This essay first appeared on Biographile, a blog of Random House, January 24, 2014
Hawk Kinkaid is part of a new generation of activists in the sex workers movement: he’s a web-geek who networks online and face-to-face with guys who have sex for money, providing tips for improving health and safety and sharing “stories with other men as a way of learning and teaching about life in the sex industry, its foibles and fantastic.” Around 1998, Hawk and his friends retooled HOOK, a popular ‘zine, into the first online non-profit publication and educational organization for men in the sex industry. Operated on a shoestring budget with some corporate support and individual donations, HOOK gets several thousand hits a month from men actively working in the industry, and has a thousand subscribers.
Oh, did I mention he’s a man? Sex workers, people who earn money by exchanging sexual services or erotic entertainment for money or other goods, are usually represented as female. But hustlers, escorts and other males who have sex with men have been around just as long as prostitutes, strippers and other sex workers. COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), the first formal organization for sex workers’ rights, was founded as a feminist group for women’s liberation, but not without criticism. “What about the rights of male prostitutes?” a “thin, red-haired young man” demanded during COYOTE’s first convention in 1974.
Hawk’s activism is inspired by the men who came before him, and is evidence that their efforts to bring “men’s voices into the larger dialogue” and recognize sex work as more than a “women’s issue.” Affirming the human and labor rights of all adults, women, men, and trans* to engage in safe, consensual sex work is this generation’s point of unity. Men aren’t engaged in the movement Hawk says, because many see their jobs as temporary rather than as “real” work, and as a result aren’t interested in better working conditions. “Once, I stood face-to-crotch with a go-go boy explaining to me that he is actually not a dancer, but a choreographer en route to the big riches.”
Men in the industry keep writing to Hook, “asking for information and praising its benefit for helping them work smarter.” Through online advice and classes, programs provide information about drug and alcohol addiction, disease prevention, mental health care, access to medical care, retirement savings, financial planning, and disclosure about one’s work to support systems. For male “careerists” in the sex industry, the challenge of staying strong and persisting with pride might be another way of protesting against injustice.
“For an industry in which unfathomable numbers of gay, bi, and straight men have participated,” Hawk says, there are very few male activists. Decades ago, the mainstream gay rights movement abandoned its demand to decriminalize prostitution, even though men and transwomen remain police targets for solicitation and loitering charges. The invisibility of men at sex worker demonstrations and community social events makes organizing more challenging.
To move forward, Hawk says, “we need to translate these practical conversations” about health and safety into movement participation, “to energize a generation of men who are bold enough to speak publicly about their work” and aware that social justice requires shared successes. “I don’t have the answer for how this is done, and I am proud Hook is among the many programs testing out ideas… When we all collaborate on that solution, I feel confident that we’ll no longer wonder where the men are, because we’ll be there on the front lines.”