Yasmin Nair: On Rentboy, Sex Panics, Feminism, and More

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Queer writer Yasmin Nair has a great post on today’s Rentboy.com raid and how it relates to larger issues of gay politics, sex work, and sex panics. I’ll let it speak for itself, and you can read the post in its entirety here.

Allow me to state the obvious: that such moves are entirely to be expected in an era of The New Gay, post-gay marriage, a time when it’s assumed that gay men don’t actually copulate with each other in their marital beds and if they do, it’s within the parameters of monogamy and never in front of their many adopted children.

Rentboy has been in existence since 1997, and we’re expected to believe the feds have only just figured out that this escort service does more than provide charming and handsome young men to serve as arm candy?

Allow me to also remind us of important bits of history: that sex work has been as integral to queer history as to feminism.  The history of women’s right to earn their living independent of patriarchal economic systems has included more than a few blowjobs and paid nights, and mainstream feminism has forgotten or wilfully erased that history as not respectable enough, not feminist enough, or just too sleazy to be remembered (Mindy Chateauvert’s book is an important reminder of that history).

Similarly, the history of rentboys — of various genders — making their way out of often oppressive situations and mapping different literal and metaphorical geographies of desire and safety has also been a part of queer history of, again, blowjobs and street trade and hustling that was, to be sure, not always idyllic but was at least for some/many a ticket out.

The rent of Rentboy, coupled with the language of whoredom and immorality, of venality and sin, a language straight out of the 1950s, is symptomatic of an age of The New Gay.

Nair also links a connection between the anti-gay and anti-sex-work raid to larger issues with the prison-industrial complex and sex panics that augment it.

But make no mistake: we cannot think about Rentboy and not also think about, for instance, the larger reach of law enforcement and the expansion of the prison industrial complex.  We cannot think about queer sex being constrained and not ask about how that is actually part of an economic system which defines particular bodies and acts as productive or not productive. We cannot think about Rentboys and not, also, think about the damage done by sex offender registries (see Roger LancasterAndrew Extein and my own piece for more on that).  If we continue, as too many of us have, to insist that this is about morality, we miss the bigger picture: of sex being intertwined in a larger and ever more rapacious neoliberal system which also creates false panics around sex trafficking.  Sex panics function to strengthen the power of a global economic system which forces migrants, domestic and international, to flee their homes, compels them to sell their bodies and labour to survive, and then subjects them to brutal laws of exclusion and imprisonment in order to sustain itself.

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