The week that Joe Biden rejected the idea of federal student loan forgiveness and called it “socialism” was the same week that Matt Gaetz’s wingman and fellow member Joel Greenberg pleaded guilty to six crimes, including sex trafficking in a child . The two stories may not be related, but they are not. Both affect broken students.
According to a draft of a confession Greenberg wrote and the reports of several of the women, he and Gaetz met and had sex with young women he found on Seeking.com, a “sugaring” or dating site. in which one person compensates the other with cash or gifts. (The site was called Seeking Arrangement, but it was renamed Seeking in 2018.) Whether or not sugaring is sex work has been hotly debated, but in any case, it’s almost ubiquitous on college campuses. Venmo records show Gaetz sent money to Greenberg, who then sent money to college-aged women (and a 17-year-old girl) with the notes “tuition” and “school”.
The case sounds terrible to me, not because of what Gaetz – who denied any wrongdoing and said that he “never, never paid women for sex” – did, but because of his political career and the political party he supports, what once claimed to care about “family values” helped create the economic environment in which choosing to fuck men like him for tuition or rent is rational.
Minimum wage increases, subsidized childcare programs, and more state and federal funding for college would alleviate the desperation – something that the world’s guests do not want politically or personally. Life is better for such men when there are many women fighting. Some of them need $ 1,200 in “tuition” enough to take a drug-powered trip to the Bahamas with men they dislike and who treat women viciously. Some will consider having a Florida condo sex party if they can still go to school.
I’ve been a sex worker for 10 years, which means people think I think about sex all the time and in reality I think about money all the time. I think it’s obvious that more people are selling sex now. Some argue that it’s because the internet has lowered the barriers to entry, but it’s hard to get good data with certainty as stigma, criminalization, and politicization make sample populations and study methods suspect. The other obvious reason more people are getting into sex work is because the rent and sometimes loan payments are too high. It would not be the first time.
When poverty exploded in Berlin during the Weimar period after World War I, sex work was ubiquitous. In typical German fashion, there were names and designations for all types of workers, from state-sanctioned control girls to homeless wild boys gangs. Half-Silks, now perhaps the rough equivalent of “sugar babies,” were often factory or shop girls, women with full-time jobs who worked Friday evenings. They couldn’t quite live on their wages and saw one or two customers a week to fight their way through.
It was insincere then, and it is still today with Seeking, to claim that these quasi-amateurs were doing sex work for reasons other than economic reasons. Searching may call it sugaring, with its frivolous and decadent implications, but it’s hard to attribute the site’s popularity to anything other than financial hardship.
“Gaetz and his party helped create the economic climate in which the decision to fuck men like him for tuition or rent is rational.”
Searching puts the wandering hand of the market on women’s bodies all over the place, but it’s also where people with limited resources can get paid and can afford tuition, rent, or diapers. Nobody loves that you have to fuck a man older than your father to do it, but: tutoring. Rental fee. Diapers. Searching has a relatively low barrier to entry. Unlike escort, which requires social media skills and often a website, seeking feels like Tinder: snap some pictures of your body and face, throw up a few words about hypergamy, and you’re in business.
The connection between high ed and seeking is not a mistake. The website attracts students. Sign in with a college email and verify your student ID and your free account goes premium. I look for lists of which colleges have the most sugar babies in their promotional materials, along with information on rising college costs. The website has put out billboards targeting future babies: Happy 18th Birthday, Meet Your New Daddy.
Search doesn’t have to work hard to sell the idea that you need cash for school. College costs are out of control. I know two sex workers who started the job after falling into a quarter of a million dollars in debt with minimum monthly payments high enough to consume a lifetime – debts that can keep you up at night or give you a reason to ingratiate yourself into powerful men.
People choose sex work, be it through “arrangements,” only fans, or straight escort, mainly because it is the best choice for economic stability, and they often start out of the desperation caused by economic instability. It was definitely true for me: I started sex work so I wouldn’t have to drop out of school. I don’t think there is anything wrong with doing sex work to alleviate poverty, which is not wrong (or wrong!) With most types of work. I am a sex worker and I have no more problems. That’s what I like about my life.
I used to think that a career as a writer was my way from sex work. But I’m going to make $ 300 for this piece, which took the best part of two days if you add up the hours. That’s $ 38,000 a year with no benefits if I could keep this edition of writing (and pitching and invoicing and everything else related to writing) up to five days a week every week. That doesn’t go far in New York City, where I live. Perhaps those numbers could go up if I spent more time writing, and I often (right now!) Have moved from a field that I know I can pay all of my bills to get into one where very few people seem to know.
So I want Seeking to stay in business. Not because it’s a good site: It’s full of scammers, time wasters, curmudgeons, carrot dealers and bankrupt boomers with chips on their shoulders. It is obviously racist and hostile to whores. But sex work has moved on throughout history and is linked to income inequality. Driving it underground only makes working conditions much worse for the workers involved in it.
When talking about sex work, language conveys a lot. I don’t like Matt Gaetz, but I am concerned about how the coverage of his case uses phrases such as “child rapist” and “pedophile”. There’s a difference between what federal agencies might pin him down and the bigger picture. Smoothing out his alleged predation in SVU tropes distracts us from the question of why 17-year-olds create dating profiles for old men and post them online with cute selfies.
The term sugar baby brings together two declining ideas about women and money: that women need it for extras or sugar, and that getting it from rich men takes infantilization and addiction. Both concepts take away bargaining power and labor rights, which are already in short supply in the sex economy. As Jessie Sage points out, it also enables customers to pretend and believe that they are not customers. As Juno Mac and Molly Smith put it in Revolting Prostitutes: The Fight for Sex Workers’ Rights, “Sometimes the centrality of money … is deliberately hidden for a political purpose.”
Gaetz insists he didn’t pay for sex, which suggests he was only sending payments to his boyfriend to pass them on to women half his age who he then had sex with, which is completely different. The fact that he used Venmo, an app with a public feed where you have to write a description of “What the money for” sends me. I will never get over it. Imagine doing the stupidest thing that could get you into the greatest trouble: Now imagine making a flyer about it and stapling it in the break room. Matt Gaetz, people!
The power inherent in the economic control wielded by Gaetz and Greenberg cannot be overlooked. Just listen to the women who say things like, “I wasn’t really able to say that I didn’t mean to do this. I was out of my mind. I was over my head and it was kind of scary. “
As long as lawmakers treat poverty as a personal failure from which you can break free, there will always be young women who do their best with G-strings as bootstraps. The answer is neither to act against Seeking nor to ban backpage. It’s not even about punishing or humiliating Republican weirdos and hypocrites.
The answer is to choose leaders who pass laws that protect students and workers from being removed from the economic fringes by a textbook or broken broadcast.