Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Sunday, July 20, 2014
From the book Confessions of a Mormon Boy: Behind the Scenes of the Off-Broadway Hit (Alyson Books, 2006), Lambda Literary Award Finalist
Saturday, July 19, 2014
At 30 at the height of my sex work experiment as I worked for the "A-list Escort Agency" in Manhattan. Flawless, loaded with cash, and quickly losing my light, I stopped smiling.
Adapted from a recent book proposal and still a work in progress.
"My new pimp was nice--much more normal than I expected. He didn't try to have sex with me or beat me up. No drugs. The apartment was warm and comfortable--Tiffany lamps. We talked about show biz and then his biz. And how many respected professionals and hustled to finance their educations, careers, dreams. He's been an escort-slash-porn star in his early years and went on and on about his glory days, how much money he'd made, the apartment he'd bought:
"Everyone's a prostitute at one time or another. Do you think everyone likes their job? Even housewives put out for security. They're just paying you for your time, remember. And furthermore, temple hookers were often considered sacred and holy in ancient times." --Confessions of a Mormon Boy
What I think readers (and publishers) will find extremely fresh (and, ahem, marketable) is my perspective on my experiences as an escort in the penthouses of Manhattan. I did it intensely for nine solid months. The world’s oldest profession brings all addictions into focus. I've come to believe that as plausibly sympathetic as my story might at times seem (and actually be under the stressful circumstances), my voluntary sex work in New York was the ultimate in self-absorption and wallowing in self-pity. (I have learned to forgive myself. There's lots of compassion to be considered here.) But the queen of rackets, sex work, was not about being broke (which I was), it was about fear, anger, and resentment and a tremendous lack of self-esteem. I rationalized selling my body to pay child support, but I was really financing a ferocious adolescence that almost destroyed me.
"My Japanese Lizard called me back the next three nights in a row! The agency said he'd never done that before. It was clear that I was a natural. Definitely A-list material. Other calls immediately followed. And they weren't all trolls like the Lizard. Some johns were downright husband material--hot, young, professional, rich, mysteriously unattainable. Gramercy Park. Sutton Place. Park Avenue. Fifth Avenue. The Four Seasons. The Carlyle. As the penthouses got higher, so did the pile of cash and gifts on my dresser at home. The adoration and money made me high. I could fetch $500 an hour. $2,000 overnight. Tax-free. And if I arranged it all myself, I could keep it all. I traded in my Payless shoes for Prada" --Confessions of a Mormon Boy
Looking for my conservative father’s love, approval and acceptance behind every doorbell, the adoration and money did make me high! The sex trade nearly annihilated my work ethic that had once earned me two degrees and bought a house for my ex-wife and kids back home—laziness, sloth, entitlement, and a victim mentality took over. Broken and without boundaries, I slept with so many rich men they all blend into one dollar sign. Living large was living small. I stopped having choices. I felt deep down inside that any future I had really wanted and all the positive, authentic reasons for which I had come out of the closet where swallowed up in my new whore identity. I had left "Mormonism" for this?! I wasn't going to be committing suicide after all I'd endured. Ha! I went to the other extreme--a slower, steadier suicide.
"As the calls came in, I couldn't say no. After all, I'd been trained my whole life to be nice and say, "Yes." I could do several calls in a day with the help of a little Viagra. And I got further and further away from auditioning. What was the point? I stopped seeing any real friends. Friends from graduate school or shows I'd done. My hours were screwy even by showbiz standards. And I couldn't tell anyone my secret--especially my family. Not to mention the new guy I started dating--each week. What would he think if he found out about my double life?
And about this time, I stopped smiling. Just selling my time, right? But I can't tell you what it cost me to sell my smile.
I needed to win their approval. I wanted to be like me. I wanted to be like them. To be noticed. I was invisible! No matter what I did or how well I did it I felt I was never accepted or appreciated for who I was! I felt I knew what it must be like to be a--"
They didn't even know my name. I was more isolated now than I'd ever been in Zion. So I had a choice to make. No. I was out of choices. I'd made too many."--Confessions of a Mormon Boy
After my big “a-ha!” after doing a cult-like, three-day transformational workshop in New York right after 9/11 (don’t laugh, it was the Landmark Forum!), I left sex work behind for good. I never went back. Choices returned.
"Could I give up being 'right' about my stories about the Church, therapists, the gay scene, Emily, her parents, my mother and especially my dad? Could I stop being a victim? Something deep inside me said, "Yes!" And in that moment, I was free. Free to choose. I had millions of choices! I was free to stop looking for my father's love and money in the penthouses of New York, free to stop self-destructing, and free to start cleaning up my messes . . . "--Confessions of a Mormon Boy
There were new unexpected opportunities for growth that followed. One hit during my escorting . . .
"My legit theatrical agent started sending me out. I was offered an Off-Broadway contract--Naked Boys Singing. I turned the offer down--twice. I told my agent, "I didn't get an M.F.A. in acting to be naked eight shows a week." But the truth was I was a private dancer. I made more money in a call or two than an off-Broadway contract paid in a week. More in a week than a Broadway contract paid in a month. Who needs Cameron MacIntosh?"--Confessions of a Mormon Boy
One later showbiz lesson hit hard when Broadway producers canned my show Confessions when I wouldn’t get full frontal onstage. Daddy wasn't a hooker anymore. It wasn't about the underwear coming off, the show was about getting naked in more profound ways, right? So I legitimately raised all the money (over $300,000.00) and produced it myself! The lead producer was a new form of john I learned to turn down. He once told me, "You know, you could raise all the money for your show just by laying on your back." I should have left the collaboration right then.
I’ve deflected many “couch commitments” and “professional favors” that would have been trouble. “No, I don’t need a massage. Thanks!” Then there were offers to become a “trophy wife” or as the underwear mogul Andrew Christian would brand it, a "Trophy Boy". Somehow I had the integrity and courage to decline these seductive, camouflaged transactions. Let's just say I've missed a free trip to Lake Como many times. I could have all my student loans paid off by now. I could have my own restaurant right now on South Beach. But I would be drunk and high, too.
I was taught and primed well by members of my Mormon family, in particular my youngest Mormon aunt (four years older than me and an “exotic dancer” she first planted the seed that I would make a good sex worker). Others in my family just hire! Indeed, to some extent sex work was the unofficial family business. I had come-of-age to the family secrets. This stuff doesn't just come from out of nowhere!
Learning to stand on my own and be free to love (and create!) as I choose was a difficult, painful process. It takes time to detox from all the shades of sugar, but I’m doing it! Incidentally, many movements and institutions can trace their fiscal solvency directly to the sex industry. The Advocate would cease without its publisher’s sister porn empire. (Did I say that? I digress. Will I ever make it on the cover of the Advocate if I say that?)
Sex work lowers the bar on human relationships. And we deserve more as a gay community now that marriage equality is winning the battle. Sex work is a temporary fix that leaves both parties cold. It destroys character and demolishes checking accounts and trust funds. The truth is, that most who pay can't really afford it!
I try not to disparage the world’s oldest profession—it’s never going away and it did teach me a lot! I learned more in six months than most people learn about high society in six years. Nor do I denigrate johns in my work. Some were gentlemen—all were human. My fellow sex working brothers and sisters are also profoundly human--many still stuck but all with big dreams. Sex workers have guts and are some of the sweetest, most intelligent people I know. I've met quite a few off the clock. We break each other's hearts in the underworld.
I had to learn to stop accepting unsolicited gifts and to stop giving off sparks that unintentionally, romantically intrigued, hooking men desperate to be loved--and used. It hurts both parties. And I have a keen sense now for when I meet someone who is still working and they play their tricks on me. "Don't hustle an ex-hustler!" It is cruel to make grown men cry—not with whips and chains, but with “innocent” Mormon charm that leads them on. It hurts me the most when I've been guilty of it. When you know better you do better. And I've met so many gay Mormons out there sex working--we missed this lesson in Sunday School.
Learning to earn my way as an artist (on my own without shortcuts) and go without my former
affluent lifestyle (at times a car, cell phone, contact lenses, and at some points food!) was one of the best lessons I was ever forced to learn. You cannot buy true love or true art. Sex work stunts me as an artist. It makes for bad, shoddy, soul-less product. (Unless your art belongs in a “Sex Museum” which some of my old publicity photos might!) You can't spend filthy lucre fast enough, either. It's a black hole of shame. And the cost reveals itself long after the act--that is my fact.
Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge mirrored to me that I wanted to be “a real actress” not a courtesan. I wanted the “bohemian” values of truth, beauty, freedom, and love. So far so good! They are returning to my life after over thirteen years of leaving sex work. The quest still continues to be fully Sugar Daddy Free. I insist that that is the real American Dream.
As in "Confessions of a Mormon Boy" that goes into the psyche of a male sex worker, I want this book to more clearly show men and women that it is possible to recover from Sugar Daddy Syndrome. It was so hard during the Recession to lose “sponsors” from family members who just wanted to get to my legitimate investors by throwing me a bone or to stage door johnnies who wanted to “help” and thought they had a chance to win my heart or get down my pants if they “donated.” I find today that even having a lunch date with anyone I am not authentically engaged with is the most tedious hour I can spend. I'm getting real. And like Pinnochio after his wild ride on Pleasure Island, I so want to become a real boy, not just a Mormon boy.
Fundraising for projects is not what it was before the crash. There have been “slips” when a romance turned into networking or he paid for dinner (nothing Eva Peron wouldn’t accept, right?). In financially desperate moments and being susceptible to “sugar”, I was tempted to pick up the phone and return to the dark side—but it was sure to take me out to a spiritually bankrupt sea, a tsunami of deep dark porn that I know I will regret in the morning.
Sex work is a progressive illness—a sloppy, slippery slope. The sex work umbrella is wider than most people think. I won't list all the possibilities here, but I think, dear readers, you've bumped into it if you've ever picked up a gay rag. That Go-Go boy you're slipping a dollar to is just the tip of the iceberg.
I’m just glad I got out when I did. The disease of addiction always whispers, “You can still go back. We don’t care how old you get! You deserve to be spoiled! YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE TO WORK AND EAT PASTA AND RED SAUCE LIKE ALL THE OTHER STRUGGLING ARTISTS” With human growth hormone and steroids and a little botox and filler today that is always a possibility. Ask the sex worker who is now the pimp or porn czar. There is a market for anyone willing to sell what they've got.
Part of the hook of what I do onstage is to still look like I could escort but then at the end (spoiler), the hair piece comes off! Though I could use a little botox at this writing, I’ve still got “the goods.” (Wink!) I just don’t want to tempt fate and literally go back to hell—caught up in my own human sex-trafficking ring. I barely escaped the last time. I know myself now. To go back, for me, would be suicide. It's the one bottom line I cling to. Drug use would be certain to start up and skyrocket. After just one little transaction, cameras would roll again and again and again to my grave. I’d give in and give up. I’m either taking one step closer to Broadway and my dreams or one step closer to Van Nuys or Palm Springs. I don’t need “Porn Star” on my dressing room door when my future grandchildren visit. The legacy they will already inherit is confusing and embarrassing enough. Ouch. I am trying to turn it all toward good. I hope my kids will be proud of me someday.
My solo play Confessions of a Mormon Boy goes into great detail and fills in the white space of this diatribe, but I will go further in the memoir. My point of view is clearly not to glamorize the business, but to encourage others to get out. I intend to confront, comfort and give pause. Mormon Boy is a cautionary wakeup call to prevent others from getting sucked in. “Mammas, don’t let your babies grow up to be escorts!”
Memoirs by other men who were sex workers include Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star by Bob Jones University graduate Rich Merritt; Assuming the Position by Rick Whitaker (Four Walls Eight Windows 1999); British porn star Aiden Shaw’s My Undoing: Love in the Thick of Sex, Drugs, Pornography, and Prostitution (Running Press, 2006); notorious former escort/model/actor Rupert Everett’s Red Carpet & Other Banana Skins; and Young Man from the Provinces (University of Minnesota Press 2003) by Alan Helms who illuminates the high price of being a sex object in the midst of the elite in the pre-Stonewall era of “Leonard Bernstein’s” underground Manhattan; and let’s not leave out HBOs Hung and all the modern American Gigolo/Midnight Cowboy properties shamelessly glorifying the call-girl life on Showtime, etc. Porn sites provide the most vivid and popular expose of all. Check out the in/out specials on Rentboy.com and tell me there isn't a story behind each and every review. There are many solo shows out there about the sex industry. Few take any real responsibility for entering the trade. Most have a bravado that prevents them from feeling any buyers remorse. When I sense that, I get the feeling they are not telling their entire story--titillation is what they are still selling. They aren't getting poetically naked. Enough young porn star obituaries are out there to take a second, closer look at what we have done to ourselves.
Let me end this section by saying I am absolutely pro sex. We should celebrate our sexuality. Go ahead and film it all you want and send the link to your buddies on Skype. Heck, you can even send it to me. Just don't charge. Let it be for fun and for free. What I am most is pro relationship. I didn't find myself capable of love and vulnerability while escorting. I simply wasn't available.
And let me add that I believe sex work should be absolutely, age-appropriately legal--if it is truly someone's "choice". But the libertarian in me insists that it not be taxed. You cannot legislate a body. And it's no one's business what's going on under that streetlamp, in that alley, or in that mansion in the Hamptons. And I'm gonna digress if I start to question how civilized the laws of Amsterdam really are. I'm getting way off track and I don't know all the answers here.
But let sex be for free, otherwise, we are all guilty of enabling the horrors of the girls and boys who are being sold in the backrooms of Bangkok. No one wants that for their son or daughter. I don't want it for mine.
Critics that I'm a Puritan. Don't call my bluntness two-dimensionally judgmental. I don't want to sound like a self-righteous Mormon.
Friday, July 18, 2014
"A vanity photo of me in 2001. At your service!"
This man was always a gentleman to me. He once took me on a private tour of the U.N. We didn’t actually have sex in the Security Council chamber, but I have been inside.
Another client who always got the newbies right away had me over. He would write me $5,000 checks. I think he was roping me in to start making illegal deliveries for him. I was only with him a few times, but he once cursed me sweetly by saying, "You're tall, matinee idol looks, big dick, smart. You are going to have a very lonely, hard time in this city." It believe it is true. No one knows the loneliness of being a sex object like those who know.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
Steven Fales with "Buddy" and "Gee-Gee" six-months before the custody battle in "Prodigal Dad".
“I never wanted to write this book. However, to live inside the divorce matrix, to be engaged in that battle, ultimately means to be poised to tell your story, to make your point, to argue your side at a moment’s notice. It’s a fire that is constantly burning.”
--Alec Baldwin, A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey Through Fatherhood and Divorce
This blog entry is adapted from a recent book proposal and is still a work in progress.
Part Three in Mormon Boy Trilogy is my solo play Prodigal Dad. The Richmond-Times Dispatch recently reviewed, "His legal battle to retain his rights as a father is a human rights issue, not a gay issue, and struck a chord with many in the audience.”
Crossing gender and culture lines I also relate to the frustrations and failures in Amy Chua’s modern-day parenting lament Batttle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Outdated traditional Chinese family mores mirror my own and my sub-culture’s dilemmas and generation gaps. The Mormon-world view has flaws, like any antiquated mind-set.
I wasn’t supposedly straight enough. To top it off, after graduate school, I stopped believing in and denounced “golden plates.” I failed the macho Mormon test—twice. I became an enemy to the unofficial church of the state of Utah. I became a bastard on the Right in the reddest state in the Union.
Every kind of emotional and financial embargo was placed on me. My artistic ambitions were also sanctioned to thwart me from writing. It’s not what I would write. It’s that I would write anything. My story was all I had. I knew I would tell it someday. That time has come.
My family all sided with Emily who was super Mormon and sweetly “feminine” at the time of our divorce. Luckily Emily did not listen to my family’s suggestion to change the kids’ last name. But she would later make things catastrophic—ironically after she left the Church with a vengeance. There was nothing reasonable or "Christian" about what she would do as she turned her vengeance toward me. This seems to be what ex-wives are empowered and encouraged to do.
I was also attacked from the Left as well. Emily's mother is Mormondom's greatest writer and also, ironically, its greatest living feminist. Carol Lynn Pearson who's feminist solo play Mother Wove the Morning, once joked to me in her home, "Got your penis!" I didn't think it was funny. And I don't think I need to give further examples to illustrate how I married into a family where men are simply not needed. I was sunk as a father the day I married into such an emasculating family. The great synchronicity is that Carol Lynn wrote compassionately about bringing her gay ex-husband home to die of AIDS in her bestselling Good-bye, I Love You (Random House, 1986). No matter how I feel her book promoted her oxy-Mormon feminism and white washed the story of the father of her children, I was the one gay she could not pray away. I had stepped on her brand and she would not let me be more successful than her daughter. As she says in Good-bye, I Love You, her Hecuba-like attitude was always, "And the women stay at home as women always have and watch and wait to pick up the pieces." Her entire book is a damning indictment of men. It is men who are often left to pick up the pieces.
After all kinds of detectives, therapists and DCFS reports there turned out to be no grounds for a case of any kind. And there were no consequences for my ex-wife--only my children who she encouraged in trying to testify against me. Imagine watching your eleven and thirteen year old try to betray their own father's love and devotion. She could have dropped the case at anytime. Instead, she put the children through one of the most traumatic experiences I can imagine having. With divorced parents myself who shared joint legal custody of six kids, I can't imagine what I would have done if I had to take the stand in a courtroom and testify against either one of them.
Carol Lynn sat in the court room next to her daughter taking notes wide eyed with anticipation that I would finally be stopped. She left disappointed and empty handed. Her daughter lost. And yet, Emily would win post-divorce as guardian ad litems washed their hands.
We have been in extensive therapy to repairing the damage and we have made great progress, but still I’m seen as the crafty criminal who got away. “I’m glad they didn’t throw you in jail for two years, dad. That would have been a really long time.” They still see me as guilty and not that their charming mother might be overly blessed with hyperbole and worked the system and my conservative family to get her way. Emily refuses to join us in family therapy. She will not meet with me. I have been singled out as a narcissist. But when you point your finger, you have three pointed back at yourself. Read her blog, "Dancing with Crazy" and her new memoir by the same name and tell me what you see? Is this the writing of a histrionic hurricane blowing through the lives of everyone? I've had my own bipolar moments, but who is it that needs the medication most?
I need to also say before I'm questioned for liable and slander, early on I purchased signed depiction releases to tell both Carol Lynn and Emily's story "to the End of the Universe." She may have swindled me out of the kids, but I am doing my best to make good art out of all of our stories. And I have over ten years of glowing reviews of my solo plays to back up that my voice is perceptive, nuanced, and "wrenchingly honest and utterly clear-eyed" (Los Angeles Times) and "feels like a sacred gift" (Boston Globe). The San Diego Dispatch has lauded my "deep respect" for Emily. I will not fail to do so in this new memoir.
From Prodigal Dad: "So I get this call on my cell. And since it was Emily vibrating I picked up. You pick up when it’s the mother of your children and you are the non-custodial parent no matter what deadline you’re on. “Non-custodial” means you have basic constitutional visitation rights as a dad (and the right to pay child support), but not a heck-uh-vah lot more. Everyone pays lip service that your presence and opinion matter. But the Church (and the courts) favors mothers no matter how well you change diapers or how well your tuna casseroles turn out or how well you tell bedtime Book of Mormon Stories. You ultimately have no real legal say in anything. You’re a second-class parent. You don’t really exist (though you’re always under the microscope). So you learn to work around it. You give up asking to see report cards or expect to be consulted on anything that matters—video games. You try to ignore the fact that even your immediate family sends their yearly Christmas cards to her. You must always remember the number one rule: you may never, ever discipline your kids. Or make them work. Ever. And I do mean ever. So when the sole legal guardian calls, you answer—and hope for the best because she has all the power. And an even more powerful mother."