This store requires javascript to be enabled for some features to work correctly.

Op-Ed for The Daily Beast: ‘Get a Real Job, Whore’: The Dark Reality of Sex Worker Hate

The hate for us doesn’t go away just because Beyoncé name-drops OnlyFans. In fact, it is getting worse.

by Siri Dahl

Read the original publication on The Daily Beast

On April 14, when Mastercard announced their new restrictions regarding adult websites, I tweeted that I feared losing my income and potentially my home if the new restrictions were to interrupt OnlyFans, one of my main sources of income as a sex worker. A moment after I sent the tweet, I got a reply. I refreshed the app, anticipating a response from a fellow sex worker. Instead, a random Twitter user with a vintage Mickey Mouse avatar had responded: “Then get a real job whore lmfao.”

Although the “get a real job, whore” reply on Twitter was obviously left by a burner account, it still stings, because I know how pervasive that particular mentality is. Being told to get a “real” job is a regular occurrence for all sex workers. The verbal denigration we face is just one facet of our culture’s fear and hatred of sex workers.

But I am not “just” a whore — I’m a business owner.

I wake up every day and go to work running my own small business, which involves paying contractors, such as other talent, photographers, makeup artists, and even my own boyfriend when he appears in scenes with me. I often commission custom clothing and art pieces for cosplay and photography projects. I pay various professionals to help me with things like public relations, graphic design, taxes, and accounting.

I know I cannot reason with the anti-sex work lobbyists, the Laila Mickelwaits and Paul Gosars of the world. But perhaps I can reason with you. Regardless of what you think of my job, there is one thing I want and, frankly, need you to understand: Sex workers have a massive impact on our economy.

I can’t provide statistics, because that’s a tall order for an industry that is as stigmatized and marginalized as mine — many of the available statistics are questionable, because people are afraid to identify themselves as sex workers, and because sometimes the organizations reporting the numbers, such as law enforcement and ultra-conservative evangelical Christian groups, are actively working to harm us. But I can tell you what I know personally, and I would appreciate it if you took a moment to listen.

Consider the ways sex workers impact their communities and the economy, on scales both large and small. Last year, for the first time in my life, I was able to donate significantly to causes I care about, such as racial justice, trans rights, sex worker rights, LGBTQIA+ youth programs, and my local stray cat rescue (cat lady here, at your service). I know countless other sex workers who did the same.

Many sex workers use their income to support their families, which often include children, siblings, parents, grandparents, and extended family. Many of us support our chosen families, too. When my friend lost his job at the beginning of the pandemic and was denied unemployment benefits, I helped him stay afloat until he found a new job. When one of my longtime fans, a game-design student who works overnight shifts at a warehouse, said that his school computer had bitten the dust, I replaced it for him. I’ve gifted or loaned money to friends and family for various reasons, and I do my best to support other sex workers in need.

And I don't even consider myself an especially generous person — this is just what sex workers do for our communities, in a culture that would rather see us dead or barely surviving. The hate for us doesn’t go away just because Beyoncé name-drops OnlyFans. In fact, it is getting worse.

Legislators are constantly drafting new bills—like SISEA in late 2020—that criminalize and endanger sex workers. Organizations with conservative Christian roots, such as NCOSE and Exodus Cry, are (successfully, so far, with the help of platforms like The New York Times) lobbying for the abolition of the porn industry. Visa and Mastercard have already pulled their payment processing from Pornhub, and Mastercard just announced new policies targeting adult sites, which officially makes their policies regarding porn retailers stricter than their policies regarding firearm retailers (because they have none).

And, as dramatized in the most poignant scene in 1997’s Boogie Nights, it’s routine for sex workers to have trouble opening a bank account, or to have an existing bank account shut down and funds seized without warning.

And, yes, we’re also far more likely to be victims of violence — sexual or otherwise.

All of this happens to us regardless of the legality of the form of sex work we do. And it’s usually in the name of stopping “sex trafficking,” a term which has been used by anti-sex work groups to purposely conflate a relatively rare and specific form of human trafficking with consensual sex work.

Being a sex worker in 2021 feels like I’m waking up to a new dumpster fire almost every day, and I am exhausted.

Politicians love to espouse the virtues and economic power of small business owners, but when it comes to sex workers, we aren’t simply ignored—we are banned, stigmatized, and pushed to the sidelines.

But what about OnlyFans, you say? You could have lived under a rock for all of 2020 and you still would have heard about how OnlyFans changed the economy in a pandemic year.

If you’re a millennial or Gen Zer, chances are you already know someone who’s created an OnlyFans account with the intent to sell nudes. How successful they are is another matter — but suffice it to say that income from sales via OnlyFans and other “private” social media and clip sites has helped keep many sex workers employed during the pandemic, and helped many underemployed Americans find a new source of income.

The popularity of platforms like OnlyFans may have created new opportunities, but it has also resulted in a new, highly visible target for the war on porn and sex work.

OnlyFans has been my bread and butter during the past year. I’m fortunate that I have a fairly large, supportive fan base, and I seem to have found an approach to online platforms that works well for me. I’m also in a position of incredible privilege because I am white, cisgender, able-bodied, and on the thinner side of the body-size spectrum.

Yet every time a sensationalized story about an über-successful celebrity joining OnlyFans and making millions of dollars in a few days goes mainstream, I wonder: Do my fans imagine it’s like that for all of us? Do they think I’m sitting atop a giant pile of cash like Scrooge McDuck? To be clear, I’m not.

But it makes me deeply uncomfortable that so many people erase the value of my work, and my contributions to my community and the economy, by assuming that it’s all meaningless and easy, when they tell me to “get a real job, whore.” You might not say that phrase to my face (or tweet it at me), but if you live and breathe in the same world I live in, you’ve definitely thought it. I know you have, because I have. Nobody is immune to the fear and hatred of sex workers, or as many of us in the industry call it: whorephobia.

By providing a rough outline of how one sex-working small business owner contributes to her community and the economy, I hope you can begin to imagine how sex workers contribute en masse. Take everything I just said and multiply it exponentially, and maybe you’ll be about halfway there. Now that you have that image in your mind, imagine if all of the financial support for family, friends and other sex workers; all of the contractor payments, business purchases, donations, and tax dollars were lost. Devastating doesn’t even begin to describe it.

I would rather not find out the price our communities and economy will pay if we continue to criminalize all forms of sex work, if The New York Times continues to publish Nick Kristof’s anti-sex work propaganda (as it did, again, on April 16), if evangelicals keep their stranglehold on free speech, and if we allow tech companies and legislators to “abolish porn.” If things continue in this pattern, millions of workers could lose their livelihoods overnight.

It’s time that we stop erasing the efforts of sex workers simply because the word “sex” is in our job description. If the impact of sex workers on our communities and economy were laid bare for all to see, that impact would be so undeniable that the war on sex workers would be revealed for what it truly is: hatred masquerading as salvation.