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The World's Best Male Escort Is More Than His Ten-Inch Penis

"This is who I am, fuck it," said Rocco Steele, the newly crowned Mr. International Escort 2015. "And that's what you get when you hire me: a genuine person who will give his all to make sure you have a quality experience. You don't get any bull. You get the real me."

Last month, a glistening parade of man meat strutted the stage at Manhattan's OutNYC Hotel. More than 70 half-naked hopefuls competed at the Hookies, the annual "Oscars of escorting," in 17 categories ranging from Best Ass, Best Twink, and Best Kink to Best Dressed and Best Social Media. Male escorts from around the world joked with drag queen host Alaska Thunderfuck, answered skill-testing questions, flashed a bit of peen, and flaunted the rest of their assets in front of 1500 cheering attendees and a substantial live-streaming audience.

The Hookies are put on by Rentboy.com, the popular site that has been connecting male escorts with eager, mostly gay clients for two decades. About 60,000 visitors a day come to Rentboy from all over the world, browsing on-demand fantasy men of all ages, types, looks and sizes. The Hookies are a splashy celebration of the site's ever-growing stable of rearing stallions. "It's like the movie Showgirls mixed with testosterone," Rentboy's marketing director Sean Van Sant told VICE after the ceremony. Users voted online for their favorite escort, propelling one of the contestants to the coveted Mr. International top spot. 

"I do not accept money for sexual acts. I am compensated via contributions for my time only. Anything that happens during that time is a decision made between two consenting adults."

This year it all came down to life experience: The title was snagged by the Manhattan-based Steele, a 45-year-old Ohio native with a rugged physique, a great hair cut, a law degree, and an extensive background in visual merchandising and product development.

Oh, and a ten-inch dick. (He also won "Best Cock.")

A full-time escort and gay porn actor for less than a year, Steele's cock-rocket to the top has been meteoric, the result of a blast of self-confidence, social media engagement, free porn clips, and a razor-sharp marketing plan. Many online hustlers are well-educated and market-savvy, and professional branding instincts are becoming the defining factor in an increasingly crowded field. The true measure of an escort is the size of his Twitter.

No, no, no. I hate it when people call me a hooker. It's belittling. Even worse is 'sex worker.' It sounds like I'm prepping someone for minor surgery.

Steele is the archetypal daddy. Gravel-voiced and naturally dominant, he's covered in tattoos and traffics in filthy bareback porn. Yet he cleans up real nice: a baby-blue-eyed dish on your arm at that high profile gala, or something more later, when the business negotiations continue into the boudoir. As his Rentboy profile states: "I do not accept money for sexual acts. I am compensated via contributions for my time only. Anything that happens during that time is a decision made between two consenting adults."

At Steele's current rate of $350 an hour, those negotiations can get pricey, although he does offer a convenient $1500 overnight rate. The high price point, he says, "helps filter out a lot of flakes." And while it's obvious that no one's hiring Steele to help solve quadratic equations, this noble gigolo balks at the "H" word.

"No, no, no. I hate it when people call me a hooker," he told me. "It's belittling, so trashy. Even worse is 'sex worker.' It's too close to 'sex trafficker.' Or it's too clinical. It sounds like I'm prepping someone for minor surgery.

"I have no problem with people who consider themselves those things," he continued. "But I am an escort. I'm more than just my penis. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I come to every date expecting to fully live up to your needs, in whatever capacity."

That capacity can include everything from gentle cuddling to administering amateur therapy sessions. Apparently, a lot of people really do hire escorts simply to talk to someone. Just don't criticize Steele's decor. "The only time I had to call off a date was when some guy came over and started being really sarcastic about my apartment. He had to go."

"I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I come to every date expecting to fully live up to your needs, in whatever capacity."

In many ways, Steele is an anomaly in the frisky, fast-paced, yet hard-won world of male escorts. First there are his habits. "This makes me sound like such a Pollyanna," he said with an embarrassed laugh. "But I don't drink, I don't do drugs, I don't stay out all night. I like to go to bed early. Most of my dates are lunchtime encounters with businessmen looking for a break from their wives, husbands, girlfriends, whatever—or they're just into something different. Unlike most people in the business, I usually only book one date a day."

He attributes his healthy hustle lifestyle to his age, another unique selling point. Rentboy features some escorts in their 60s—and Steele is far from a shriveled piece of tail—but the average Rentboy age seems to hover around late 20s. "When I first started doing this, I was really nervous, about gray hairs, wrinkles, the fact that I didn't have that perfect, young body. But at some point I had to embrace it. Not being a 20-year-old, and having gone through my party stage in the 1990s, means I'm more centered, less flighty. I accepted the daddy thing. And people really responded."

As fluid sexuality and professional escorting become more socially acceptable, and the economy continues to put on a tight squeeze, more men from all walks of life are turning to sites like Rentboy to make ends meet. That's what originally hooked Steele, who left his corporate job a few years ago ("I hated answering to 20-year-olds") and started taking on Rentboy clients in between freelance product development gigs. A boyfriend had suggested he dip his toe into escorting, and an inspirational encounter with an encouraging and supportive older client cemented his new career path, which Steele characterizes as "financially successful."

That's when Steele's corporate merchandising and brand development expertise kicked in. He leapt into social media with a marketer's mindset, sharpened his persona, and soon established a sizable online following. "Before the internet, you'd buy a Mandate or other gay magazine and all you'd have of someone was a picture. Now people expect a narrative, they want to know your life, from what goes on behind the scenes to who you're talking to on the phone. There are so many pieces of the puzzle you can fill in while telling your story." Talking to Steele, one envisions a brave new world of 24-hour "relatable escort life moments" streaming via Periscope or Meerkat.

Steele's most canny branding trick of all? Good ol' porn. Online escorts have long used professional porn scenes as calling cards. Like musicians, they recognize that the recorded product helps fuel desire for the live shows, which is where the real money's at. But distribution and access has been a problem. Most porn stars sign on to the big studios as "exclusives," and those studios zealously guard their property from being pirated and pimped on free porn sites, which naturally have more visitors than the studios' own pay-per-view portals. And you can't just throw double-anal up on YouTube.

Yet, a few months ago, dozens of his scenes started flooding free porn sites. An avalanche of Rocco daddy action overtook the gay web. Steele had found a gaping loophole in the big-studio stranglehold. After working as a free agent with numerous start-up porn studios in Europe and the US—studios which didn't have the resources to constantly police free porn sites and demand their content be removed—Steele watched as pirated clips of himself circulated the internet at a furious rate.

I was scared to death when I started doing porn, because I never envisioned myself as that 'porn type' of guy. I'm actually incredibly self-conscious.

"At first I tried to have them taken down, but there are just so many free sites," he said. "It was like playing porn whack-a-mole. Then I thought, well, what can you do? And I noticed everyone was talking about me. People's access to those scenes really got my name out there in a way no other approach would have."

As far as the porn scenes themselves, which often pair him with a twinkier type to bring out his daddy aspects, "Sometimes I think I may have done too much," Steele said with a laugh. "And there are a few scenes that I cringe while watching, because of the lack of chemistry, or the production values, or just my own nerves. I was scared to death when I started doing porn, because I never envisioned myself as that 'porn type' of guy. I'm actually incredibly self-conscious.

"But then I thought, hey, at my age, I may only have a couple years left in this industry. So why not put as much of me out there as possible? And here I am."

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