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Where the Boys Aren’t?

HOOK's Hawk Kinkaid on men's struggle with the rights movement

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sex-workers-uniteNOTE: A portion of this writing was shared as part of a Biographile interview to support author Melinda Chateauvert’s important and pinnacle book, Sex Workers Unite: A History of the Movement from Stonewall to SlutWalk.

Since starting HOOK, the nation’s longest running program for men in the sex industry,  I am often asked, “Where are all the men in the movement for sexworker rights?” It’s a good question. Are they in the parades, on the streets, at the organizing events which set the tenor for a movement? Are they part of the rich history of combatting injustice from the police, the courts, the government, and the seemingly acceptable social stigma ascribed to any individual that participates in the sex industry?  Even when it is within the confines of the law? No. No, they are not. Where are they?

When I ask, I embrace the important contributions of male sex workers who acted out publicly like Vic St. Blaise, Kirk Read, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, Tony Valenzuela. I welcome newcomers like NYC’s Dominick, Nashville’s Israel Oka and Hawaii’s Doug Upp. I admire them all and source them for my own inspiration to share and encourage men working in the industry to do the same. For an industry in which unfathomable numbers of gay, bi, and straight men have participated, I just can’t find many men talking about the activist movement’s primary concerns. More importantly, I rarely see them at demonstrations and events.

The questions plagued me enough to shutter HOOK in the late 2000s. The program had been running as a bare bones grassroots publication and program, built on the volunteers and the stories submitted to share with other men working in the industry as a way of learning/teaching about life in the sex industry, its foibles and fantastics.

It was revived when enough men in the industry wrote, asking for information and praising its benefit for helping them work smarter. Those stories helped renew my faith (and those of the board) in the value in the program. They also told me what messages and stories mattered to these men. No matter who or where they are, the stories are what make a program like HOOK successful. The stories, rather than public participation, are what fueled our inspirations both past (Danzine, Whorezine) and present ($PREAD, Red Umbrella Project’s Prose and Lore series).

I believe the movement wants to bring men’s voices into the larger dialogue around sexwork rights even if these men are not marching on the courthouses. But why the ambivalence in participating in social action on the part of male sexworkers?

Ask most guys turning trade as escorts, strippers, etc. what their work is, and they will tell you about the jobs they are about to have, trying to have, should have had. 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. Quite simply, guys working in the sex industry are most often trying not to. That may be one of reason they’re not more visible in formal protests.

Another is that protesting the system is just not a functional rhetoric for cisgendered men (who benefit from patriarchy) working in the sex industry. For those who perceive their short time working to be a means to an end; a quick fix for a problem, their time in the business is a moment that they will most likely absolve themselves of and want to forget. Not because it is bad, but because it doesn’t represent who they are. For men who spend a longer time in the industry, or careerists, the challenges they face are often different than those articulated in the mainstream rights movement.

Some concerns and successful themes often addressed in our programming are drug and alcohol addiction, disease prevention, mental health care, access to medical care, retirement savings, financial planning, and disclosure to support systems. HOOK, as a program, works to leverage these popular themes, expanding on them to include conversations about racial prejudice, Transphobia, class inequality, and the role of both Trans and women leaders in the rights movement (from Annie Sprinkle to Buck Angel).

Our challenge moving forward is to find how to translate these practical conversations to movement participation – energizing a generation of men bold enough to speak publicly about their work in the industry and aware of how their support of all social justice causes is a shared success for their own initiatives and 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 to build a male presence in the activist movement. When we all collaborate on that solution, I feel confident that I will no longer be asked where the men are because they will be active participants in the movement.

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