My name is Ben Carver. I’m from New Iberia, Louisiana.
Growing up closeted in the south… it’s a difficult situation for many. When you grow up in a religious context, often the case is that people think that you’re one thing. But you know if they actually found out about you, that, you know, they’d think that you’re evil, that you’re unlovable, and that you’re going to hell. So it was a high priority for me to get out of the south as quickly as possible.
The person that I came out to, straight female that I was roommating with, got a job in Virginia.
And she said, “Hey, I have an extra room. Why don’t you come up and you can make a transition into D.C.”
So I didn’t even walk for my diploma. I just had my university mail me mine and I jumped on a plane with a thousand bucks in my pocket, ready to find my place.
My second or third day in Fredericksburg, Virginia, I was online with the Washington Blade, which is the gay newspaper here. And they have online job listings. So I was perusing and there was a listing that called for an office manager, and it said, “View website before applying.” So I clicked the URL and it was a gay escort service.
Now, I laughed my ass off. I thought, you know, I’m the last person that you would expect to do this kind of work. Fairly conservative, traditional, vanilla person. I still am, pretty much. I’m open-minded, but it’s basically who I still am. But I also had graduated with a degree in sociology and I’ve always been interested in group dynamics – why people do what they do, particularly deviant behavior – that five percent that does things differently from everybody else. So I thought, you know, this would be a great opportunity. I could actually apply my degree right out of school and make the money I need to actually transition to DC and live the life that I’d been seeking.
Typical of many office jobs, you show up, you answer a lot of phone calls, people call and you make sales, you put together dates, as we call it. But the biggest part of my job was answering phone calls. One of the first things that I learned that taught me a lot about the community happened in the context of listening to people. Everyday, talking to people, telling me things that their shrinks, their priests, even their wives don’t know about their lives.
It also helped me know that I was not alone because they’d tell me about their traumas. It made me feel like I was… it made me feel like I was part of a community and that I wasn’t alone in facing some of the things that I faced that I was never really able to talk about.
Escorts would come by the office and they would deposit the money from their jobs and they would tell me these crazy stories about the situations they would get involved in. There was one client who would come to an in-call facility, where we would host engagements between client and escort. One gentleman, he was morbidly obese. And often he had a very pungent smell because he couldn’t clean himself properly. And so there were a number of escorts who, when they would meet with him, they would clean him. They would literally wash him and move folds of fat and help him to be clean. I was so blown away by that, the kindness that it took. And they would never talk about it as something disgusting. They had a real sense of empathy.
And I saw moments like that, I heard about moments like that over and over again, and that had a big impact on me and how I saw my community and how one should act.
I worked there for a year and a half. Ultimately, I had to step away because it wasn’t my passion. It wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to do with my life. But for that period of time, it helped me to get a foothold into D.C. and become the person that I am now.
I think one of the most important things that I learned from working with sex workers is the importance of alternative family, and that often as gay people we create our own families. And how we might not necessarily get the family we want, but we get the one that we need. And that even though we can all maybe be a little damaged, that we can still take care of each other. Even now, I make a concerted effort to reach out to people and help where I can.