I recently published my first piece on VICE – an exploration of the hows and whys re men who’ve served in the US military and now work as escorts. It was a great accomplishment, one that I’d been working toward for a long time. But, as per usual, the story I wrote wasn’t exactly what got published.
The editorial process that shapes today’s media often helps focus a piece, as well as make it digestible for our very SAST culture. In so doing, a lot of nuance is often lost and many voices get left by the wayside. It’s for these reasons that I share the unabridged version of my military escorts piece here.
Nicky Blue Eyes enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2005 and served until 2012, when he lost his left leg to an improvised explosive device in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Then, after over a year in recovery, he found himself strapped for cash.
“When I first got my prosthetic leg, my husband and I, we were broke,” he told me matter-of-factly. “And I had enjoyed escorting before so I thought I’d put an ad up [online] and see what happens.”
Nicky is currently 27 years old, gorgeous and athletic, with (appropriately) super-blue eyes. He’s been escorting full-time out of San Francisco for about three years now. His profile on Rentboy.com, an online advertising space for gay male escorts, bills him as a “Striking US Marine for Your Active Duty!”
Looking for a real man? One who can fulfill all your hottest fantasies? How about a striking hot US Marine? Hi guys, I recently returned home from active duty deployment in Afghanistan and have over a year of built up testosterone waiting to be released. I love kissing, oral, fucking, rimming, body contact, nip-play, water sports, and some domination… I lost my lower left limb from an IED detonation in Afghanistan but wear a top of the line prosthetic as seen in my photos. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have regarding rates, availability, sexual interests, likes/dislikes, or even my prosthetic… Aside from escorting, I’m also training for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio. I compete in traditional boxing and stand up judo. But no worries, I’m very nice outside the ring… 10 percent of every date ($20 for every $200) is donated to [a prominent charity that helps injured marines an their families].
It’s quite a marketing tactic—playing into the fetishization of servicemen and selling it—and apparently, it’s not uncommon.
Historically, the military man – the warrior, the soldier – has always been an archetype of masculinity, held as a high-status social and sexual symbol. A litany of Hollywood military action films, from every Rambo installment to American Sniper, all of which feature superhuman, super jacked leading men, speak directly to this. And anyone with a pulse, gay and straight, women and men, are affected.
But reality never exactly resembles fantasy, as is the case with men like Nicky – gay men that come from military service and find an avenue to capitalize on that wider cultural mythology via escorting.
Nicky joined the military when he was 17. Though his time in service overall was positive, seven years, four tours, and one limb had taken its toll financially, as well as on his self-confidence. That’s where escorting came in. At first, it was an economic solution—but it also helped him regain his confidence and adjust to civilian life.
“[When I first returned to the US], it was really weird and incredibly difficult, especially for me being an active person, someone who moved around a lot,” Nicky tells me. “I’ve always enjoyed looking good and all of a sudden I was… you know, I felt like I was disabled. I was disabled, I was crippled.”
Nicky assumed his prosthetic leg would make him less desirable as a sex worker, but he quickly learned that was not the case. “I had no idea I’d be more popular than I ever was with two legs, that’d I get more clients than I could ever do in one day, and I’d be traveling all over the world. I had no idea that would happen.”
According to Nicky though, his appeal is less about being former military and more about “seem[ing] like a real human being.” He elaborates: “I think a lot of clients who are hiring escorts can be villainized, but the truth is that they’re just regular guys. A lot of the time, they’re very lonely and don’t have a lot of self-confidence, which I can relate to. A lot of them have scars from biopsy surgeries or transplants.”
For Nicky, the benefits of escorting extend well beyond his own financial and emotional gains. As he sees it, he’s helping others.
“I have clients of all different shapes, sizes, and colors. I have clients with MS [Multiple sclerosis] who are in wheelchairs, a client with Parkinson’s, and two clients who are paraplegics, as well as many others with many different struggles and needs,” he explains. “With me, they feel more comfortable because I also have some issues on the outside of my body.”
Critics of sex work often say it’s impossible to care about someone when you’re charging them for various degrees of intimacy. But to Nicky, escorting is a caregiving service not unlike any other form of physical or emotional therapy, life coaching, or even hair styling—practitioners of which all charge for their time, skills, and expertise. Be it serving his country or serving his clients, he’s contributing to the wellbeing of society overall.
“As in any industry, there are some [escorts] who are good and who care about their clients and there are some who don’t,” Nicky explains. “But this is not in direct correlation with getting paid for our services—it’s dependent on the individual and their values and their desire to provide a valuable service to their clients.”
Though we have information about the various fields employed Veterans work in – 12.6% in manufacturing, 5.4% in construction, and so on – there are no statistics describing the number of Veterans who enter the sex work field. And no one seems to be in the process of gathering that data either.
Bernard Rostker, a senior research fellow at the nonpartisan research organization RAND and author of the seminal 1993 paper written in opposition of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT, 1994 – 2011), gave a knowing murmur when I asked him about sex worker statistics – or simply information about gay and lesbian soldiers’ experiences in service. No one has any representative data, and no one is working to figure it out.
In an interview conducted before multiple members of the site’s staff were arrested on prostitution charges, Hawk Kinkaid, Chief Operating Officer at Rentboy.com, echoed Rostker’s assertion within the context of the online escorting community. Rentboy has no idea how many of their escorts are former military. When people build profiles, they’re only required to provide very basic information (e.g. age, email address). “The only gauge I have is whether they voluntarily list themselves on the site as having served in the military,” Hawk informs me.
Given the climate – the military’s uneasy public relationship with gay men (there’s always been a private one) and the option for voluntary disclosure – what then prompts service Veterans marketing their wares to even go there? Hawk said that escorts may be trying to capitalize on the fetishization of military men.
“The idea of the hyper-masculine has long been the subject of high regard for gay men and, today, there are clients who still revel in [the military] fantasy,” Hawk explains. “The military represents a machismo, a clumsy grace, a radical heroism,” which, he added, appeals to some gay men. “Especially when for hundreds of years, the internalized fear was that we were ‘less than’ other men.”
That assertion is all over Rentboy, as well as other comparable (though less searchable) sites like Rentmen.com and Men4RentNow.com. Though no one I found emphasized their military service as prominently as Nicky had, browsing terms like “military,” “Army,” “Navy,” and “Marine” yield pages and pages of results.
Some profiles are matter-of-fact about their service:
“Good-looking, well-educated, ex-military, versatile jock here.” – AF MUSCLEBOY
“Friendliest guy in town. Former US Army soldier. Sexy All-American jock into most scenes.” – ANDY
Others are strictly about fantasy:
“Talented in the bondage/BDSM arts ~ Shabari rope work, masks/hoods/cuffs… Role play: Daddy/boy, coach, military, leather, cowboy, wrestling, etc.” – TYGERSCENT
Regardless of tenor, one thing is clear. The inclusion of some sort of military status, be it actual service or sexytime make-believe, has a lot to do with what the clients want. But the juxtaposition of high-status military service with something that’s commonly cast as low prestige – sex work – presents an interesting conundrum. Aside from the obvious financial gains, why would a former soldier go into sex work?
According to Hawk, there are number of other reasons escorting work might appeal to men who have served – independence and self-actualization, as well as the mental health benefits that come from controlling one’s own mutable work environment. For some men, it’s a way to (re)claim their identity on their own terms.
The military has long been associated with a specific brand of bravery and toughness. So when Kayden Pierce survived a brutal gay-bashing that left him in a coma for 16 days, he did the only thing he thought he could to heal himself: “I decided that I wasn’t gay anymore.” He chokes up when he talks about it, describing how he rounded up his friends and “pretty much told them to fuck off, that I wasn’t gay, and that they were all gonna burn in hell. It’s one of the few things [in life] that I regret.”
Kayden then joined the Navy in 2003, less than a year after the attack, got married to a woman, and had a son, all in fairly rapid succession. He trained as a medical corpsman—a “pecker checker,” he says, laughing—and was eventually deployed to Iraq with a Marine EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) team.
“As you can imagine, I saw a lot. The EOD guys are the guys who go out and pick up the bombs and the shells and the bullets, so in an instant you watch people you know, people you live with, get blown to pieces,” he explained. “You can have someone come in and they have an arm blown off or a leg blown off or both blown off or multiple bullet wounds, and you have comfort them and be able to keep a straight face, which is difficult because you know that they’re gonna die.”
But for as grim as all that sounds, Kayden’s career was going well—until all of a sudden, it wasn’t. He’d divorced his wife “because, you know, I was gay.” Then the military mysteriously found out about some ancillary income he was earning while still enlisted. But the issue wasn’t about the extra income so much as it was about how Kayden was earning it.
“I had started doing gay porn [while I was still in] the military, and on my last deployment my ex-wife turned me in,” he explains. This prompted the Marines to call for his dishonorable discharge.
A soldier leaves military service via a scope of discharge processes and classifications, from administrative to punitive and honorable to “blue” (neither honorable nor dishonorable). Dishonorable discharges are given for conduct the military considers especially reprehensible – desertion, sexual assault, murder, and, in Kayden’s case, doing a little gay porn on the side. Kayden was on the path to a court martial when a processing glitch between the Navy (his parent company) and the Marines (who was trying to kick him out) magically erased the entire situation.
Still, he was suddenly and somewhat unceremoniously released out into the general population, with no counseling services and struggling with PTSD. It was during this time that he met a new group of friends.
“Right after the military is when I started escorting,” he explains. “I started hanging out with some people, and they were always talking about going on ‘hooker tours’—four to five people traveling together, zigzagging across the US, working in a city for three or more days depending on demand. One day, they asked me to go along… and I loved it!”
Like Nicky, who experienced a boost in his self-confidence, Kayden found some emotional relief in escorting. Being around friends and doing a form of caregiving work helped cultivate his healing process, all with the freedom to be unabashedly, unapologetically gay.
Leo Sweetwood, who bills himself as “a college-educated former Rifleman in the United States Marine Corps, and award-winning escort,” joined the Marine Corps the day after DADT was repealed. “I wanted to do the military openly,” he tells me.
“There were laws protecting me, but people still didn’t know how to treat me,” Leo says. “There were still [anti-gay lines and cautions] in the training books, so that was really weird. And when they would get in your face and do the drill instructor thing, they would call other people ‘Blah blah, you pussy, you faggot!’ and when they would come to me they wouldn’t really know how to use the insults, which was kinda funny.”
Leo laughs throughout this story. The idea of a homophobic drill sergeant suddenly at a loss for words in this context makes me laugh too.
Leo left the military in early 2014 and promptly went out looking for a different sort of adventure. He’d done porn before leaving for bootcamp, which he had enjoyed, so he decided to do some more. In rapid succession, Leo began making a name for himself as an adult performer and learning about the escorting industry in New York City. He put up his first online profile that March. Since then, he’s moved to New York full time and become one of the industry’s top models.
According to Leo, being in the military helped him develop life skills and has helped his ability to find common ground with others that, superficially, he may have very little connection with. When he finished his service, he decided to use those interpersonal skills as an escort. But for as much as he credits his time in the service for developing these abilities, Leo doesn’t like to mix his past in the military with his escorting.
“The military experience isn’t part of my schtick. It’s part of who I am and some guys have that fetish—they want me to act like I’m an intimidating guy or something like that—but that’s not so much about the military and me as it is about an idea they have about what they want,” Leo muses. “Sometimes [I don’t take a job] because they really want the fantasy. Like, they want me to shave my head. I’m not shaving my head to a high and tight just for an hour of work. No way.”
Chauntelle Tibbals, PhD, is a sociologist living in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter.
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