Hawk Kinkaid, a former escort, Internet porn performer and pro-dom, is the founder of HOOK, a grassroots non-profit organization that since 1997 has undertaken to share knowledge, reduce harm and build community among male sex workers. HOOK has published guides on best practices, negotiation, and legal issues, has collected stories and interviews, and runs the innovative educational program Rent U. He’s been a contributor to $pread magazine, performed at Sex Worker Literati, competed nationally in spoken word, and contributed to the upcoming omnibus anthology Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks, edited by David Henry Sterry. We welcome new Tits and Sass contributor Dominick—a fellow contributor to Johns, Marks… and advice blogger for rentboy.com—who interviewed Hawk about the relaunch of HOOK and his other projects.
So tell me about your piece that appears in David Henry Sterry’s new anthology. It’s called “Ice Cream”—when did you write it? Is it cold and sweet?
I wrote “Ice Cream” a year and a half ago. It is a true story, but it happened over a decade ago. Cold and sweet? I love ice cream. The story is not about ice cream, the dessert. It’s about a man who makes ice cream; it’s about going cold when it’s part of your business.
Does Ice Cream Man know you’ve written about him? I wrote about a client, a married elementary school principal exploring raunch/kink/humiliation on the rentboy blog, and he actually saw it! He left me a friendly comment.
Ice Cream Man has no idea. And I don’t think he would appreciate the story. It’s true, but I don’t think he would like it. He may not even be alive now. I have no idea, actually. Discretion with and about clients is part of the job, but after all this time, it’s a different world.
Well, I think a decade is plenty of time to hold a good story in. Has writing always been a part of your sex work practice?
HOOK along with other great programs like the now extinct $pread magazine have always been great outlets for me to share important stories or thoughts about working in the industry. Poetry is another significant part of my life, ranging from national spoken word slamming to my work’s inclusion in a number of literary journals. Writing has always been part of my life—I think it just made sense to also use words to shape the many experiences I had as an escort, pro-dom, etc.
HOOK definitely helped me when I was escorting. I kept that wallet card on me at all times, and wrote the number of a lawyer on it. I never had reason to use it, thankfully, but I felt better prepared.
That’s awesome! It’s what we work toward in being a resource for working men.
Where are you at with HOOK today?
We’re moving the content we have accumulated to a new site and building it up. It is exciting to finally be getting social share functionality and other important advances. People can write and submit their stories online! Plus new content will be added including interviews with working guys and new resources. It’s exciting because our goals are to make the project a strong collection of voices for men in the industry to understand each other and themselves from the site’s new elements to Rent U’s expansion through partnerships. Our volunteers, the members of the board, myself—we all work toward that goal.
Rent U has made strides sharing knowledge, building communities and taking on these challenging topics, like relationships and work. What’s on at Rent U this semester?
For our New York curriculum, upcoming classes have porn performer and BDSM professional Leo Forte doing a “Kink Fun(damentals)” course; as well as New York Times bestselling author (and former sexworker) David Henry Sterry doing a course on biographical writing. For the fall, we are in discussions to work with some other programs, to be able to provide courses nationally. It’s a very exciting time.
It seems that there’s this common thread with HOOK and Red Umbrella—an emphasis on personal narratives. What do you see as the value of sex workers telling our stories?
One of the key things I noticed working in the industry was the isolation—and don’t get me wrong, sometimes in cities like New York or San Francisco, guys can build and find communities of accepting support—but for a lot of men working, it was that the stigma around the business kept them (and me) from building a strong network of support. Plus, it meant that I had to learn the skills of the job—and there are a lot of different safety skills to the work—by trial and error. Our stories, ranging from the biographical to the episodic, are really a way for us to understand the shared experience and also as a key goal of the program, reduce the trial and error process many guys have in doing the work. Stories also make us real—real sons, real friends, real nephews, real brothers. That reinforces that we should be treated with respect and compassion.
Beyond the particular stigma, and privacy issues, what do you make of the impact of the Internet on sex work? Like many freelance workers, we sit in front of screens a lot now, alone.
I think sex work since the advent of the printed listing was an isolating position. I think the Internet liberates people in a way that passive media such as print never could. There is interaction, feedback, and breadth of content within seconds. If it did anything, it made working in the industry safer—providing discretion when needed, screening of clients, and more. There are challenges that remain around security and the explosion of amateurs and dabblers (Craigslist, anyone?) raises the number of workers without raising any desire to be educated before making choices. Overall, though, I think the Internet was a freeing force for men in the industry, as with many populations that sat at the fringe of society.
I guess I have some errant nostalgia for street trade. My own experience tracks with what you’re saying. The Internet opened a vast market to me, from the safety of my apartment. What of the dabblers? They go on to other careers, presumably- perhaps it will serve to break down the stigma in the long run? Or are they just glutting the market?
If by glutting the market, you mean coming in, doing what they need to and leaving, then yes. This is a business like waitressing or mall retail sales—generally a pit stop for people en route to something else. Many of the workers are in college, for example. Or they are between jobs. Or they are supplementing a low paying job, such as in social work or social services. Not to diminish that there are people that find a “home” in the sex industry for decades, a large swath of the business is visiting, touring around to catch all the sights and then off to a destination they will make more permanent. They are metaphorical tourists. Our goal is to reduce the harm they may incur, emotionally or physically being in the industry. It is not innately harmful to be a worker; and workers themselves are not inherently damaged but we work to reduce risks around disease but also things like isolation, addictions and occupational hazards, such as violent clients, poor treatment in the legal system, etc.
Maybe I’m a dabbler! I transitioned to a “legit” field (commercial real estate). But then the ethics of some so-called legit fields are way more suspect that escorting ever was, or will be. War profiteers and vulture capitalists come to mind. You’ve shifted between escorting and “legit” work, haven’t you?
I did, also through college. Worked summers, but not while school in session. I worked regular jobs (three at the same time) while in school, but I could do trade in summers. Then after college off and on as I saw goals emerge.
Does sex work inform legit work, and/or vice versa, for you?
I am a post-Foucauldian, so frankly everything is a power exchange. Everything is political. Too academic? Perhaps—but the crux is simple. Everything is a negotiation. The only reason I took to sex work easily was because I learned to navigate other people’s wants growing up and achieve my own through the subversion of those around me. It may be stereotypical, but I did have the unstable childhood. It isn’t why I chose the industry, but it certainly prepared me for the de-escalation of difficult situations, and the mental hardness necessary to separate myself from the work. A client has wants, and I could achieve goals I have by delivering them in a controlled and controlling way, that never gave more than I wanted to give. For example, when I was doing Internet porn for badpuppy, the masturbation show was an hour. Some guys were stupid and went in, stroked themselves and came five minutes in, leaving them no audience (no money) and 55 minutes in a cubicle. I figured out quickly that you make it an hour, you coax the participants along by thinking they are important to you. I won’t take off my shirt until you take your shirt off. Corporate life is the same way. It’s all just a big handjob but with fatter paychecks, dress pants, and a 401k.
Re: “everything is a power exchange,” I landed on a similar notion when considering relationships vis-à-vis sex work—every relationship is a little transactional. What about navigating personal relationships as a sex worker?
I wrote about dating for the HOOK site; and actually just this weekend, someone I am starting to date more seriously and I talked about the topic. Imagine—many, many, many years after I worked in the industry how much of a hurdle it still is for people. The last person I dated could never let go of the idea—as if my being in the industry was suddenly the equivalent of needing a regular gangbang session to keep a Goliath libido in check. Silly. But he was a man uncomfortable with his own skin. Not much I could do with that.
In contrast, the past weekend’s conversation was interesting, but still difficult. Sex workers have a hard time dating—and like all people, they want love. For HOOK, I just interviewed these two guys (a couple) who started a porn company. They have a negotiation in place. But they are both in the business. Relationships where one is working and the other isn’t working are tough. Even when both are in the industry, they are rough because jealousy is human, feeling important is crucial, and sex, at its very core is an intimate physical engagement no matter how you want to make it performance. We cannot suddenly erase the context in which sex is introduced.
This is all to say, the conversation went well, and I am sure it will come up again. And again. And again. Most men won’t talk about it at all. It is a small part of who I am, but sex workers’ rights and building resources for men in the industry to share stories, knowledge and community is important to me. The right guy will get over it.