting even more STIs. Driving sex workers underground, with a rising epidemic--it's 1983 all over again. Instead of an open, healthy, above ground environment--the rent boys will be forced to go it alone. There will be no Chelsea Clinic like there was for me in 1984, when I got my first shot of penicillin for gonorrhea, and my first real education about sexual health.
There's an eerie lack of urgency from Mayor de Blasio, who has yet to restore infectious disease funding to the DOHMH, and would rather see that money spent sending city police into the offices of Rentboy.com. He would rather see LGBTQ sexually shamed than pay 2.7 million to fund the expansion of PrEP. He would rather drive sexual minorities underground, with no sexual health services to protect their lives. 2015, in New York City, is so frighteningly familiar to me that I am seeing double. Ghosts of the dead are rising to tell me--"ACT UP!"--and everywhere I turn, I feel as if I'm writhing, white hot, in one long New York state of deja vu. Wherever I turn, there they are--the ghosts, saying: "We've seen this all before: sex shaming, homophobic health care, the invisible response from DOHMH and City Hall, and a community that sometimes would dare not speak its own name, or defend sexual freedom."
I urge the LGBTQ community to rise up faster than the dead. We are one pathogen away from the next plague. This type of sexual shaming, where we take the oldest profession in the world and turn it into a federal rub-down, has to be smashed. I will not let this government sexually shame me. Legalize prostitution, unionize it if we must, but organize and defend Rentboy.com. I stand in solidarity with the men who frequented the site, and the sex workers who earned their livings there. Of the few rent boys I spoke with, and the ones I heard about through others, the stories were very similar to mine--business owners and big wigs, small timers, fathers, religious leaders, politicians, and more often than not--gay men who loved the company of a rent boy. And why shouldn't they? Viva rent boys! I was a teenage rent boy, and I'm proud of it. Later on, I had other jobs as well--jobs at Fortune 500 companies where I got to use the college education I earned as a teenage sex worker. It served me well, and I will not die in disgrace, nor let others die in my place.
I join Lambda Legal Defense, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the National LGBTQ Task Force, and activists like Justin Vivian Bond and Peter Staley who all support Rentboy.com. Mostly, I support the rent boys themselves--I stand with sex workers, who have a right to do their job without the threat of prosecution, and a right to do it in a safe, non-exploitative, and healthy environment like the one Rentboy.com provided. We treat this like the sex crime it is--one perpetrated by the federal government on the LGBTQ community. It's time to hit the streets, so that rent boys everywhere don't have to walk them. For freedom of speech, and the right to exist--Je Suis Rentboy.com!