The Queer Issue: The Rise of Rentboys

Hustling goes legit

It also helps that Rentboy is a dedicated adult site, whereas Craigslist is America's virtual Main Street. "Everybody's mom and kids are on there," Van Sant says. "Craigslist gets a lot of oddballs. It's a lot harder to accidentally come across Rentboy."

Some prefer the old standby of the escort service, which still thrives in the age of the Internet. Nick Capra is one of the best-known porn stars in the industry. Now living in San Diego, he once worked for Chelsea Guys in New York. "It definitely has its advantages," he says. "They have great high-profile clients who know how to treat you. You're protected—they deal with everything. They used really great methods to screen clients, more than I had the time to do. It's like paying an agent."

All of those well-heeled clients are apparently still buying, despite the lousy economy. "Hustling does better in a recession," Clark says. "If you're going to have a high-priced treat, it's faster and cheaper than hopping on a plane for Hawaii."

On the other side of the ledger, massive layoffs have added to the ranks of those selling their wares. "There are a lot more new people," Van Sant says. "In the past, guys had day jobs and did some escorting on the side. Now, they've lost their day job. It's a great time to be a buyer."

The recession also means that men are working longer hours and have less time to cruise in the bars or online. "Ordering in," as Clark calls it, means no protracted flirting or fake "Give me your number" goodbyes. One trope that all hustlers know is that a john doesn't pay him to arrive—he pays him to leave.

If there's a downside to escorting, it's the familiar lure of easy money and too much leisure time. Capra fell prey to drugs and has since dried out. He's on Rentboy now, and when a client is "partying" (which happens "all the time," he says), he firmly but politely turns down offers to partake. Unsafe sex is also problematic: Some clients offer a premium for condomless sex. Davids says his site remains neutral, leaving it up to the individuals to negotiate the parameters of their transaction. "This is a place where the whole industry is taking sides," Van Sant says. "We decided to let people decide for themselves."

And what about those legions of gay men proudly holding up their newly minted marriage licenses? "They still do it," Van Sant says. "It's good entertainment. A lot of couples like to order in and make an evening of it."

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