I met Dylan when I was a shy 18 year old first hitting the gay club scene. He was only a few years older than me, but to me he was the shining promise of everything I was told the gay scene would be. Everyone knew Dylan. He moved effortlessly through the different cliques making friends with everyone from the club kids to the bears and even the sullen lesbians (being 2007, the peak of the emo craze, there were plenty of those around). He knew all the drag queens by name, real and performance, and when it was time to switch between titles. He knew which bars to hit on a Tuesday night, and which ones you would never be caught dead in before 3am. He was never on the dance floor, always on a podium or the stage in front so everyone could see him. I can count on one hand the number of people I talked to in my first year of gawking on the gay scene, so when a mutual friend introduced Dylan to me, and he took an interest in me, I thought I had finally arrived.
The chattering gays of our small city were breathless in their coverage of our brief affair. Anything Dylan did was big news.
We went on a few dates, rather innocent affairs that mostly involved him talking about himself and showing me his dance moves. Even as a naïve 18 year old I quickly realised that was interest in me was based mostly on the fact that I had not yet developed a strong personality and I would not detract attention from him. But I didn’t care. I thought he was very mature. He had his own car, he lived out of home and was finishing his university degree. Once he took me into the production studio at his university to watch a student film he had made. I took a photo of him taking notes as he studied himself on screen. I said I would use it when he was famous to remind him of where he came from.
We all said he had the ambition, the looks and the charm to go anywhere in life. How lucky we were to be involved in his life from the start!
There aren’t a lot of other photos of him; he moved to fast for that. The only photo I have of us together is from a friend’s birthday costume party. We’re dressed like 1920’s gangsters and I’m sitting sideways on his lap with my arm around him smiling at the camera while he leans around me, peering intensely at a lap top screen. Choosing all the coolest music, of course. A few hours after that photo was taken we had sex for the first time, on my friend’s bed (sorry, Alice) and I never saw him again. I didn’t mind. I was just honoured that he had chosen me to share his body with, even if it was just for a few drunken minutes on ridiculous giraffe-print sheets.
That was Dylan, they said, always flitting from one thing to the next like his feet weren’t even touching the ground. Where will he end up next!
The next time I saw his face was when someone sent me a link to his profile on a rentboy site. He was called Jarryd now. He had done a professional modeling shot and he was looking damn fine. Muscled and oiled up to the ninth degree. There was a cheeky half-shaft shot that I saved for later. I was uneasy with his choice of profession, but I was assured by the chatterers that he was just doing this while he looked for a graduate job.
Besides, he gets flown to Hong Kong, they said. In business class! To an 18-year-old stacking shelves at Innaloo Woolies this did seem exciting, and I was caught up in the whispered tales of his glamorous life.
That was ten years ago. Dylan/Jarryd is still a rentboy. But no one talks about him anymore. Whether out of safety, shame or boredom, he long ago deleted all his social media, dropped out of the gay scene and stopped answering the phone. Occasionally when I meet with old friends I hear about him getting taken for a shopping spree on some old man’s credit card or getting a ride in a Lamborghini. As a 28 year old I just find it sad. In the past ten years the rest of us have started careers, gotten fired, started new careers, fallen in and out of love and done all the things your 20s are about.
Dylan/Jarryd is still using his old photos and saying he’s 24. I can’t even pass for 24 and I’m younger than him and don’t go outside. There’s only one recent photo. It’s a tight close up of his face. He’s standing on a beach facing into the sun, and even in full light he’s tired and puffy. His eyes have lost the light that sparkled even in a dark nightclub. He still has the same 2007-era shag-emo haircut.
I think of Dylan whenever the queer community talks about sex work as some kind of noble calling. They have this idea that sex workers are helping the people of the world explore their sexuality and bring in a new age of sexual enlightenment. The sanctimonious way some of them talk you’d think they are curing cancer, not getting pissed on by Chinese executives at the Hong Kong Ibis.
Or they think it’s empowering! Because apparently everything a queer person does with their body is an empowering act of resistance these days. Using your queer body to take money from the patriarchy has to be powerful! No, a prostitute has no power. They are chosen based on looks and paid based on how much the client thinks they are worth. Technically they can decline a client, and for some risk the wrath of their madam/pimp, but don’t get to pick them in the first place.
Others have this idea that they’re such victims of society because of their sexuality/gender that sex work is all that’s available to them. Usually these are middle-class people desperate to do something to reduce their privilege score and feel some intersectional oppression; ‘whorephobia’ is the latest struggle to be lumped in with LGBT rights. These are often the same people that claim they are too ‘anxious’ to have an actual job. Too anxious to scan groceries but not too anxious to go to a stranger’s hotel room at 3 am and negotiate the price of their holes, apparently. There are people involved in sex work for survival. But these people are doing it because they have literally no other option, not because they have an asymmetrical haircut and a septum piercing.
And no, a nine-to-five job in a capitalist system is not more degrading and exploitative than prostitution, as some Marxist Melbourne gays claim. I don’t get to choose my own hours in my office job, but I also don’t have to cleanse every orifice when I get home. I don’t have to suck any dirty old man toes either, so that’s a bonus.
The sex industry is run on the exploitation of the young and impressionable, and queer people romanticising it just leads more vulnerable people into a a job that has the highest rates of violence and murder. I try not to think about what ten years of prostitution does to a person.
The dark side of me wonders if I should hire Dylan for a night to see if he recognises me, or if by this stage Dylan is gone and Jarryd has taken over completely.