When news of Erik Rhodes untimely death hit, it caused shockwaves that reverberated in the social media universe. As Daniel Villareal has collected and attempted to parse over at Gay.net, you can read the responses via Twitter and other quotables from quasi-celebrities and friends, as well as a news stories published in various outlets. The most surprising may be the story by Jacob Bernstein published in the New York Times of all places that revealed:
"On June 13, after a night in which Mr. Rhodes was hired along with another escort to perform for a wealthy client (according to text messages later read by his brother), the two men continued the evening on their own, having sex and doing drugs. But Mr. Rhodes quickly realized that he was not feeling well and cut the evening short. Once home, he apparently went into cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead in a hospital shortly thereafter, his brother said."
Isn't it a bit shocking that the paper of record would spend so much ink on a guy who is best known for taking off his clothes and getting paid to show his ass? Even if it is in the Sunday Style section? It may be because, as Bernstein tells it, Rhodes "appeared regularly on Page Six, spent time with the designer Marc Jacobs, was profiled in magazines that had nothing to do with pornography, and shot an ad campaign for Loehmann’s."
Luckily Michael Musto gave good quote. As he told the Times: "The gay porn audience often looks to a hulking macho fantasy, and he provided that. He was Thor, the Hulk and the rest of the ‘Avengers’ cast wrapped in a gay package. And the fashion connection and the fact that he had a brain elevated him from your everyday escort-slash-porn-god and gave him texture.”
Of course, Musto is partially correct. Except these men are not superheroes. They have no actual super powers beyond that of persuasion, perseverance (all those hours at the gym!), and charming personalities.
I once was asked to be a presenter at the Hookies, the annual event that celebrates men in the porn/hustler industry. Much like porn itself, the event is a marketing tool to get more clients for hustling: where the real money is.
It was a strange decision to say yes to attend: I was torn between the idea that it was a funny/fun event with lots of hot men who seemed self-empowered; and I felt like I was somehow supporting the exploitation of men who may not be as sane and stable as they seemed. I knew that there were organizations out there to help support those sex workers to understand their rights and gain access to legal services. Ultimately I was irrelevant that night, and I just stood, stunned, in the overpowering presence of Diesel Washington (who won as best writer/blogger, btw). These men do indeed seem like demigods when you stand next to them. It was a night of extremes, and I'm sure there was a lot of "fun" afterward.
As anyone who has read Rick Whitaker's eloquent memoir of his life as a male prostitute, Assuming the Position, it doesn't matter how smart or brave you think you are, this is a life that will in some way destroy you. Very few get out with there alive. Rather than glorify porn stars and prostitutes—as can be seen from the slew of schlock films that come out of the Los Angeles indie movie scene—it should be time for people to realize these men are not immune to the degradation and exploitation by an industry that has no empathy for their humanity, and they are being ground up as meat for other's amusement.
Perhaps it's best to end with Rhodes' friend, Derek Hartley, who wrote a blog post titled "End of Rhodes," in which he associates Rhodes with a quote from Carrie Fisher's alter ego in the movie Postcards From The Edge: "The trouble is: I can't feel my life. I can't feel it. I see it all around me and I know that so much of it is good but I just take it the wrong way."