Someone emailed me an article last night hoping to evoke a response. Well, here is that response. The article is titled “So You Wanna Be a Hooker?” by David Helton, Publisher and Creative Director of Left Magazine out of San Francisco. The article is a criticism of Rentboy.com (the former website on which male escorts marketed themselves) and of sex workers in general, and it is none too nice. Overall, it is a perpetuation of stereotypes and the stigma that plague those who work in the sex industry.
The first thing Helton does in his article is accuse Rentboy.com of not having used its scholarship program to give guys an “out” from the sex industry (assuming all of them are looking for one), but instead having used it as a recruitment tool. He argues that an amount closer to $25,000 (rather than the $1,500 that was advertised by Rentboy) would have convinced him that Rentboy.com was serious about education. With the Department of Homeland Security reportedly having uncovered approximately $10-million stashed away in Rentboy.com’s accounts, I’m inclined to agree with him. On the other hand, Rentboy.com did more to provide a safer and simpler means for male escorts to conduct business than any other private company to date. And other than the scholarship issue, Helton and I agree on little else.
In the article, Helton paints every escort as a crack-smoking hooker who is so desperate for cash he will even endure being urinated on (mind you, some people engage in watersports for fun). He also paints every client as being just as sleazy, stating that “you can make up to $300 an hour (if you’re hot enough) just getting pounded by some married businessman or fingering the dirty asshole of some random guy whose boyfriend is out of town”.
Before I go on, it’s worth pointing out that all save one of Helton’s many examples portray the escort as the receptive partner, painting the picture that most escorts are pathetically being sodomized in both ends out their desperate need for a quick buck. I suspect this is a deliberate tactic, given that bottom-shaming is very much a thing in the gay community, particularly in the United States. It serves to make the stereotypical hookers in Helton’s article appear even more desperate by endorsing another kind of stigma.
However, the implications of this are worse than that of only bottom and slut-shaming. Implying the receptive sexual partner is somehow less than the penetrative sexual partner is, by its very nature, sexist. Is it possible I’m reading too much into Helton’s words? No, I don’t think so.
One of Helton’s most elaborate examples is that of Julia Roberts in the 1990 film Pretty Woman. “Let’s be clear”, asserts Helton, “Julia Roberts was a whore”. He then goes on to describe some ridiculous hypothetical of a sequel in which he entertains some weird fantasy of what is precisely sexist slut-shaming. I guess we can assume Helton’s attitude toward women, as well.
Now, let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that most or even every escort is exactly as Helton describes in his article. My question to Helton then is this: “Do you feel like a big man now?” According to Helton, he went to college, got a job and worked his way up in his career. Apparently, this career now includes writing malicious articles patronizing and dehumanizing the downtrodden under the pretense of wanting to help them. Oh, but if one could only be half so great as David Helton…
But not every escort is like what is described in the article. I am evidence of this. I have never smoked crack and I have never been pissed on (unless you count that time I stepped on a Texas bullnettle as a kid). I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from a state university and did eight years in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. Following graduation from college, I randomly decided to become a porn star. Being an escort just sort of came with the territory. (It’s also a bit of a fetish I have.) I now even have this cool little contract with Fleshjack and they’re making sex toys after me. Last but not least, I recently enrolled in one of Kaplan’s LSAT prep courses to help me prepare for the LSAT in December. This was indeed paid for by my work in the sex industry.
Also, not every client is like the ones described in Helton’s article either. First, I have very strict standards when it comes to accepting clients. Secondly, I have mostly had very successful clients that are good, moral people. Some have become friends and are no longer clients. I owe it to them to at least mention and defend them against this vitriol written in Left Magazine.
Perhaps one would argue that I am the exception—I am not; I know many like myself—but whether I am the exception shouldn’t matter. No one is deserving of such blatant hatred. No one.
I get it—the caricature of a prostitute, whore, hooker, or whichever derogatory term one chooses, makes us an easy target. Very few will defend what is supposedly the lowest of the lows, and words like David Helton’s that perpetuate the stigma and stereotypes of our industry are exactly why. But I challenge all of my readers to be smarter than that.
I also challenge David Helton: So you wanna be a writer, bud? Start by dropping these pathetic, childish op-eds and actually tackle some difficult topics. You’ve accomplished absolutely nothing by writing an article trashing a group of people who have, frankly, put up with enough.
Finally, this is my message to every sex worker out there: Stay strong. I am in this fight with you, and I am not giving up. By way of my platform, you have a voice. There are many out there who will crush your very soul if you allow them to. They are selfish, ruthless and see you as an easy way to make themselves feel better. Do not give in, and do not give up.