Nicky Blue Eyes enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2005 and served until 2012, when he lost his left leg to an improvised explosive device in Kandahar, Afghanistan. After over a year in recovery, he found himself strapped for cash.
"When I first got my prosthetic leg, my husband and I, we were broke," he told me matter-of-factly. "And I had enjoyed escorting before so I thought I'd put an ad up [online] and see what happens."
Blue Eyes (his escorting name) is a gorgeous, athletic, 26-year-old with super-blue eyes. He's been escorting full-time out of San Francisco for about three years now. His profile on Rentboy.com, a site for gay male escorts, advertises his military service, billing him as a "Striking US Marine for Your Active Duty!"
"I recently returned home from active duty deployment in Afghanistan and have over a year of built-up testosterone waiting to be released," it reads. A little later, Blue Eyes goes into his injury, explaining, "I lost my lower left limb from an IED detonation in Afghanistan but wear a top-of-the-line prosthetic as seen in my photos." He adds that 10 percent of every date is donated to a charity for injured Marines.
It's quite a marketing tactic – playing into the fetishisation of servicemen and selling it – and apparently, it's not uncommon.
Historically, the military man has been an archetype of masculinity, held as a high-status social and sexual symbol. A litany of Hollywood military action films, from the Rambo instalments to American Sniper, featuring superhuman, super-jacked military men, speak directly to this. Now, it seems men like Nicky Blue Eyes – sex workers who have served in the military – are finding a way to capitalise on that wider cultural mythology, by taking jobs as escorts.
Blue Eyes joined the military when he was 17. He says his time in the service was positive, but seven years, four tours, and one lost limb took its toll physically and financially. At first, sex work was an economic solution – but it also helped him regain his confidence and adjust to civilian life.
"[When I first got back to the US], it was really weird and incredibly difficult, especially for me being an active person, someone who moved around a lot," he told me. "I've always enjoyed looking good and all of a sudden I was… you know, I felt like I was disabled. I was disabled, I was crippled."
"I had no idea I'd be more popular [with a prosthetic] than I ever was with two legs." - Nicky Blue Eyes
Blue Eyes assumed his prosthetic leg would make him less desirable as a sex worker, but learned quickly that wasn't the case. In fact, he says being a veteran with a prosthetic leg turned out to be a huge selling point. "I had no idea I'd be more popular than I ever was with two legs, that'd I get more clients than I could ever do in one day, and I'd be traveling all over the world. I had no idea that would happen."
According to Blue Eyes, while his military status is a selling point, a lot of his appeal has to do with "seem[ing] like a real human being." He elaborates: "I think a lot of clients who are hiring escorts can be villainized, but the truth is that they're just regular guys. A lot of the time, they're very lonely and don't have a lot of self-confidence, which I can relate to. A lot of them have scars from biopsy surgeries or transplants."
Though we have information about the various fields employed veterans work in – 12.6 percent in manufacturing, 5.4 percent in construction, and so on – there are no statistics that estimate the number of veterans who enter the sex work field.
In an interview conducted before multiple members of the site's staff were arrested on prostitution charges, Hawk Kinkaid, chief operating officer at Rentboy.com, told me the site has no idea how many of the escorts advertised are former service members. Escorts are only required to provide very basic information, like age and email address, on their profiles, so "the only gauge I have is whether they voluntarily list themselves on the site as having served in the military," Kinkaid said.
But Kinkaid said that escorts who do advertise their service may be trying to capitalise on the fetishisation of military men.
"The idea of the hyper-masculine has long been the subject of high regard for gay men and, today, there are clients who still revel in [the military] fantasy," Kinkaid said. "The military represents a machismo, a clumsy grace, a radical heroism," which, he added, appeals to some gay men. "Especially when, for hundreds of years, the internalized fear was that we were 'less than' other men."
The evidence is all over Rentboy, and other similar, although less searchable sites like Rentmen.com and Men4RentNow.com. Though not all of the ex-military escorts I found emphasised their service as prominently as Nicky Blue Eyes, searching for terms like "military," "Army," "Navy," and "Marine" yield pages and pages of results.
In some cases the escorts are matter-of-fact about their military service, and leave it at that:
"Good-looking, well-educated, ex-military, versatile jock here." – AF MUSCLEBOY
"Friendliest guy in town. Former US Army soldier. Sexy All-American jock into most scenes." – ANDY
Others play more directly into the fantasy of having sex with a soldier:
"Talented in the bondage/BDSM arts ~ Shabari rope work, masks/hoods/cuffs… Role play: Daddy/boy, coach, military, leather, cowboy, wrestling, etc." – TYGERSCENT
The military has long been associated with a specific brand of masculinity, bravery, and toughness. So when Kayden Pierce survived a brutal gay-bashing that left him in a coma for 16 days, he did the only thing he thought he could to heal himself: He joined the Navy.
It was 2003, and Don't Ask, Don't Tell was still in effect. Pierce enrolled anyway: "I decided that I wasn't gay anymore," he said. He still chokes up when he talks about it, describing how he rounded up his friends and "pretty much told them to fuck off, that I wasn't gay, and that they were all gonna burn in hell. It's one of the few things [in life] that I regret."
Besides joining the Marines Corp, Pierce also married a woman and had a son. He trained as a medical corpsman – a "pecker checker," he says – and was eventually deployed to Iraq with a Marine Explosive Ordinance Disposal team.
During Pierce's service, he started doing gay porn on the side. He eventually divorced his wife ("because, you know, I was gay") and she told the military about his porn gig, which eventually led to an investigation and his discharge.
"Right after the military is when I started escorting," Pierce explained. "I started hanging out with some people, and they were always talking about going on 'hooker tours' – four to five people traveling together, zigzagging across the US, working in a city for three or more days depending on demand. One day, they asked me to go along… and I loved it."
Like Blue Eyes, Pierce found some emotional relief in escorting. He saw it as a form of caregiving, not unlike the work he was doing in the Marines, but with the freedom to be unabashedly, unapologetically gay.
Leo Sweetwood bills himself as "a college-educated former Rifleman in the United States Marine Corps, and award-winning escort."
When Leo Sweetwood left the Marine Corps in early 2014, he too moved on to sex work. Sweetwood had done porn before leaving for bootcamp, and enjoyed it, so he decided to try it again. Then, in March, he put up his first online profile, billing himself as "a college-educated former Rifleman in the United States Marine Corps, and award-winning escort."
According to Sweetwood, the military helped him develop life skills, including the ability to form relationships with people to whom he might otherwise feel very little connection – interpersonal skills he uses as an escort. But despite giving the armed forces credit for helping him develop these abilities, Leo said he doesn't incorporate his military status into his escorting.
"It's part of who I am and some guys have that fetish – they want me to act like I'm an intimidating guy or something like that – but that's not so much about the military and me as it is about an idea they have about what they want," he mused. "Sometimes [I don't take a job] because they really want the fantasy. Like, they want me to shave my head. I'm not shaving my head to a high and tight just for an hour of work. No way."
Chauntelle Tibbals, PhD, is a sociologist living in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter.