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Hustle and grow

Hustle and grow


Texas gay candidate Tom Malin was undone by the revelation of his past as an escort. Why do so many young gay men turn to hustling? And why does sex work remain the unforgivable sin?

Few people knew about Tom Malin's past as an escort until the morning of February 17. Then there it was, on the front page of The Dallas Morning News, above the fold: "Candidate worked as prostitute."

The revelation derailed Malin's thriving campaign for district 108 of the Texas house of representatives. A well-spoken, good-looking 37-year-old, Malin had been running as an openly gay candidate in the Democratic primary against fellow gay man and local gadfly Jack Borden. Malin had the right stuff. He was a Dallas native, a community activist (having served on the Dallas Citizens Police Review Board), and a successful businessman. As a sales director for Mary Kay cosmetics, he'd even earned one of the firm's highest honors: a company lease on a pink Cadillac. He lived in a prominent high-rise and showed up on the society pages in photos with his partner of three years, an out philanthropist and investor in his mid 40s.

Although he was a first-time candidate, Malin had secured endorsements from the Dallas Stonewall Democrats, Dallas Tejano Democrats (a Latino political group), and the Morning News. He talked about school financing, crime, the economy, tax and ethics reform.

But after the story broke that he had been an escort on and off until 2001--mostly while a struggling actor in New York and Los Angeles--Malin's campaign never recovered. On March 7 he lost the primary to Borden, 55% to 45%. Barely 1,000 of the district's registered Democrats even bothered to go to the polls.

"Sex sells, and we love scandals in Dallas, and so this became a sensational story," Malin says. "The campaign became about rumors and innuendo and not about the issues at hand." (It was reported that Borden, a retired salesman whom Malin terms a perennial "squeaky wheel" in local politics, was evicted from three different Dallas apartments for nonpayment of rent. He's not expected to represent a serious challenge to two-term Republican incumbent and George W. Bush pal Dan Branch.)

Most upsetting to Malin is that he believes the tale of his escorting reached the press by way of gay Democrats in whom he had confided. "[The story] became about two things: [One,] can someone redeem themselves and go on to be a productive member of society? Two, why would the gays eat their own?"

Despite the loss at the ballot box, Malin says, "we've won, because we've seen one man's journey, one man standing up and being responsible and being honest and looking at the upheaval and the fear that [it] stirs up in the community. That's a huge story. Why are people afraid of someone being responsible, someone being honest?"

Why indeed? Even among many gays and lesbians--and certainly in mainstream culture--sex for pay remains the irredeemable sin. The president can be a recovering alcoholic with a DUI arrest; the vice president can accidentally shoot a man--all is forgiven. But if a person takes money for sex, the taint may be inescapable. Forget about running for office. Forget about a high-profile business career. Forget about acting, modeling, or MTV. It's over. Even many gays will prefer that you take a hike.

That leaves a huge number of gay men with limited options in life. Because among men who have sex for money--whether in front of video cameras or behind closed doors--most are probably gay men like Tom Malin. Gay men who were young and needed money and validation, finding both in a career as a hustler or in porn (which Malin did not do). Young men who collide with older, affluent men like atoms in a superheated gay culture that seems to peddle sex with every club invite, bar rag, and DVD release.

A culture that shrugs, "What's the big deal?"

"I did what other struggling actors were doing," Malin says.

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