• Tue. Jun 22nd, 2021

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OnlyFans Isn’t Just Porn ;)

Before the pandemic, Gia was an independent escort who worked three or four days a week instead of six or seven. She saw clients at her work space in San Francisco, a 480-square-foot studio apartment decorated in tones of blush and dark blue. She called it the Portal, for its ability to make visitors feel transported “from Anytown, Metropolitan U.S.A.” to a “wonderland.” Most days, her prework ritual consisted of waking up at 4:30 a.m. so she had a chance of being on the road by 5, driving through the dark in her glasses and pajamas. Once in the apartment, she listened to Minnie Riperton and Funkadelic, prepped for her first appointment and posted ads. She took her job seriously because it was the best she’d ever had. “I’ve done so much [expletive] wage labor,” she told me, “taking home small paychecks for long hours. When I first had the opportunity to do this, I thought: I have all this free time, and I’m making what to do what? I feel like I’m a natural. I love entertaining.”

Business was good enough that in February 2020, she renewed the lease for two years. The space cost $4,000 a month, and she recalls management allowing up to five residents to sign on, “probably because that’s how many people it usually takes to afford it,” she said ruefully. (Gia shared the space with a friend, but she was the primary leaseholder.) A month later, on March 9, she saw the man who would be her final in-person client. She turned down subsequent inquiries, saying she intended to social-distance for two weeks.

Seventy-two hours later, that time frame seemed less plausible. On March 12, the stock market plunged to a historic low, and local rumors spread about an impending shelter-in-place order. At home, Gia put on Parliament’s “Wizard of Finance” and filmed herself dancing in a dress, then posted the video on Twitter and told people to check out her OnlyFans. She recalls feeling a little dissociated, almost in a dream state, thinking, Here we go. She gave herself one day to sit with her panic and depression. Then, she decided, “I have to log on and figure this out.”

From an economic standpoint, in-person sex workers were among those hit earliest and hardest by the pandemic. Weeks before official state shutdowns, with business trips called off and flight schedules disrupted, clients canceled bookings with escort, kink and massage providers, while strip-club attendance fell. Street-based workers lowered their prices and accepted men they would turn away in better times, as the housing they sometimes obtained in connection with work — the hotel room paid for by a date or the home offered overnight — became vanishingly rare. Organizations run by sex workers set up Covid-specific GoFundMe pages as early as March 11, and by mid-March, there were funding drives specific to Seattle; New York; Portland, Ore.; Austin, Texas; Washington, D.C.; Las Vegas; and Detroit.

OnlyFans was a more visible safety net than the mutual-aid collections and offered hope of longer-term support. Thanks to prepandemic news coverage about creators making five to six figures, OnlyFans purported to offer a generous income to anyone enterprising enough to try it. Site veterans found their expertise in high demand among friends and acquaintances, many of whom were newly unemployed escorts or dominatrices, and a few of whom had never sold sex in any form. Compared with clip sales (adult-themed videos shot, edited and ready to upload) and camming (fielding sexual requests in real time), OnlyFans demands little commitment up front. If you’re new to sex work, or have resolved to keep most of your clothes on, you can warm up by posting the sort of tantalizing selfies many of us share free on social media, like bikini pics and 60-second, barely clad workouts.

Millions of people, meanwhile, particularly single people, found themselves isolated, lonely and horny, bereft of opportunities to meet hookup partners and hang out with friends. They flooded the site with the disposable cash saved by not eating out and going to bars. (Kane told me that a lot of fans spend their stimulus money there.) OnlyFans claims to have transferred over $3 billion of income to its creators since the site’s inception, and while it doesn’t break that disbursement down by year or creator type — the site doesn’t even maintain content categories — it seems likely that a significant part went to sex workers in the past year.