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Affirmation and vilification.

Hal had been an escort while a struggling actor in New York City. The money had been good, and the affirmation he got from his clients had been even better. The skinny gay kid who had been the bullies' target in school was now a gym-sculpted god and always the best-looking guy in the room.

Hal told me this only after he'd retired from sex work and we'd been friends for years. A three-year relationship--his longest ever--had come to a fiery conclusion after his partner found out about his past. It was just too much for his boyfriend.

My friend Ben has been luckier than Hal in that respect. He used to advertise in bar rags as a leather top specializing in bondage and discipline scenes. These days that's long over, and he's been with the same guy for many years. They bought a condo in Palm Springs and send out Hanukkah letters describing their life together.

Maybe his partner simply doesn't know about Ben's career in B&D. I've certainly never asked.

Then there's Burton, another friend from my New York days. He never advertised himself in a gay newspaper or put up an escorting Web site. But late one night in the 1990s, in a bar in the East Village, he quoted a price to a man who tried to pick him up. It was just a whim, a dare to himself. The guy said yes, and Burton went through with it. Just once, he says.

Hal, Ben, and Burton aren't these gay men's real names, of course, and I've altered a detail or two to obscure their identities. But they are real people, all of whom I met when they were in their 20s or early 30s. How many others among my friends have similar stories they're keeping to themselves?

I'm willing to bet that the prevalence of sex work among gay men--whether loom or escorting, whether as a lark or as a career--is geometrically higher than among straight men. So what is it about "gay culture" (if we can pretend for a moment that we know what that means) that seduces so many young gay men into sex work? Noting that straight women are less inclined to pay for sex isn't explanation enough.

My theory is that it's the dual forces of societal condemnation and sexual affirmation. As our cover subject, Tom Malin, described to me, he was constantly gay bashed in high school at the same time he was taking money from older sex partners who told him that he was beautiful and sex was good. Years later, short of both cash and self-esteem--a long-term relationship had just crumbled--he started escorting. Clients told him he was beautiful and sex was good.

Tom quit escorting five years ago. But when his past came to light in February during his run for a seat in the Texas house of representatives, media coverage implied he was deceptive and scruples-free--particularly, he told me, the local gay press. While a local Latino group reaffirmed its endorsement of Tom, representatives of the Dallas Stonewall Democrats, a gay group, repeatedly condemned him. They wanted him gone. Conservative churchgoers, meanwhile, were telephoning him to congratulate him for his honesty and his courage.

Tom lost his primary battle. He has gone through much worse in his life, and he's OK. But the disconnect his story uncovers bears underlining. Since it is, in part, the sexual affirmations of gay male culture that lead young gay men into sex work, LGBT people should also be first to help them get past it, and the last to vilify them. As another young man who was condemned by his own people once said, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:gays and sex work
Author:Steele, Bruce C.
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 11, 2006
Previous Article:Kevin Fenton.
Next Article:Celebrity gay sex scandals.

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