Metro Weekly

Legalizing Sex Work: A Rentboy.com escort on why legalization matters

The LGBT community is slowly finding its voice when it comes to decriminalizing the world's oldest profession

SexWork_Web

Advertising on Rentboy.com turned Nick Kinkand’s life around.

The 33-year-old had broken up with his boyfriend, was homeless and couch-surfing at friends’ houses, and was massively in debt, with no car, burgeoning student loans and an income of barely $100 to $200 a week as a masseur. Kinkand married a straight woman in what was purely a financial arrangement, paying for her phone in exchange for being added to her health insurance. He eventually moved out of his wife’s house in suburban Baltimore and in with friends in the D.C. suburbs, which gave him access to a greater number of potential clients. But last August, some of his clients began propositioning him to provide more than just massages.

“My clients kept asking for more, so I thought ‘Why not get paid for it?'” he says.

Two months later, Kinkand joined Rentboy.com as a masseur, touting not only his technical skills but offering companionship and emotional support.

“I was on the website for four hours when I got my first phone call,” Kinkand recalls. “This guy lived in Ashburn [Va.], and he said, ‘Hey, can you come out here? I want to see you for four hours.’ I told him it would be $800, and he said okay. So I made more with my first client in four hours than I had in the last two months combined.”

Although business could wax and wane depending on the month, Kinkand benefitted from some beginner’s luck. Four days after joining Rentboy, he was contacted by a client who paid for a first-class flight to New York City for an overnight. He was then propositioned by a second client while waiting in the airport lounge for a flight back to D.C. This second client offered him $1,000 and a prepaid plane ticket. Kinkand slowly made other connections, staying in the city for each subsequent encounter.

“It was supposed to be overnight, and I ended up staying three weeks. I was seeing six to eight people a night,” he says. “I got to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I was like a big kid. It was amazing. I saw four clients on Thanksgiving Day, too.”

Kinkand charged an hourly rate of $200, with $1,000 for an overnight or if he had to travel to another city. With the money he made, he began paying down his massive debts.

“It was the first time in my life I felt happy, because I don’t look at myself as a sex worker, I looked at myself as more of a therapist,” Kinkand says. “These are people who needed companionship, whether it be just a hug, naked lying in bed, or sex.”

He also advertised on RentMen.com, but failed to meet prospective clients despite numerous messages. Kinkand instead stuck with Rentboy, where the requests he received ran the gamut, from the mundane to the kinky.

“In my less than one year career with Rentboy, I saw everything imaginable,” Kinkand says. “I had a straight guy hire me because he wanted somebody to hang out with. I’ve had women hire me to have sex with them. I’ve had women hire me to have sex with their husbands. It’s a little bit of everything.”

All of that came to an end when agents from the Department of Homeland Security raided the headquarters of Rentboy on Aug. 25, arresting the company’s CEO and six other high-level staffers. As soon as he heard of the raid, Kinkand suspended his profile, worried about repercussions for having advertised on the site. Later that day, the site was shut down by federal authorities. Although Kinkand had already obtained another job before the raid, his finances took a hit from the loss of Rentboy income.

“I was starting to get ahead on rent, paying off debt,” he says. “I wasn’t worried about housing. I was enjoying my life. Now, I’m back to the place where I’m worried and working 60 hours a week minimum just to pay the bills.”

Landing page of rentboy.com - via Archive.org

Landing page of rentboy.com – via Archive.org

The Rentboy raid sparked a conversation among LGBT organizations who noted that similar, heterosexual-geared sites advertising escort services did not meet similar fates, and decried the use of taxpayer dollars to crack down on sex workers ahead of other, more pressing priorities.

But while the reaction of the sex worker community to the raid drew comparisons to the Stonewall Riots, the larger issue of sex work was already being raised by concerned national and international groups.

Amnesty International recently recommended decriminalizing sex work and prostitution in order to protect the human rights of sex workers. Meanwhile, a few days prior to the raid, four major LGBT rights organizations — Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Transgender Law Center, and the National Center for Transgender Equality — issued statements pushing for the decriminalization of sex work.

“We very much agree with the Amnesty International statement that [decriminalization] would lead to safer conditions for people doing sex work, that they would be able to do it in the open and not be driven into more dangerous situations, particularly in underground or more ‘hidden’ street work that does make people more vulnerable,” says Cathy Sakimura, deputy director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The reason why so many LGBT and human rights organizations support decriminalization is because LGBT people — and LGBT youth in particular — are heavily represented among the sex worker population, says Sasanka Jinadasa, capacity building and community resource manager at HIPS, Inc., a harm reduction agency that works closely with sex workers.

“Targeting sex work is an indirect way of targeting the LGBT community without calling it outright discrimination,” she says. “That’s how a lot of discrimination happens in this country. We won’t say we’re directly homophobic or transphobic, but we’ll target the work, we’ll target the living of people in these communities. And by attacking sex workers, we’re attacking a huge segment of the LGBT community without having to say we’re homophobic or transphobic.”

Jinadasa adds that some social service agencies can exacerbate the problem by vilifying sex workers and essentially blackmailing them into behaving a certain way.

“Unfortunately, a lot of social services agencies will tell you that the only way to access resources, the only way to ‘get better’ — this is their language — or to get more money, or be stable, or to be healthy is to leave the industry,” she says. “And that’s really unfortunate. People take a ‘savior complex’ interest in the issue. A lot of people want to help sex workers, but only if they want to leave the trade. That’s not economically feasible for a lot of people, and for some, it’s a choice that they stand by.”

Becky, a 24-year-old transgender woman who occasionally engages in sex work, says treating sex work like the way the District currently enforces marijuana laws — with a fine, not jail time — would have a big impact on the LGBT community, because many transgender women have no other job opportunities. Becky believes regulating the sex industry or having a place where sex workers could congregate without disturbing the neighbors would provide more protection and remove some of the stigma surrounding sex work.

For Kinkand, the issue of legality regarding the world’s oldest profession is one that needs to be addressed.

“A lot of people’s biggest complaint about sex work is the fact that there are these women or children that are being trafficked into the country to do this,” says Kinkand. “But that’s all underground stuff. If it were to become legal, it would reduce that, because if I wanted to have sex with somebody and wanted to pay for it, instead of going to some underground brothel or to the street corner where these people are sick and have diseases or something, I can go to a reputable place and see a reputable person.

“It’s surprising how many people in this country are like, ‘Hey, you can do whatever you want behind closed doors,'” he concludes. “Well, what’s the difference with sex work? If I want to take you on a date, and I want to go to a nice meal and everything like that, and I drop $400 and then we have sex, why can’t I just give you $400, have sex with you, and that could help you with your life. If they’re willing and consenting, what’s the difference?”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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