Jeff Davids and Sean Van Sant
With the Academy Awards out of the way, we can finally get down to some real business. Its time for Rentboy.coms Fourth Annual Hookie Awards. Forget Best Actor or Best Sound Editing, at the Hookie Awards some of the categories include Best Top, Biggest Cock, Best Fetish, and Best Boyfriend Fantasy. Of course, all of this is only foreplay for the biggest prize of the night: Mr. International Escort 2010. Hosted by Raven O, the event takes place in New York City on March 19.
Although the awards began four years ago, Rentboy.com has been around since 1997. It was the first and reigns as the largest male escort website. More than 72,000 boys work hard for the money each day in mro 160 cities around the world. According to Jeff Davids, founder of Rentboy.com, the Hookie Awards is a way of recognizing, applauding, and showing respect to the thousands of escorts and masseurs who put their effort, courage, and skill into the underappreciated escort industry every day.
Out caught up with Davids and Rentboy.coms director, Sean Van Sant, to get the inside story behind this years awards and their predictions for Mr. International Escort 2010 and to ask whether their pasts ever included escorting.
Out: This is the 4th Annual Hookie Awards. How did the awards initially come about?
Jeff Davids: We were looking around the industry, and nobody was giving out any awards or recognition for escorts hard work. We thought it was a really nice way to give back to a marginalized group.
Why do you think escorts dont get the kind of recognition that people in the porn industry get?
Davids: I think it all starts with heterosexual prostitution from ancient times when men were forcing women into sexual slavery to perform things to keep them rich. The paradigm today is where a guy will choose to spend time with a client and doesnt pay a middle man. It is an equal thing where you get company and attention for money. Before it was women being held in a violent way. I think thats why escorting and prostitution is held in low esteem around the world.
How will this years Hookie Awards be different from the others?
Van Sant: Its just gotten bigger every year and people are more excited about getting the trophy. This year everyone is really excited about Raven O. We also want to move more toward not just making it a show where we hand out trophies to each winner. We make it a little more theatrical.
Davids: Also whats different from all the other years is weve called it an International Escort Show. Weve invited people to participate from everywhere in the world, and it was a fully online voting system. This year weve actually done regional Hookie events in five or six cities, and we had local people involved in choosing their local escorts to send to the big event for the prize.
Does every escort want the recognition, though? Certain individuals must want to remain anonymous.
Van Sant: Some people are not out about the fact that they escort. Some people dont want publicity, and I call and find out if this is something they want to do or not.
Jeff, how did you get the initial idea to start Rentboy.com?
Davids: I was going to Oxford University in London in the 80s, and I wound up spending some time with some slightly older gay men. I was probably 18 or 19 at the time. It was the first time I had really hung out with older gay men, and one of the things they talked about were all of the rent boys that people went out with. I had never heard the phrase rent boy before, and I found it titillating to hear about all these boys. When I came back to the states, I started a computer company, and at the birth of the Internet, I was there chugging down domain names. I wound up thinking of Rentboy at exactly the right moment.
So you came up with the whole concept of the business, not just the name?
How old are you now?
Davids: Uh, well
I'm just curious to know how old you were back in 1994 when you started the business.
Davids: Im 45, so I was in my twenties.
Have either of you ever worked as an escort before?
Davids: Uh, yes.
Van Sant: I have also. Not online, but in bars when I was in college and first coming to New York.
How has escorting changed over the years?
Van Sant: People used to do it in bars --
Davids: Or on street corners.
Van Sant: Yeah. So these boys are now running their own Internet business. They are working for themselves. We dont take any money. People used to work for an agency. Were not an agency. We dont take any money or percentage from any business that anyone does. They just post their own ad on Rentboy and then run their own businesses. Its all in their hands. Its much more photo-driven now too. If you dont have a good photo or good text and computer skills, youre not really going to get the business online.
Davids: To add to what youre saying, I think the social class of the average escort has gone significantly up. To get your foot in the business now, you need to have the basics like a computer and a mobile phone. A down-on-his-luck kind of guy who just got tossed out of his mothers house used to walk around 53rd Street a few times just to get food to eat. Its not really like that anymore.
If the guys dont give you a percentage from their business, how does Rentboy make money?
Van Sant: Rentboy sells eyeballs. Basically we have 40 or 50 thousand people come every day looking for escorts, and we spend money advertising Rentboy as the most pure source for escort opportunities. So people naturally think Rentboy.com when they think about getting an escort. Were just charging a fixed-monthly fee to put them [ads] up there and every so often some friendly advice about how to maximize their ads.
Has the state of the economy affected the escorting business?
Van Sant: Individual escorts may be making a little bit less money now because there is a lot of new talent coming to work as escorts. People who were laid off their cushy $200,000 a year Merrill Lynch jobs and had the gym memberships and the nice clothes looked in the mirror and said, Im going to be an escort, and its going to be more fun. Ill get out of that daily grind. So we wound up with a lot of new interesting and sexy escorts in 2009. I would say the buying pool has remained constant.
Wait, are you saying the economy has made escorting more attractive?
Van Sant: Thats true. I think waiting tables and escorting have become more attractive in the recession.
How do you know that the escorts who advertise are legit?
Van Sant: Unlike Craigslist and some other sites, we always charge money for the ads, which means we know who these people are. They have an authorized credit card with us. In some cases, theyve had to prove their identity so that we knew the credit card is for real. Theyve taken a step to put themselves out there. That doesnt mean were immune to bad things. Bad things can happen anytime. Clients and escorts should use their wisdom and their sensibilities to make sure they dont get into a dangerous situation. Whenever you invite someone into your house, there is a risk.
And you do say that the Hookie Awards are a way of showing respect to the thousands of escorts who put their effort, courage, and skill into the underappreciated industry every day. That word courage is interesting. Why did you use that word?
Van Sant: It does take courage. Everyone loves to put down a sex worker. Its partly because we as gay men love our porn stars, and we love our hot men. I guess it feels good to put down the guy you cant have. Everyone wants to gossip, so it takes a lot of courage to put your sexuality out there for everyone to evaluate.
What role does Rentboy play in the gay community?
Davids: We are so many things. We are gay social security.
Van Sant: I think were offering a place to play around. Everyone wants to fuck around a little bit, and thats one of things we are offering. I wouldnt call it sin exactly. If youre a couple and you want to experiment with a three-way, we are a great place to come.
Davids: Or if youre a married man.
Van Sant: Yes. Or maybe youre a single man and you want to try something that youve never tried before. Or if youre not conventionally attractive and you want to be with a porn star, it offers a fantasy. It offers a chance to be bad.
Davids: In a way it can be called the great equalizer.
An equalizer. Can you elaborate on that?
Van Sant: Yeah. Power and money. Sexuality and attractiveness. There are a lot of people whose greatest asset lies right there every morning in the mirror. The thing that they know how to do best is to please people sexually. There are people you meet and have sex with and youre like Oh, my God! That guy is a born natural. Theres no other way for someone who is a born natural in sex to get recognition and money for it unless they put themselves out there. Its a shame too because there are a lot of people in this world who will never get to experience that born, natural thing unless something like Rentboy exists. In that sense it is an equalizer.
In thinking about Rentboy, you cant help but think of Tiger Woods and other scandals like Eliot Spitzers. They were both involved with escorts -- not gay ones -- but that world. What do you think of Tiger?
Van Sant: I overheard a bit of him talking about the 12-step program of sexual addiction. Mostly, I felt bad for Tiger Woods and his wife. I thought there was a lot of racism involved.
Davids: You think?
Van Sant: There was. He embodied the perfect guy -- the perfect sexless man in sports -- the black man who had no sexuality whatsoever. Then suddenly when his sexuality came out, he was put on the cover of Vanity Fair looking like a thug. I felt bad for him -- and for his wife -- because what he did was bad to her, but we all want to play around, we just dont want it on the covers of the papers.
Van Sant: [With Tiger] Its not about being with an escort. Its about being with another person when you promised not to do that. In a macro sense, I wish there were fine print in every marriage clause that says if youre not getting satisfaction, then it is OK to give out to a non-loving escort once in a while and really recharge the sexual batteries.
Van Sant: Mainly all the sex scandals represent the hypocrisy of marriage. Im a very sex-positive person. I respect marriage, and Ive been with my partner for 15 years, but I just think its unrealistic to think people are going to be monogamous for many, many years of marriage.
Sean, what would happen if your partner found out you had been with a Rentboy?
Van Sant: Hed probably be happy. Ive been around so many Rentboys that he tells people that I am immune to it, and it doesnt really turn me on. They are like my kids or my coworkers. So I think hed be kind of happy. Hed want to know the story actually.
Where would you like to see Rentboy.com in the future?
Van Sant: In the subway. Advertised in the subway. Even on TV. Maybe an escort chat program on network TV.
Can you predict the winner for Escort of the Year?
Van Sant: Thats very hard to say. The porn stars always have a little bit of an advantage because they are better known. We really dont know, and I do like it when someones popularity surprises me. I think in the end people do make the best choice.
After all of these years of Rentboy.com, what are you the most proud of?
Van Sant: Were proud of our boys. Were proud of our accomplishments, and Im proud there is a place to go to safely explore your sexuality.