By convening focus groups with male sex workers, the pair discovered that after the Rentboy raid, men—including former members of the site—had tried to enter activist groups, but found themselves not welcomed. "There’s a perceived notion that, because the work is different, that we can’t offer anything constructive in those circles,” one told them. The culture of male and female sex workers is different, some focus group members argued. While female sex workers usually check their clients’ references before taking them on, male escorts do not. “If I asked that, I’d get laughed at,” one said.These weren’t the only barriers: the focus group members also didn’t think they should be asking for help. There’s an “idea that we have a perceived safety or privilege or untouchability as cis-male and transmasculine providers that really isn’t there,” one attendee said. “And it kind of perpetuates that ‘every man for himself’ is the better road to go down.” The focus group members recognized that many male escorts are more privileged than female escorts—they are targeted by law enforcement much less frequently than female escorts are and are subjected to less violence—and they wanted to figure out a way to acknowledge their privilege.
“As far as we know, we’re the first org that specifically focused on transmasculine sex workers as part of our mission”
The pandemic hitting in March 2020 ended MHP’s in-person meetings, but it led to a wave of interest and memberships after MHP set up a COVID-19 relief fund for male and masculine-of-center sex workers. Within four days, 70 people applied for funds, and within a week they had to stop applications because they’d run out.Creating a fund for sex workers who are men or masculine-of-center is highly unusual in the sex work community, and it caused tensions to flare. In spite of being clear about who the funds were for, they still got a lot of trans women applying. “There's just difficulty in communicating that not everything that says trans is for trans women,” Lashun said. “We've gotten a lot of pushback. They're like, ‘Oh, well, you don't care about the girls. And what about us?’ To which we respond: Here's a link of seven specific funds for trans women only. This one over here, this is for us.”MHP continues to hold monthly virtual meetings focused on timely issues. In June, they hosted a #blacksexworkersmatter meeting, and last month they invited FTM porn star Dick Dopamine, where they discussed Disclosure, the new Netflix documentary about how transgender people have been portrayed in the media.Later this year, MHP plans to create “an online forum that exists outside of the meeting space, where we can gather and share resources and ideas,” Baum said. “We're also working on beefing up the website, so there's a resources page for people around the country. Like, if you have physical need of something that you can't get through Molly House, we can at least point you in the right direction to have access wherever you are in the world.”“In an ideal world [MHP] would be a rebirth of HookU,” Lashun said. But even making a video instructing sex workers on how to best set their rates could led to serious legal consequences. "Under the current law, we become traffickers,” Baum replied. “If we're caught organizing in a way that makes us safer, in a way that we share resources, in a way that we educate each other, we are automatically, in the eyes of the federal government, trafficking each other.”While MHP continues to find its footing, Hurant has laid low since his release from prison in February 2018. Although he got off probation early last year, he hasn’t spoken to the press until now.“Even talking about this, I realized how PTSD I am about it,” Hurant said. “It’s like somebody who's been abused in some way. You know, like, I just feel like I've been told to shut up so much about this, and I've gone through so much pain for it.” Hurant doesn’t have any plans to re-enter the escort business, but he says that he misses Rentboy every day. “My job wasn't about keeping suffering in the world. It was about multiplying joy,” he said. “I don't see how society is any better off now.”Follow Hallie Lieberman on Twitter.
“If we're caught organizing in a way that makes us safer, in a way that we share resources, in a way that we educate each other, we are automatically, in the eyes of the federal government, trafficking each other.”