Yesterday, the New York office of the largest online male escort service, Rentboy, was raided by the NYPD and Department of Homeland security. Its CEO, Jeffrey Hurant, and six other employees were arrested. They are accused of facilitating prostitution, among other charges. After the raid, a Rentboy escort and former porn performer reached out to Gawker, offering to share his experiences working as an escort via Rentboy (and briefly, in its office). I interviewed him last night for two hours and the results of that interview have been organized and lightly edited into the first-person essay below. The subject requested to remain anonymous.
The people at Rentboy weren’t doing anything wrong—they were doing something illegal. I think that’s an important distinction in this case. Really what they were doing was making things better for a lot of marginalized people. It’s like that line from The Simpsons: Their only crime was breaking the law.
Of course, they were facilitating prostitution, which in the United States is illegal. But the bigger question is whether it should be illegal. I think it should be legal, but then again, I don’t have an objective opinion. I’ve been listed on and off Rentboy since I was 19. I’m 30 now.
“I felt handsome and desirable for the first time in my life.”
I got started in sex work because my dick is big—10 inches long, and thick. When I was 18, Manhunt was the most popular hookup site and I would consistently get offers to do porn. At the time, I didn’t realize to what extent my dick size made me an outlier.
I was a freshman in school and I had been having real problems with my family. It was mostly control issues. I wanted to be able to live on my own, so I finally agreed to do a movie. I was so nervous, but then when I did it, I found it incredibly empowering. I had social anxiety and very low self-esteem; here was something that made me feel good about myself. That’s just how it worked. I felt handsome and desirable for the first time in my life, and it was a wonderful feeling.
I dropped out of school because I didn’t want to be there, and I got a job at a go-go bar in Florida. I experienced financial freedom for the first time in my life. Working at the go-go bar was exhausting and it didn’t pay very good money. I knew I wanted to try escorting, but I felt shy and awkward about starting. It was better money than I was making and it was a much better experience.
Eventually, I was able to go back to school. I graduated in ’08. I was able to supplement the limited work I could get during the recession without having to take a web developer position or something like that. I’m an artist.
Going from porn to escorting was a natural progression. Even back then, when you could make way more money from porn because it was all DVD sales, you couldn’t make a living off porn. If you do porn, you make money from appearances, but mostly from escorting. You do porn to advertise your escort work, because then you have a name and people look for you as someone to hire.
Porn doesn’t pay very well because porn can be pirated with impunity. If you’re a porn company and you try to file a complaint with a district attorney over being pirated, good luck. Nothing will come of it, except maybe you’ll get audited so they can see if they can bust you for labor violations. I suppose voters love that shit.
I’m friends with some of my clients, which happens a lot more than people think. If you’re the kind of person who this work is a good fit for, you have to like people. When a lot of escorts/porn performers get to an age where they don’t think they should do it anymore or they can’t really do it anymore, they go to nursing school. I think it’s partially because both jobs require the same sort of patience and understanding and the ability to not get grossed out easily.
Also, if you’re going to be a nurse and be any good at it, you have to like people. That’s what escorting is about. You see a side of people that sometimes their very best friends don’t see. It’s sometimes a side they’ve never shown anybody.
“There are clients who are amazing at sex and you’d never guess it.”
The things you learn about sexuality are fascinating. You see the prevalence of certain fetishes that people won’t talk about. For example, race play is more common than you’d think. You see really interesting permutations of sexuality. You see interesting relationship structures. It’s amazing how many couples hire escorts, or how may couples have an open relationship but only with escorts. The clear-cut boundaries and explicitly transactional nature of the interactions generally ensure that escorts don’t fall in love with clients. It’s not impossible, there are people I know in long-term relationships that started this way, but it’s not common.
I’ve been with my boyfriend for about three and a half years. He was never a client of mine, but he’s fine with my escorting. He doesn’t love it, but he’s fine with it. It doesn’t cause fights, but every now and then, it’ll pop up in an argument. I’ll say, “I’m sorry, I wish I could stay home tonight, but I have to go make money. I have to pay the rent. You know this is the deal.” He’ll say, “Maybe you could have done more work this month instead of playing Civilization all day.” It’s kind of normal couple fighting.
I have people where I go in and they make me feel like I need to go back to the gym and stay there for a month. They’re in such perfect shape and so good looking. They’re hiring me because of my dick. It’s not, “Oh, you’re more beautiful than me, come on in.” I think they figure they could fuck around on Scruff for eight hours or just have someone come and give them exactly the experience they want. Sometimes I get guys who’ve never bottomed contact me, but usually I tell them, “I can try, but you might want to use someone smaller for your first time.”
There was a domme I worked with who would humiliate her male slaves by making them suck dick. It was really interesting for me. I’m super gay, never had sex with a woman. It was weird at first to have a woman there at all. There’s stuff like that.
There are people who are clearly on the autism spectrum, and some of them are great or interesting people but they’re just bad at that initial social contact. If they can afford it, hiring an escort mitigates that for them.
There are clients who are amazing at sex and you’d never guess it. Sometimes you’ll see someone and immediately you’re like, “I should be paying for this!” And then an hour goes by and you’re like, “Oh my god, I should have stayed home.” Sometimes you’ll go to somebody and it’s like, “You’re a little…round.” I’ll have a nasty, judgmental thought and then they’ll completely blow your mind. This job has changed how I look at people, and whom I’m attracted to. It’s broadened my horizons in a lot of ways.
I’m HIV positive, and I always share that information. If somebody wants to bareback, that’s the first thing I tell him. I list myself as a raw top. People will ask, “You’re clean?” I’ll say, “No, I’m positive. But I’m on meds, and I get checkups every three months. Since I’ve been on meds, I’ve never not been undetectable.” If someone’s interested in barebacking, 75 percent of the time, he’s on PrEP or also positive and fine with my status. The other 25 percent of the time, they say, “Oh, OK. I’m sorry, I can’t.” And that’s that. Sometimes we use condoms and sometimes we don’t hook up at all. Either is fine.
I was 27 when I contracted HIV. Before that, I always used condoms with clients, but I didn’t use them with the guy I was seeing at the time I contracted it. My clientele has changed dramatically since I contracted HIV. When you advertise as “safe only,” guys who are positive aren’t looking for that. They’re looking to bareback. Chlamydia sucks, gonorrhea sucks, but they’re easy to get rid of. Generally, it’s pretty easy to know if you have them.
I’ve only had STDs rarely, and when I do get them, I take time off. I think part of that is being a top. You’re less likely to get something if you’re a top. Most of the time when I’ve gotten something, it’s been from a fuck bud rather than a client. If you think about it, a lot of clients aren’t having a lot of sex. It’s not like they’re like, “You know, I have eight guys lined up today, but I need someone for the 1-3 p.m. slot.”
“I’m in the 99th percentile of dick size. If you’re in the 99th percentile of anything else, nobody faults you for using that.”
The way it worked on Rentboy is, as an escort, you’d pay to list. They make their money through listings, membership fees, and advertising. A basic ad is $60 a month, and they have a limited number of higher-ranking slots for more money that determine where you show up when people browse.
I charge $300 for an outcall. That isn’t necessarily for an hour—sometimes it’s longer, depending on the setup. Sometimes you get drinks before you fuck. You have to advocate to yourself for a certain extent but you can also determine: “OK, this is an enjoyable experience for me, so I’m going to continue it,” versus “It’s 95 degrees in this apartment. I have to get out the minute the second hand crosses the hour threshold.” In the latter cases, it’s rarely about the guy but the scenario. Maybe you’re really tired, or the place you’re in is filthy.
If I made $1,000 a week from escorting, that would be a good week for me, and there are down periods. For the whole holiday season, I’m usually not doing any escorting. In a typical year, it’s a $30,000-$35,000 supplement. I think I make less than a lot of guys, because I’m more likely to turn work down if I’m busy.
You grow to depend on the money you make from escorting, or even if you don’t depend on it, you get used to knowing it’s there as a backup. Without that safety net, it’s scary. Recently, I had an art show that did much worse than I thought it would. I spent a lot of money preparing for it, a lot of time preparing for it. It just happens: Sometimes these things don’t go well. I could still pay all my bills on time, though. The week after, I said to myself, “Fuck that show. I’ll use the time I would have spent filling orders listing myself as available and making some money.” And now there isn’t that possibility.
I’m lucky because I have other things I can fall back on. I have experience in web development. I won’t starve to death.
But why should I have to give up escorting? I’m in the 99th percentile of dick size. If you’re in the 99th percentile of anything else, nobody faults you for using that. If you’re in the 99th percentile of beauty, of course you’ll be a model. You’d be crazy not to be. If you’re in the 99th percentile of charisma, you’ll be an actor or an anchorman. If you’re in the 99th percentile of dick or tit size, you’re supposed to tuck them away and go for whatever your second-place attribute is? “Well, I’m really good at folding clothes, so I guess I’ll work at the Gap forever.” There’s something fundamentally unfair about this level of control over what people are allowed to do with their bodies when there’s no demonstrable harm that comes from it. Everything I do would be legal if there wasn’t money involved.
“Rentboy has made this a safer business to be in.”
In addition to listing on Rentboy, I freelanced in-office for them doing graphic design. I knew Rentboy’s CEO Jeff Hurant and he was aware that I was very unhappy in my previous day job. The people who worked at Rentboy—seven of whom were just arrested—were there for ages. People stayed because they believed in what they’re doing. They’re making this kind of work safer for people.
You very rarely hear about pimps in 2015. There was a time 30 years ago where that’s how everybody worked. Even escort services are on their way down. Rentboy, by the way, isn’t an escort service, any more than Craigslist is a used car lot.
And it’s not just that Rentboy’s intentions were good, their outcomes were good. What they achieved through this site, while illegal, was an absolute, unalloyed good. I don’t think that going after the least objectionable form of prostitution is going to reduce coerced prostitution. I hope people realize the level of presence Rentboy has in the gay community. Or, had. They had floats at Pride parades. Their Hustlaball is a giant party they have in five or six cities around the world. It’s a giant circuit party, basically.
Even though common sense dictates that prostitution should be legal, people don’t use common sense much when it comes to sex. It’s very hard for American politicians in our system to go ahead and advocate for something like that. What surprised me about the raid was I thought there was sort of an understanding. That probably sounds naive. In a lot of countries, prostitution is still technically illegal but as long as there isn’t human trafficking and rape involved, they stay out of it.
What scared me about this is I just moved my business to a larger space. I’ve been buying equipment and trying to ramp up production for the holidays, and I was depending on the income I get from this. It goes to the business. What’s going to happen? I have all these obligations.
I have a small client base, but I think some people might be scared. The clients are compromised in this raid, too. When you write to a Rentboy escort, it masks your email address initially. Since you can read your masked emails through their interface, there’s a database with that information, which is probably among the information seized.
That’ll also be interesting because there are important, rich people who use that site. Rentboy was the No. 1 destination for this kind of work. Celebrities use it. Political figures. Sometimes, kind of important ones. I had one guy, a closeted foreign politician that I like very much. But when I realized how important he was, it was almost a little scary because it was like, “Ooh, boy. He is a really big deal. Let’s make sure that this information is kept fully under lock and key.”
Rentboy has made this a safer business to be in. It’s much easier to pick up and put down since you’re not tied to a pimp. If you get a day job or want to move or get in a relationship, there’s no one there telling you that you can’t because you have to keep working. There’s no one telling you, “If you do that, you’ll never be allowed to list with our service again.” It gives sex workers total freedom.
I was joking with friends: Do we all have to pick a bar we’re going to hang out in now? Maybe we’ll have to start hanging out at the Townhouse and learning show tunes. This site drove like 95 percent of traffic to us. Obviously, something else will step in. I put something up on Rentmen after the raid just because, to paraphrase Frank Herbert, the spice must flow. (As of today, it looks like Rentmen is down, too.)
I guess I could lay low, but I’m starting a new job: teaching at a public college. I’m very excited about this. I’m 30, I’m at a point where if I want to keep escorting, I need to make it my career. If I were going to keep doing it and want to actually retire one day, I have to get serious about it. I could still do art, but I’d need to do movies again, and that doesn’t really appeal to me.
I was thinking that I could fade out on escorting while I pick up more and more classes, and then eventually maybe I’ll be able to pay for a vacation a year with money from my loyal clientele, but I won’t need ads up or anything. Now I’m like, “Fuck, what am I going to do?”
[Image by Sam Woolley]