Skin in the game

It is not uncommon for some people to attend college with one career path in mind, only to switch into a completely unrelated line of work after graduation. 

But perhaps that no one has ever had a more dramatic career switch than Bryan Knight, who graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology in 2006 with a master’s in environmental science but went on to become one of the most prominent male escorts in the New York City M4M (men for men) sex worker trade. 

How did he go from Point A to Point XXX? Despite his advanced degree, Knight realized that his education was lacking in one key area.

“I graduated and I did not know how to make people like me,” he recalls. “That was the one skill you either have or pick up, and I had to pick it up. So, when the recession started and environmental programs’ funding got cut, they either hired in-house or picked the people they liked. And I was neither. So, I spent two years looking for work in the way I was taught how, which was completely wrong.”

However, his career as a sex worker began in a vaguely cathartic manner while he was still searching for environmental science opportunities.

“I started doing (erotic massages) and I was so happy that I could pay bills,” he continues. “I didn’t mind doing it at all. I wanted to pay for my car and for my rent and be a contributing member of my household. So, it wasn’t hurting me, I got what I needed and people were happy — it was a perfect trifecta.”

At 6-foot-6 and 280 pounds, the blond and muscular Knight stands out from his skin trade competition. And his physical appearance quickly helped him to build a client base eager to explore role-playing at an average rate of $300 per hour.

“I get asked for things related to what I look like and who I am,” he says. “What I look like is a big, strong giant, so, I get any fantasies you can relate with strength. And my personality is really down to earth, so I’ve gotten the big brother, sexy guidance counselor or camp counselor feel.”

Advertising his services through a variety of online sites, Knight built a client base of mostly middle- and upper-class men in the New York metro area. He has been flown out to California and Texas, and on occasion he has provided his brand of recreational therapy for couples and individuals in a gender transition phase. The latter offered him a lesson in adapting to the needs of an individual at a crucial life milestone.

“I agreed to something not knowing how to do it,” he says about a transgender client. “But when I met her and got to know her as a person, I became more comfortable. Everything didn’t go perfectly, but they went a lot better than I expected — and she asked me out again, and I got better the next time and the time after that.” 

In another situation, Knight encountered a media mogul who offered simultaneous displays of extravagance and cheapness.

“There was the CEO of a media network who hired 20 of us professionals to be with him on a private boat for an evening around New York City,” he says. “He was paying so much money, but he was so cheap with the snacks. He was paying at least 30-grand for men to entertain him, but all he provided was pretzels.” 

Within a few years in this industry, Knight found himself very much in demand, though at one point he was a bit too popular.

“At the peak in 2011-12, I was easily getting 100 to 200 calls a week for my services, not to mention text messages and emails,” he laughs. “I had a personal assistant for a while helping me answering messages. I couldn’t field all of them, but I wanted to let them know I got their messages.”

He also found his way into what could diplomatically be described as clothing-free cinema, although he is quick to note these works should be considered as “scenes” rather than films or videos. Yet he admits surprise that he was recruited to be on camera.

“I never had a body type that people would say was ‘classically porn,’” he says. “I’ve been in about 50 scenes in my entire performance career.”

In recent years, the 35-year-old Knight has cut down on the number of calls he makes, relying on an established base of clients who value his attention while limiting the quantity of one-time inquiries.

“I have people I trust and support me,” he says. “I want to spend more time with family and doing things for myself. I could work harder to get more money, but I want to spend Christmas with them and put down the phone for a couple of days at a time.” 

He also used his downtime from work to branch into publishing with a line of graphic novels under the Velvet Collar banner that dramatizes his work and the experiences of other men in the sex-work orbit. Two graphic novels, “Unhappy Endings” and “Rough Trade Secrets,” were released in 2017 and 2019, respectively, and a third titled “Performance Anxiety” is slated for this spring. Knight views these publications as a vehicle to show the emotional side of sex work.

“People only hear the dirty details,” he says. “I want people to stop thinking those worst things are what define us.”

While Knight’s family is aware of his work, members’ reactions have, predictably, varied:  His father and two brothers prefer not to raise the subject, his mother recalled her past work as a nude dancer in a Times Square club and worries for his safety, and his husband of four years offers him reminders, including “don’t reduce people to dollar signs and don’t let your work rule your life.” 

Looking back on what he has accomplished, Knight believes he achieved the best of all worlds.

“This job allows me to pay bills,” he says. “It’s great. I could do something that I love to do or I could do something that pays bills. The two crossing over together doesn’t happen too often.”

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