New website aims to demystify male sex workers
by David-Elijah Nahmod
The co-editors of a book about male escorts have launched a website in support of the often misunderstood profession and hope to demystify it and to work toward the decriminalization of sex work.
John Scott, Ph.D., a professor in the School of Social Justice at Queensland University of Technology in Australia, and Victor Minichiello, Ph.D., a social scientist and adjunct professor at the School of Social Justice at the university, co-edited Male Sex Work and Society (2014, Harrington Park Press), which examines male sex work from a diverse array of perspectives, including public health, sociology, psychology, social services, history, economics, and mental health. The men's aim was to enrich the ways in which the public views male sex work as a field of commerce and male sex workers themselves.
Minichiello and Scott recently launched Me, Us and Male Escorting, a website that seeks to take the message of the book even further. They explained their long-term goals to the Bay Area Reporter via a joint email from Australia.
"Our research is aimed at providing a better research-informed understanding of the role of male escorting in society," they said. "We hope to move the discussion away from pathologizing discourses about homosexuality and the criminalization view of paid sex to a more reasoned discussion about the existence of a sex industry that includes males as the buyers and sellers of paid sex and sex as work operating in a professional and decriminalized environment regulated by laws that apply to all occupations."
Scott and Minichiello declined to share their ages or how they identify, stating it was "irrelevant to the value of our work and the project."
The men said that the stereotype of male escorts as burnt out gay porn stars paints an often-inaccurate portrait.
"The research on male escorts over a decade now is very clear," Scott and Minichiello said. "Like their clients, they come from diverse backgrounds. Many are from middle-class backgrounds, many are gay identifying but others are bi or straight identifying."
They noted that the stereotype and the reality of sex work are even further apart than many people realize.
"A significant number of them have college educations and they represent many different cultural backgrounds," Scott and Minichiello said. "Most escorts are in their 20s [and] usually work as escorts for a few years, although a significant number work in the business for over five years. Increasingly, most advertise for their business via the internet and work as independent escorts."
Me, Us and Male Escorting features a wide variety of sections, including resources and news – the news section includes the personal story of sex worker Cameron Cox, who saw most of his friends turn their backs on him when he came out about his profession. The site also covers the ongoing legal battles of Jeffrey Hurant, the founder of the popular gay escorting website Rentboy.com, which was shut down by New York law enforcement officials in 2015.
"Our study reveals that the phenomenon of male escorts is found globally," Minichiello and Scott said. "It is timely and important that this is openly acknowledged and that the sex industry is viewed from an occupational perspective because research shows that the benefits of the decriminalization of sex work far outweighs the dangers associated with driving the industry underground and on the streets."
Those benefits, they said, include a safer and healthier environment for both the workers and their clients.
"Decriminalization is associated with better sexual health outcomes, better reporting of sex trafficking, lower incidence of violence, better interactions with the police and government, health bodies and the community, and the development of a more professional business that conforms to existing state regulations, like all other work," Scott and Minichiello said.
The new website was met with approval by Lance Navarro, a gay-identified escort in San Francisco.
"I like this site a lot," Navarro said. "They've already featured a great article written by a good friend, David, usually known as DavidSF. His story is amazing, going from a place of homelessness and desperation to now having an amazing life, traveling all over the world and putting smiles on lots of faces."
Navarro acknowledged that some sex workers do turn to the profession because other options are not available to them.
"So many visualize a sex-worker as desperate, destitute, uneducated, and unhappy, because in fact, some are," he said. "This is an occupation which is sometimes entered for the sake of survival or because one can't find employment otherwise, due to lack of education, criminal past, racial and/or gender inequality."
Navarro, however, feels that this stereotype fails to tell the complete story of sex work.
"There are many for who it's a short term answer but for some of us this is our career, passion, and the source of enormous joy," he said. "We have a gift for connection and intimacy and the relationships we build with our clients are one part therapist, one part lover, and one part friend."
Scott and Minichiello said sex work will always exist.
"There are several countries that have now passed laws that have decriminalized sex work, and many other countries and state jurisdictions are thinking about passing relevant similar laws," they said. "The reality is that sex work has always existed, and will always exist. Progressive societies will need to make decisions that create the best environment for the development of a professional, respectable, and responsible sex industry."
Amnesty International issued a policy last year recommending the decriminalization of consensual sex work.
"This is based on evidence that these laws often make sex workers less safe and provide impunity for abusers with sex workers often too scared of being penalized to report crime to the police," the organization said on its website. "Laws on sex work should focus on protecting people from exploitation and abuse, rather than trying to ban all sex work and penalize sex workers."
Scott and Minichiello said that the responses they've gotten to the website have been positive across the board.
"It offers the public, including the families and friends of people who decide to be escorts, a better understanding of this work, and challenges the many ill-founded stereotypes associated with escorting in general," they said.
Me, Us and Male Escorting can be found at http://www.aboutmaleescorting.com/.