Hawk Kinkaid is speaking to me between meetings. His answers are quick and precise, and after about fifteen minutes, he tells me he has to go. It’s understandable of course. His current job is not what he’s best known for. Hawk Kinkaid is the name he used when he was working in the sex industry, and it’s the name he uses in his role as the creator of HookOnline.org, a website devoted to harm reduction and fostering dialogue between male sex workers, and Rent U, a teaching program he created as an off-shoot of Hook. I’m speaking to Kinkaid because of an event he’s hosting tonight (2/24) –a fundraiser and book launch party for In the Company of Men: Inside the Lives of Male Prostitutes, a book by Dr. Christian Grov and Dr. Michael D. Smith. Here’s our conversation.
Adam: How did you first get the idea to do Hook Online?
Hawk: I started the project over a decade ago, and the initial reason for starting it was that there were no resources for men in the industry to assist in the learning curve, in other words, the site serves to help keep people from making some of the more common mistakes that people make in the industry. It’s also a way to foster some conversation about the business so that we are helping people to understand it better. A lot of people, especially gay men who are working in the industry will take a kind of laissez faire approach. They think having sex and having sex for money is not very complicated, but there are effects and decisions you have to make when you work in the industry. Many people have made many mistakes in doing that. So what we try and do is give people an opportunity to better understand it when making that decision. We are a harm reduction program. Our goal is not to prevent people from being in the industry, and a lot of the people who work on the project are people who do very well in the business. They pay their taxes, they pay for their healthcare, they make all sorts of practical decisions. But many people don’t. They’re in the industry very temporarily, as a result of a bad situation or emergency or they just see an opportunity for a period of time so they take it on. So what we want to do is get them to think practically and occupationally about the decision they make.
What are some of the most common complications people face in the industry?
On a professional level there are always issues surrounding physical violence, drug and alcohol usage, especially when they’re working and people end up being taken advantage of that way. There’s also implications in their personal lives, in their friends and their support system. As far as social behaviors, as I mentioned, there’s often significant drug and alcohol usage in their free time – which can become an addiction.
How did you get into the industry?
Mine was an emergency, more or less. I was on the West Coast, in an internship, when my mother’s side of the family, the people I was living with, made it a very uncomfortable living environment. They were homophobic, and generally unfriendly. At that time I perceived it as a big risk of being homeless or having to go back home to my parents which was not what I wanted to do. I met a guy in a café, and he introduced me to what at the time was body work, which is a type of massage. That was my first introduction to the industry. I met a lot of people who were working in the industry and I had an immediate need to make fast cash. I was working a 60 hour a week internship, and I couldn’t really have a retail job. There was no way to make money to pay for gas, let alone anything else.
Do you still work in the industry?
No. I’ve been out of it for over a decade now. There are people whose careers really do belong there. They’re really good at it. They treat it very professionally. That was not really my particular set of choices. I’ve been an activist since I began so I’ve always pushed for more resources, healthcare, etc. But I’m not currently a worker. A number of our board members are.
How has the rise of the internet changed the industry?
It really changed the dynamic of the industry. Whereas street workers don’t always get along, there are certain networks of physical presence in those systems. Right now the only people working the streets, primarily are recent immigrants or drug addicts or homeless possibly. But by and large most of the industry–your standard workers–are online. Even the homeless ones have accounts online. What it’s done is allow men in the industry easier access to working, because they work in isolation, they can do it anonymously. That’s a plus because it gives you greater protection. You’re not as at risk to harm in those environments, because you can feel out your clients, and assess potential physical risk. But at the same time you work in a vacuum, so the down side of that is that many men are doing this on their own without any education, or mentorship. A number of men I’m familiar with did the whole thing in total secrecy.
What are some of the issues unique to New York?
I don’t think there’s anything really unique to New York. But there is a definite difference between urban and rural. There are differences between the type of guys who do the work. In the cities, not many people will talk about working in the industry, but you will meet people who do work in it. Rural environments, there’s a very different relationship to that, because it’s smaller communities, people know everyone, so taking a client there is a much higher risk environment for men who work in the industry. What you find among women in North Carolina, for instance, is that they will fly up to Baltimore for the weekend to work and come back to rural North Carolina during the week. It affords them a certain amount of privacy. With men it’s much more difficult to work in rural places than in a city. Larger cities have a system already in place for those people to go and advertise and work.
Lets talk about Rent U.
Rent U is a program I started. It’s classes for men in the industry, and we teach classes in things not necessarily about the industry. We’ve done classes in web design, and financial management, and now our current class is client management. And another one is how to turn their sex work skills into regular jobs, so how they can position those skills on their resume.
How do you put that on a resume?
The career counselor can probably answer that better than me, but I think a lot of it has to do with where people find their strengths, and if their strengths are with client management, there are opportunities to make contacts, and do public relations or event development. Basically its taking these skills and seeing how they can be applied elsewhere. If someone’s really good at organization and handling people in that context there’s a lot of jobs out there for them.
Where do you see this going in the future?
We’d like to do the Rent U series in a few more cities, like possibly San Francisco or maybe in North Carolina, and maybe a few other places. Basically we’d like to double it – so if we do New York and one other city this year, we’d like to do four cities next year.
Tonight’s Hook Online fundraiser takes place from 7-9 at Rooftop Lounge in NYC. Rent U’s upcoming class “Turning Sex Work Skills Into A Job” will take place on February 28th from 2-4PM, at an undisclosed location.For further information or tickets (limited availability) contact Hawk Kinkaid, firstname.lastname@example.org.