The recent disclosure that antigay Professor George Rekers hired a 20 year old rentboy to accompany him on a trip abroad has been extensively covered by both the LGBT and mainstream media. Rekers now fits into the mold of what is now a stock character: the anti-gay minister who attacks gays because he cannot face the fact that he himself is gay. Jo-vanni Roman, the rentboy, fits into the stock character of the obscure sex-worker who suddenly finds himself on the national stage having spoken the truth about a client. We grow wise to these exposures as they help us reveal the truth about homophobia and hypocrisy, but they also teach us something unfortunate about our own gay community: we can be just as wrongly and priggishly judgmental about our own comrades as are our anti-gay detractors.
When the young Constance McMillan was not allowed to wear a tuxedo and bring her girlfriend to her high school prom, she became a national gay hero and was named a grand marshal of the 2010 New York City gay pride march. Yesterday, I asked Jo-Vanni Roman if anyone has invited him to participate in a pride march and/or to be honored as a grand marshal. As I expected, his answer was no, he has received no such invitation.
Why? Simply because he is a rentboy. The fact that many gay people who have read about him consider him as less than respectable and the fact that some powerful gay advocacy organizations are not embracing him, celebrating him and honoring him solely because of his profession is shameful.
I'd like to reframe some of the facts about the Rekers/Rentboy story and I would invite you to consider the possibility that the LGBT community ought to own up to some pharisaical shortcoming in our celebration of what Jo-Vanni Roman has done for us.
Rekers has damaged the lives of LGBT families in Florida (and received $120,000 of taxpayer money in the process) by testifying against gay adoption rights. He has a long, loud and aggressive anti-gay record in Florida and elsewhere. He deserves to be outed because of his public attacks on LGBT people.
Jo-Vanni Roman is a paid escort. He is paid for his companionship. We would be wrong to assume that we know exactly what is entailed in his client relationships. Yes, we can safely assume that his clients via rentboy.com are looking for something that might be defined as sex, but we would be wrong to make assumptions about the services involved in this or any particular transaction.
Each of us has a private sex life. What we privately do with consenting adults is no one's business. Even when we see a man enter a gay sex club, we should not make assumptions about what he does therein. Even another client of JoVanni's should not assume that Rekers got the same service.
Rushing to make judgments about what paid escorts do is a fool's errand.
Jo-Vanni Roman could have said "No comment" every time he was asked about his relationship with Rekers. Instead, he has freely disclosed the details. In the process, he has acquired a level of national scrutiny that he never intended. We could, until the cows come home, discuss whether or not this constitutes "gay heroism". We could endlessly speculate about and analyze his intentions in disclosing the details of his trip to Europe with Professor Rekers.
Rather than second-guess his motives or his means, we ought to focus on the net effect of Jo-Vanni's words: the silencing of a major enemy of the LGBT community.
Rather than dismiss Jo-Vanni as less deserving of honor as a gay hero because of his work as a paid escort, we ought to focus on his achievement on our behalf.
If a paid clinical research team were to accidentally discover a cure for HIV, we'd celebrate them with spectacular verve. We would hardly bother prattling about whether their motivation for discovering the cure might have been tinged with some desire for personal fame and fortune. Even if they discovered the wonderful cure by inadvertently mixing gin, pot, marshmallow fluff and Viagra during an extended "lunch break" dalliance in a broom closet adjacent to the lab, we'd be inclined to overlook their morally questionable route to success. Why won't we overlook this young man's profession and celebrate his accomplishment?
If we refrain from honoring this young man because we look down on his profession, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves for being no better than our self-righteous bigoted detractors.
We spend so much time fighting for our right to have sex in whatever way we are naturally inclined. We spend so much time fighting for our right to freely and openly express our natural sexual identity without penalty. We spend so much time fighting to dismantle the barriers to sexual freedom. Somewhere in the course of these battles, we have wrongly embraced the false proprieties of our enemies. We wrongly caress middle class respectability and the G-rated family values of our oppressors. Shame on all of us for our tepid but oh-so-politically-correct whispered thank-you to a rentboy who deserves better.