Love & Sex Magazine

R.I.P. Dennis Hof

By Maggiemcneill @Maggie_McNeill

R.I.P. Dennis HofDennis Hof, owner of half of the brothels in Nevada, died early Tuesday morning, apparently of natural causes; he was 72.  I have never hidden my deep dislike for the man, who is still the only male member of my Hall of Shame; that dislike is inextricably bound up with my deep dislike for the exploitative fascist system which made him both wealthy and infamous (and it’s impossible to say which of those he relished more).  The state of Nevada, as I’ve written before,

…is [no] more whore-friendly than any other American state…unless one considers a poultry factory-farmer to be a “friend” of chickens…[it] allow[s] a small number of politically-connected cronies to run brothel ranches (switching from one kind of livestock to another) out in the desert far from human habitation (so the “sex rays” from diseased harlots don’t contaminate real people)…like a collection of mummified monsters and pickled curiosities in a roadside tourist trap, and to harshly persecute any who dare show themselves in town.

Now, it’s absolutely true that there would be nothing immoral about the Nevada system as long as whores had a free choice whether to work there or not; furthermore, the restrictions of the Nevada system are largely state-imposed and not the fault of Hof or other brothel owners.  I’ve never worked in one of the Nevada brothels myself because I refuse to submit to being treated like a criminal, so I have no firsthand experience in what Hof was like as a boss (and the varying opinions I’ve heard from women who have basically average out to “he was no worse than the others”).  So my revulsion has nothing to do with the brothel system itself or what he was like as an employer, but rather with his opportunistic promotion of “sex trafficking” hysteria (which he privately admitted to me that he knew to be bullshit), the “dirty whore” myth, and the notion that women are too stupid, weak and incompetent to be trusted to manage our own sexual behavior.  I was also disgusted by his deep hypocrisy (claiming to be a libertarian while participating in a crony system, supporting Donald Trump, cuddling up to the vile Joe Arpaio, and revering the word “legal” as though it were a cultic totem) and his relentless and distasteful self-promotion.

That having been said, it’s also true that Hof’s participation in the reality series Cathouse probably served to demystify at least one kind of sex work to hundreds of thousands of people; that his businesses provided jobs to hundreds of sex workers and support staff; and that regardless of my personal opinion of him, he was liked and even loved by many of his employees, business contacts and others, including several people (such as my friend Christina Parreira and 1st amendment powerhouse Marc Randazza) I like and respect very much.  Furthermore, though some of the recent attacks on Nevada brothels were obviously retribution for his political activity, others had nothing to do with him personally and his notoriety and local popularity may have helped fend them off; now that he’s dead the whore-haters may redouble their efforts, and there’s no telling what effect Nevada’s deeply weird licensing laws may have on the fate of many, many people’s livelihoods.

There are people I know who are celebrating his death, and others who are mourning it; personally, I’m glad we won’t have to endure his signal-boosting of prohibitionist lies, but I’m also worried about the future of the women who work in brothels in general and his brothels in particular.  In short, Hof was a complex, often maddening man in life, and his death has left a situation that’s equally complex and maddening.


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