Last Tuesday, Federal agents raided the Manhattan offices of Rentboy.com, arresting seven people including the CEO.

Kelly Currie, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said this: “As alleged, Rentboy.com attempted to present a veneer of legality, when in fact this Internet brothel made millions of dollars from the promotion of illegal prostitution.”

“Internet brothel.” Keeping clutching your pearls, girl, while you bake your casserole for the Daughters of the Confederacy, and leave us homos the fuck alone.

Ignoring this language of puritanical moralizing — yes, love, the 1950s want their language back — this raid makes absolutely no sense. This “brothel” has been publicly advertising its business across social media since 1996. Did they really just found out about Rentboy? Or is there some timeliness here related to the passage of marriage equality? I suspect the latter.

The site has apparently been under investigation for some time. Rentboy, for its part, is challenging the prostitution allegations by saying that the services advertised on the site are for “companionship,” not sex (there was even a no-sex disclaimer upon entering the site — see below).

Their own name sort of damningly points to the contrary, however, since “rent boy” is a semi-archaic British term for a male escort. According to NBC New York, the site bills itself as “the world’s destination to meet the perfect male escort or masseur,” and boasts a database of more than 10,500 men in 2,100 cities worldwide.

rent boy disclaimer

Here’s a story. One of my closest friends messaged me last Saturday, three days before the raid, while I was driving through Mississippi on my way to California. Hey, bugging you for a spare second of your time. No rush. Just take a few sentences and describe me, physically. No pressure, just looking for a place to start.

I texted him back (while I was stopped, of course). Is this for a profile of some kind?

Yeah, Rentboy.

I described him. Bulldog build with thick arms and a cock to match.

I could kiss you for that.

My friend has been selling services on apps like Scruff or in-person where he go-go dances for years. He’s a mature, fun-loving adult with good skills (both in the bedroom and out) who plays World of Warcraft in his spare time. In other words, he’s a healthy, consenting adult who makes money from sex — with other healthy, consenting adults.

And that’s the whole point. The discussion we have now about Rentboy shouldn’t be about whether or not they were a prostitution company. To do so would be to miss the bigger picture.

The discussion should be: Why are we criminalizing sex work? Why are we punishing the good people that depend on it to survive? Criminalizing sex work puts hundreds of at-risk youth, marginalized communities like people of color and trans folk, at needless risk of incarceration — keeping them in the vicious cycle of being unable to find jobs and forcing them to return to the hustle.

The hustle isn’t bad. Sure, many depend on escorting and sexual services to survive, but I know many who enjoy it, who do it for fun, side cash, or — in some cases — just for the experience. In total truth — and this is something I’ve never written about — I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve casually escorted here and there over the years and have had loads of fun (no pun intended). While I do not depend on escorting to live, many in my community do. This raid hurts them.

When sites like Rentboy.com — which was for the most part a safe and public channel for sex workers to work — gets raided, it forces other channels (many far more dangerous) to go further underground and take greater steps to avoid the law, which means they are avoiding regulation and avoiding publicness — features that keep sex workers safe.

Rentboy.com did not operate at the level of the underground sex trade that destroys lives every day. Men joined the site freely, paid a fee, and arranged business with others who knew what they were doing. Unlike much of the sex industry, Rentboy.com had no victims, but its shutdown can create more victims out of all the men and women out there who didn’t enter into sex work freely.

There are countless sites across the internet that sell women and female escorts. I accidentally clicked on the wrong site a few years ago and now I regularly get emails asking me if I want to bang Russian women now. I haven’t heard of any of these sites getting shut down or raided by cops. Compared to most of them, Rentboy seems relatively clean.

The only difference is that Rentboy has explicitly focused on male escorts and a gay male audience since its founding. It’s the only widely successful site of its kind that I’ve ever heard of (but RentMen is decent too). When I first caught wind of it,  I honestly thought, “Why is this needed?”

Most guys I know just arrange business via sites that already exist — Grindr, Scruff, Adam4Adam, Recon, ManHunt, etc. Even aside from these, there are so many channels for male escorting to happen that if the authorities really wanted to get a handle on this, they have a long way to go. Escorting is such a part of our gay world that in most cities I consider it standard practice for a young, hot homo gym stud to make side money (or living money) doing this trade. I hesitate to say it’s a queer-dominated industry, because I doubt there’s any way to get those numbers, but anecdotally (and historically) that is the case.

All this paints an ugly picture. Raiding the most successful gay escort site in the months following the passage of marriage equality looks like a blatant act of homophobia — a hate crime enacted by a moralizing law enforcement, one which won’t get rebuttal because they’re the law. Because we put lawmen above the law they claim to enforce.

Here’s the truth. The public and the bodies that govern it are happy to criminalize the sex acts of gay men because they don’t understand them.

The New York Times reported that “the criminal complaint [against Rentboy.com] is so saturated with sexually explicit details, it’s hard not to interpret it as an indictment of gay men as being sexually promiscuous.”

“Based on my investigation,” Susan Ruiz, a Homeland Security special agent, wrote in the complaint, “I have learned that a sling, also known as a ‘sex sling,’ is a device that allows two people to have sex while one is suspended.” Later, she helpfully explained that “the term ‘twink’ is a slang term for a young, gay man with an effeminate manner, thin build, and no body or facial hair.”

Welcome to our world, Susan. I messaged my buddy two nights ago. In light of recent events, I guess my description of you for Rentboy is no longer drawing the masses.

Yeah. I get to be an official escort for a whole month. How disappointing.

— Beastly

Writer, blogger, illustrator, kinkster.

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