Saturday, July 19, 2014
Got Sugar Daddy Syndrome?
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.