The Male Escort’s Handbook: Your Guide To Getting Rich The Hard Way
Aaron Lawrence has written one of the only real guides for male sex workers to date, and for that I will forever owe him a debt.
I still remember mulling over the idea of working as a male escort long before I ever made any kind of real decision about how or when. I might be one of the most unspontaneous people I’ve ever known, and little happens in my life without a lot of planning and forethought. I spent many nights awake too late in my college dorm on East 23rd street trying to find some guidance or path for how to do any of this correctly. What were the rules? What do I charge? How do I stay out of trouble? What happens if I DO end up in trouble? What if my family finds out? Questions were easy to come by, but practical guidance was scarce.
I’m not totally sure how I got to The Male Escort’s Handbook for the first time. But I clearly remember being shocked that something seemingly so on the nose for what I was googling was just available for purchase on Amazon. This was the mid 00s, and Twitter was only in its infancy but I had my own blog and thrived on MySpace. We were already leaps and bounds beyond the usenet groups and AOL chatrooms Aaron outlines in the Handbook (platforms which were crucial to his own success), but I was familiar with such things, (having had a shockingly poor amount of parental supervision online since childhood) and knew how to navigate with ease all of the spaces the book suggested would be required.
I immediately ordered the book from Amazon and hoped nobody in the dorm security office would open the package and somehow find me out. Why they would suddenly start opening my mail or care what books I got from Amazon, I couldn’t say. I just knew I was terrified of being found out to have even a passing interest in such things. I told no one what I was considering.
Before the book could arrive, though, I found a janky illegal PDF version of the book online and started reading it on my computer immediately. I stayed up that whole night, with a second document open where I made notes of sites to visit, and lists of ‘to-do’s before I made any kind of real decisions. I had nearly finished the book by the time I crashed at 6 AM. I didn’t know what was in store for me, but I knew I was going to go in as prepared as possible.
I didn’t do anything else for a few days. I wanted to marinate in the dense deluge of information that The Male Escort’s Handbook provided, and see if anything came up that would tell me to rethink my plans.
Nothing did, and when the physical book arrived several days later, I sat in my dorm room again and read it all properly. I was struck by Lawrence’s forthright presentation and his insistence that this was a job like any other, and true success would require that it be treated as such. I couldn’t yet fathom this being anything like a “real” job, nor could I imagine then that there would even be enough customers out there to make it worth dedicating hours and energy to administrative tasks or research beyond what I’d invested already.
But Aaron is a convincing writer, and, lacking other advice that could be taken seriously by anyone with half a brain (there are other books that might appear on this same shelf, but they’re most often poorly crafted frames for sharing salacious stories and civilian-drafted stigma-reinforcing porn), I decided to trust him. If I was going to do this, I was going to do it the right way. According to the Handbook.
The Male Escort’s Handbook is unique in its presentation of factual information, and, while you can sense that Lawrence is trying to provide some interesting material for a regular Joe to enjoy (each chapter opens with a personal story or anecdote about his experience as a male escort), his true guidance is aimed squarely at guys who are at the crossroads of “do I,” and “how do I take this seriously?” He is in no way advocating for any and all to sign up for sex work as the easy money career of the future. But rather addressing folks who have found themselves in need of real information about how to promote their business, treat their customers, and how to care for themselves.
Promoting one’s business
This is the facet of the Male Escort’s Handbook that has worn the worst with time. Many of the sites and publications mentioned in the book are long defunct, and even the practicalities of paying for print ads or investing time in chat rooms became eye-roll-y shortly after the book itself was published.
As escort advertising moved entirely online, even the mechanics of how it worked there seemed perpetually in flux. Sites came and went with seemingly the same turnover rate as escorts themselves. What Lawrence gets right, even this early in the game, was the idea of creating a space for oneself that wasn’t reliant on the endlessly Inception-ing landscape of ads and promos. A website one can control entirely allows one to keep potential customers’ attention on you alone and offer as much (or as little) information and visual stimulation as was required to convert them to contacts. It also established you as someone serious, committed to treating your work like work and your customers with resepct.
How to treat your customers
The Male Escort’s Handbook is one of the only publications I’ve ever encountered to date that addresses the idea of treating your customers like intelligent people who are deserving of care and kindness, rather than rubes or marks deserving of pity or of having their wallets lightened. Before I ever met my first client, I knew that I wasn’t interested in showing up and trying to provide some kind of pornstar experience. That sounded exhausting to me, for one thing. For another, part of my interest in this was in learning who these people might be, and what their interest in me possibly was.
Aaron provides several examples in the Handbook of scenarios requiring a bit of extra care, particularly in the section titled Clients with Medical Issues and Disabilities, and he outs himself in these pages with some regularity as an empath who understands that the depth of his role extends beyond his erection and feigned conversational interest.
The story that stuck with me immediately and for years to come was about a man who was living with an untreated hernia, and Aaron’s difficult choice to excuse himself once he realized he would not be able to safely engage with this person in a physical way. This was the first time it had even occurred to me that saying “no thank you” was an option for someone in this role, and the idea that he considered it the right thing to do in this situation was extremely formative for me in developing my own boundaries and comfort levels.
Learning that I wasn’t required to take every client, or to stay if I found myself in a situation where I was uncomfortable – nobody else ever says this to you. Realizing that I made the rules, and that I was entitled to employ those rules to protect myself or to protect a client was mind-bending for me in my early 20s. I didn’t know how to properly employ this information for a long time, but just having it was a shield that saved me from countless bad dates and worse endings.
The idea of self care for male escorts
Men aren’t always adept at self care, and the endless landscape of products and services promoting or purporting to facilitate self care aren’t often targeted at male-identifying people to begin with. In my 20s, “self care” was financially out of reach luxury like “vacations” and “spa days.” I knew vaguely where it resided, but also knew it had little to do with my own day to day life.
The Male Escort’s Handbook shines like little else provided to men in the sex trade when it comes to taking care of your wellbeing. While some (arguably much) of the specific medical advice is stale or entirely outdated already, the ideas underlining regular testing, forthrightness with doctors and medical professionals about the frequency and types of sexual interactions one is having, and the necessity of investing in yourself in practical ways, are unimaginably important. Particularly to young men who may not have come from situations or experience where these things were regarded highly. Or who might be entirely unfamiliar with them. I grew up with health insurance and had a regular doctor most of my life. But not everyone is so privileged, particularly in the US where healthcare is still a complicated, expensive, and divisive subject.
Was it scary for me to “come out” as a sex worker to my primary care doctor? It sure was. But did it change our dynamic and the types of questions and tests that were put to me? It did. For the better. Without Lawrence’s guidance on this, I might never have made the decision to let my doctor in on what I got up to and why I needed more regular and more serious STI screenings than your average 20-something kid.
Today, there are parts of the Handbook that could be quickly and comfortably removed, whole pages at a time. But the great majority of it stands up today, particularly in light of the lack of other practical resources. Is it written from the perspective of a middle-class east coast blonde white dude, whose experience might not reflect the experience of others (or even maybe the majority)? Sure. That’s undeniable. But it’s impossible to imagine a book that could possibly cover the breadth of experience that all male-ID’d sex workers encounter and possess. There are as many reasons folks come into this work (and leave it) as there are folks doing the work. There won’t ever be a one-size-fits-all prescription for how to handle yourself, your money, and your clients.
But Aaron Lawrence’s book is still a good stepping stone to developing your own rules, your own plans, and your own path. And the insistence on treating your clients with dignity and respect has informed my last years without question. For that, it’s still worth 5 stars.
Lawrence, Aaron. The Male Escort’s Handbook: Your Guide to Getting Rich the Hard Way. Late Night Press, 2000.