Sex and the City's Rentboy Mentality

The thing that no one is supposed talk about but everyone talks about was talked about all night at the Hookies Awards, on March 20 at XL Nightclub in New York City. I was invited by a gay publication as Press that, in turn, had been approached by a PR firm to send a journalist, to write up a piece if the spirit moved me. The spirit didn't budge and I declined to submit an article, but I was revved up in a more material fashion.

Quite possibly the silliest awards show I've witnessed, with an un-funny, crude host and its categories for Best Bottom and Best Cock and even one for most stylish escort -- the winner named the designer of his harness when he accepted the honor -- it was still a great way to meet and greet the country's most popular porn performers who are also escorts for Rentboy.com, the show's host. The men are also prostitutes, guys who are paid to sleep with other guys, sex workers, "boys for rent." In case you didn't figure it out from the title pun of the ceremonies, hookers.

In hindsight, CEO Jeffrey Hurant, who was arrested on August 25 for promoting prostitution, along with six other current and former Rentboy employees, might be thinking "Hookies" wasn't the smartest title for the annual awards show, or for once telling a reporter he started the site "to keep the oldest profession in the world up to date with all the latest technology," or for using as Rentboy's slogan "Money can't buy you love...but the rest is negotiable." Especially after his arrest, when he told reporters, "I don't think we do anything to promote prostitution."

And Donald Trump doesn't do anything to promote his ego.

Then again, why should the 50-year-old former Oxford student have worried? These days, Rentboy is as ubiquitous a New York staple as seeing guys smooch on the Highline or reading same-sex wedding announcements in "The Times." And equally as shocking.

Problem is, unlike gay marriage and gay porn and gay strippers and gay sex and gay awards shows, gay prostitution, like straight prostitution, is illegal, and everyone knows that. There hasn't been that much media attention paid to that argument, and that's in huge part because the thing we don't talk about isn't sex -- it's our brazen demand to have access to it 24/7 without fear of retribution, legal or otherwise.

The gay prostitution of Rentboy echoes our own entitled view as sexual consumers; as a sexually liberated non-bigoted sector of society, we deserve all the polish of pleasuring ourselves without reading the fine print of right and wrong. It's an understandable byproduct of a sector that was forbidden to even kiss in public. That doesn't mean raiding Rentboy made sense, especially given the real terrors lurking on our street corners. And it doesn't mean there aren't people out there who'd love to use any means necessary to condemn the gay population and make us seem as lewd as humanly possible. It does mean we are expected to play by the rules until we enact the laws to change them.

The argument that, since Rentboy has been flourishing without a glitch since 1996, in over 2,000 cities, an arrest now must be politically motivated does have merit, but it also feeds the argument that Rentboy has become overly confident in its brazen commercialization, to the point of feeling invincible (Rentboy the Musical, anyone?).

Sex in the 20th Century post-same-sex marriage world is way too often treated as if it has no material consequences, on the heels of a generation that paid for it in mortal ones. Dick pics are shared among friends of lovers freely, and two of the most common phrases you'll read on hookup sites are "discreet" and "can't host." There's even the occasional profile wording along the lines of "have a great man at home so don't bother asking me out," a phrase that's so offensive in its emotionally dismissive attitude it sounds like a convertible owner offering free rides to the sexiest bidder.

Men with babies find time to dash off for quickies in between hectic diaper-changing duties and newlywed men are becoming a quick casualty in the unfaithful wars. The two biggest love stories I know from post-Doma ended in almost grotesque, unfaithful fashion; one involved an arrest and the other such a painful revelation of infidelity one half of the pair left the country. Both couples avidly watched and waited and fought for Doma's demise, and both should be praised for their battle. If porn isn't enough to quench your thirst, and you can't find a "date" at lunch, there's always camming, one of the most prolific social media outlets available. No wonder straight men are jumping on the gay bandwagon as fast they jump on other men; it's where all the action, and money, can be found these days.

As for sexual proclivities, highlighted in the Rentboy.com indictment and mocked by writers as salacious in the re-telling, it's fairly common nowadays to know pretty much every sexual detail about your date before you actually meet him face-to-face; position preference, oral abilities, fetishes, size of penis and whether or not its circumcised, preferred brand of lube, amount of body and facial hair, weight, height, man-scaping skills, if his nipples are sensitive, role-play, verbal much?, and whether or not you should expect a kiss before the fun begins. Most of this will occur before you find out his real name, if you ever do.

You might as well drag those antiquated back-pocket handkerchiefs from the closet and use them as cum towels, because if you have to actually meet a man before you find out who needs to wear the condom or if you should swallow a pill, you've waited far too long. I jest, of course. Every decent host will offer you up a nice new cum towel as a thank you for making time out of your busy schedule to fit him in.

I'm all in favor of consensual sex among two men in as many forms as there are types of men, I think porn is great and I love prostitutes; three friends of mine used Rentboy to solicit their services, and I'm extremely disheartened as to how this might hurt their business, along with the other 10,000-plus sex workers who paid to have their profiles listed. I also think the illegality of prostitution is about as dumb as a Sarah Palin speech. But I also know that, if I pay for sex, I risk arrest, in the same way that if I violate a moral code of sexual conduct I risk other forms of persecution. I'm not above the laws, society's or my own.

Try to have a frank discussion today about gay men and extramarital sex and you'll get crucified for perpetuating a stereotype -- trust me -- and told that straight people aren't subjected to the same scrutiny. The latter is true, and heterosexual marriages would probably be more solid if they did open up on sexual relationships. No one wants to talk about the infidelities of gay-marriage activists even when they're trumpeting the triumphs of gay family values with one hand while stroking a stranger with the other. It might hurt "the cause" is what you'll hear from colleagues, when, in actuality, being a gay marriage proponent and making sexual advances toward others in public is the only thing hurting any cause except the one that involves quick release. And too many participants in the sometimes brutally nasty world of online sex don't want to admit they bear any responsibility for their actions beyond the click of a thumbnail.

Technology has made sex available in a speedy and smart fashion. We've eluded the middleman, be it a bar or a gym or the street. But we're also so spoiled that we forget a human being is on the receiving end. Men delete guys online after insulting their less-than-adequate face or body or age or simply because their boyfriend or husband just walked into the room. A face-time chat will be cut off if your penis doesn't live up to snuff, or your boyfriend or husband just walked into the room. STD's are on the rise and are becoming one of the most common ways relationship-oriented men are discovering their partner doesn't feel quite the same way. In our DVR sex world, we've come to the point where we believe everything that gets us off should be granted to us and nothing else matters, unless we get caught.

Like the philosophy behind Rentboy. Legalities aside, the Hookies were a bona fide gala, starting with the red carpet entrance, where Michael Lucas and Michael Musto schmoozed alongside the best and brightest men money can buy. Later in the evening they were presenters. Shortly after I arrived I met an adorable, scantily clad, 24-year-old porn performer who was thrilled to be up for one of the major awards and who had nothing but high praise to lavish upon his co-stars. He had an infectious smile and one of those indiscernible European accents that made his English all the more adorable when he tripped over words. His outfit revealed, to excellent effect, why he was such a perfect choice to be placed in his category. I was sorry I couldn't vote.

He didn't win, and when I ran into him after the show, standing next to a young woman so straight-laced in appearance she looked as if she skipped her Princeton Psych exam to attend the ceremony, he told me it was just an honor to be invited, and then gave me the address for an after-party. Since I'd just received an address for another after-party from an acquaintance/former interviewee/adult-film performer/whore, I knew it probably wasn't just my keen sense of humor that he was eager to spend more time with. I declined the invitation and left the party blue in more ways than one. But we did "friend" each other on Facebook! As I left the building, men were exchanging cards and rates, and Grindr and Scruff were abuzz with every Group Scene and Visiting Bear and Massage Therapist available; most within a hundred feet of the party. It was Disneyland for sex, with a slightly higher price tag for the best rides.

In an environment like that, which had a veneer of squeaky clean fun as opposed to the old days of the Gaiety and 42nd Street Grime, a slick club where even the drag queens had to take a backseat to the man who won the coveted cock prize and proceeded to show the audience why, it could be very easy to forget the fine line between legal and not so much, what with the goodie bags and the preferred seating and the photographers and the gay pubs and the bartenders as sexy as the rest of the gang. What could go wrong?

Nothing, until it does, and we realize that, with our increased acceptance and visibility, we have to sit up at the grown-ups table and abide by someone else's stupid rules. That can be an extremely difficult task, especially when the kiddie table comes with such a happy ending.