On Friday Nick Denton did something rare in the history of Gawker: He pulled a story.
David Geithner, chief financial officer at Conde Nast and brother of former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, allegedly contracted with a male escort to meet in Chicago. The plan went south when the escort/porn star—identified by the Daily Caller as Leif Derek Truitt—discovered Geithner’s pedigree and supposedly requested that the CFO use his Washington connections to help with an eviction complaint in Texas. When Geithner allegedly refused and called off the date, Truitt escalated the intensity of his requests, finally going to Gawker.
Most of the ensuing furor (Twitter exploding in condemnation, Gawker initially holding firm and then retracting, Gawker editors strenuously objecting, the Daily Caller contacting Truitt and discovering that his real hyphenate perhaps should be escort/pornstar/conspiracy theorist/raving loon) centered around two legs of the story. Was Geithner fair game, given that he isn’t a public figure? And, will Gawker maintain an editorial claim that today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news if by “news” they mean the gay-shaming of private citizens?
As someone who has been in the adult industry for years, stories like this, while familiar, read whitewashed and incomplete. From Divine Brown to Ashley Alexandra Dupré to the D.C. Madam, the sex workers involved remain footnotes. It’s viewed as a given that men will buy sex and that people will sell it, but aside from salacious pictures and perhaps some unhinged text messages, the unfamous but suddenly notorious men and women central to the scandal usually remain the mechanism of the story rather than players.
This was brought home to me during a far more blue-chip scandal. I watched the Spitzer/Emperor’s Club connection break from a room at the St. Regis hotel, immediately following the business part of an hour. My client turned on the television while we got dressed. I wasn’t watching, as I didn’t anticipate the news would mean anything to my life: He had to point it out. We left the room without looking at each other again.
Upon returning to the office I was press-ganged into shredding everything, down to the Post-Its. My boss repeatedly asked whether putting her Palm Pilot into the toilet would delete all the contacts. After explaining for the third time that I didn’t know, I realized that my job no longer existed and there was no reason for me to stay, and that I’d been stupid to go there at all. In the month that followed I read both The Daily News and the Post every day. I watched as Miss Dupré went from nameless “whore” to scoop to minor media personality and then irrelevance.
When escorts are outed against their will, they can only hope to surf the ensuing press. But in this case Truitt outed himself. It’s fantastic to me that anyone would willingly involve themselves in a shitstorm of such epic yet boneheaded proportions. Obviously he is not a victim.
I asked male escorts, what do you think of the boondoggle?
Four refused to comment, anonymously or otherwise. The story was so contagiously toxic they wanted nothing to do with it. All those who spoke to me were outraged on Geithner’s behalf, and most of their blame fell on Truitt. James*, (not his real name) said, “For me, as a sex worker, I feel that more of the attention should be on the escort instead of Gawker. True, Gawker shouldn’t have published their article, but at the same time, what Brodie Sinclair [Gawker’s alias for Truitt] did was unspeakably out of line.”
Evan, another escort, said there is a clear expectation of confidentiality in the business. “Discretion is one of the requirements for the job. For both the client and myself. My relationships are bound by the walls of the bedroom.”
Aleks Buldocek went on the record with his disapproval: “I can’t speak to [Truitt’s] character outside of this incident but what he did was rather scummy and abusive to his client and other sex workers.”
Will Gawker-gate negatively impact sex work in general? Buldocek isn’t sure. “It takes a lot of guts for many clients to even pick up the phone and say what they need. Clients have all kinds of barriers stalling them. This certainly doesn’t help.”
James was less ambivalent. “It could’ve possibly made good clients a little more afraid to hire us, costing us all money.”
I ask all the escorts I know if they’ve heard of other instances of blackmail. Evan has. “I’ve heard of a client that blew up his boy's apartment, including the boy, because things were going south. The person that told me this story was in jail for extortion of another client.”
Luke Jackson, a male escort for women, had “heard of it secondarily. It seems like a dangerous game to me. It would ruin your reputation. Sex work is one thing, but discretion is the heart of the whole thing.”
He was more critical of Gawker than the other men I spoke to. “They're empowering a blackmailer over covering a story. It’s the Internet, I get it, but is that really the role you want to play? I’m all for transparency and for reporting what happens in the world if it’s relevant. I don’t see how carrying out someone’s threat is relevant to anything.”
That Geithner was hiring a man makes a difference, both in the story and the outcry it has provoked. There is a double standard, in both directions: for the homophobia holdouts, the gay angle holds more shame. But the reverse is true for those who consider themselves allies: I think we extend a greater right of privacy for being closeted than for buying sex simply because it’s fun. If Geithner had been hiring a female prostitute, I don’t know that people would jump as quickly to defend him.
Maybe that’s changing. The Twitter outcry and subsequent resignations indicate that we think that private citizens ought to be able to pay for sex without humiliation. Extrapolate that conviction, and perhaps the choices of the people they pay to sleep with are also private. Those asserting that this is a private matter could carry that thought one step further: If buying sex should be one’s own choice, maybe so should selling it.
Jackson and I talk about our fear of exposure. He says that it doesn’t weigh on him anymore. He says, “the advantage to coming [clean with family and friends] is that then you don’t have to give a shit anymore. I remember when I hadn’t come out and it was really fucking terrifying. There were some dark times when I was wrought with uncertainty and fear about it.”
I ask him whether he thinks that the strength of the outcry against Gawker has to do with our voluntary panopticon, and the vulnerability that can’t help but create. Yes, he says, “We all have secrets. They’re not even bad secrets. It doesn’t mean that I’m ashamed of these things. There’s a difference between transparency and shoving our most intimate details into people’s faces. Whether it’s text messages or dirty pics: Everybody’s doing it.”