Updated: Jul 8, 2022
Beyoncé Co-opting OnlyFans Continues the Violence Against Sex Workers
May 21, 2020
Note: this was originally written by me to be published anonymously, however, shortly after the release of the song, the uprisings started which took precedent. I decided to post it here so it's not just sitting on my laptop, unread!
Over the past week we’ve watched OnlyFans turn into a household name. This is undoubtedly due to the remix of Megan Thee Stallion’s hit single Savage featuring Beyoncé. In the song, Beyoncé says, “on that demon time, she might start an OnlyFans.” While some may see this as a shout-out to OnlyFans, it’s important to understand that context matters and that mainstream appeal isn’t always as sweet as people think. Particularly, given all the violence that results from people using OnlyFans as a means of income. It’s interesting to think of all the things, once a niche, becoming popular – a quick shift in public opinion and the history is long forgotten or reduced. And during this process, the history is oftentimes co-opted and weaponized.
If you don’t already know, OnlyFans is a subscription-based website where influencers of any sort can monetize their craft. While OnlyFans has reported an increase in creator accounts since the quarantine, the biggest influencers associated with the site are Sex Workers. The appeal of OnlyFans for people in the adult industry lies, in part, in their ability to have autonomy where there generally isn’t much. Most porn performers (amateur or otherwise) get paid very little if they choose to shoot with predatory production companies who, like most corporate entities, exploit their employees. After filming, performers typically don’t own the content they performed labor to create – no ownership, no royalties and little say-so over what happens with the scene.
OnlyFans flips that dynamic and structure on its’ head. Veterans of the porn game, much respect to them, typically only had access to work via production companies and were expected to take whatever rate they were offered with little to no negotiations. OnlyFans influencers can set their own price, own their content, and utilize multiple features to monetize their labor, often increasing the possibility for income. When we think about self-determination, giving creators more autonomy is part of this. Utilizing OnlyFans gives the average influencer the option to skip working for production companies or posting (on unverified creator accounts) on sites like Pornhub, who allow stolen content to be viewed millions of times without creators ever seeing a dime. In addition to the stolen content, it’s no secret that many of the videos consumers watch on tube sites like Pornhub consist of non-consensual sex and it should be noted that a good portion of the content uploaded to these sites features minors bringing the general lack of autonomy for creators full circle.
In a way, OnlyFans has made porn moderately safer for both the creator and the consumer. With more agency on OnlyFans, the perks also include choosing the content they create. Many OnlyFans influencers exclusivelycreate solo content, eliminating the sometimes awkward and/or violent sets porn companies allow. Beyond that, there are protective factors when using OnlyFans by way of a paywall. While nothing can stop someone from leaking content or harassing a creator once they join, there is some sense of safety, even if minimal, by putting proximity between Sex Workers and consumers, particularly femme-identified Sex Workers and cishet male-identified consumers. OnlyFans, in some ways, allows women to take back power in a culture that dehumanizes and berates femme Sex Workers by demanding payment for access to their erotic labor. This proximity enrages incels and regular, non-Sex Workers who still cannot wrap their heads around the merit in paying for porn, respecting Sex Workers, the value of pleasure, supporting women and understanding consent. This lack of respect and disdain for Sex Workers, including those who use OnlyFans, consistently leads to violence directed towards them. Like people casually passing around megafiles with stolen content or people threatening to expose Sex Workers to the IRS. And even more recently, trends like the #abolishsexwork movement where men leak content and send it to the families, jobs and even churches of Sex Workers.
Sex Work is often survival work, something that most folks understand clearly in a society that attempts to prohibit access to basic necessities without money or status. Sex Work for survivor Sex Workers means a meal. A room. A ride. It means freedom; it means having access to ‘mones; it means shifting their life to become slightly more manageable. For many people, “Sex Work is work” language is used as a staple for validating the practice of Sex Work and the humanity of the people engaging it. Sex Work IS work, that is a matter of fact – that fact, however, is not the basis for what makes those who participate in it worthy of safety and respect.
While affirming and protecting survival Sex Workers is the center of the Sex Work community, there is also space for engaging erotic labor as a means to explore autonomy, to serve as a reminder that women have the right to boundaries and the practice of setting them. Exploring eroticism from an angle perhaps impossible prior to, is another valid reason for participating in Sex Work. And Sex Work is also a culture. It’s an entire way of moving, speaking and engaging community. It’s fashion, it’s joy, it’s organizing, it’s healing. The nuances of Sex Work could never be captured in one article – the faces of Sex Work and the spaces they create to practice their craft or simply gather for a meal are vast, capturing overarching similarities and millions of dissimilar, unique stories, as well.
There has never been a shortage of violence towards Sex Workers. Equally, there is no shortage of people co-opting (appropriating) the culture for clout. The same people who ignore, mock, harass, stalk, dox, leak, harm and kill Sex Workers are the same people who cannot wait to wear their culture for fun or to exploit it for their own benefit. To take what suits them while experiencing none of the violence they, too, contribute to perpetuating and monetizing the parody in the process. We constantly see non-Sex Workers using Sex Workers’ language, attitude, skillset and platforms to clout chase until they are bored of it. People who are so far removed from the politic of supporting Sex Workers, and decriminalizing their existences, rushing to take notes and cosplay with no regard for the material needs of Sex Workers. Men, pick me’s and leftists often allgather to be violent towards women Sex Workers, just to align themselves with a culture that disgusts them if not embodied by other appropriators. Imagine creating and being complicit to an environment that criminalizes and violates a culture of people, just to turn around and steal parts of it while reducing it to its most “glamorous” parts. None of the violence, all of the applause. It’s clear that people understand this concept when it comes to appropriating Black culture but those same people with a clear praxis around power and privilege fall silent when it comes to Sex Workers.
For example, folks who otherwise participate in organizing work, encourage political education around patriarchy & capitalism, spend time critiquing oppressive systems & theories, and demand liberation for all, lose interest when it’s time to defend Sex Workers beyond a Twitter thread. Praxis is always easier in theory than application, but we see little to no effort to put theory of solidarity for Sex Workers into practice.
If you can recognize other instances of appropriation as violent and unacceptable, how are you overlooking the harm in Beyoncé and, and more specifically, Megan cosplaying Sex Work culture, and particularly OnlyFans (a platform we know Sex Workers have popularized), to further their clout?
Stan culture is framed as outlier fans overcome with delusion and impulse, behaving extreme online, however, stan culture also includes folks putting aside their otherwise well-thought-out politics to ignore or minimize harm for the sake of their fave. Capitalism has created such desperation and dissonance in identity that we see ourselves in our celebrity faves and defend them because we experience that as a defense of the self or our dreams, justifying our own behavior and doubling down on harm.
You are not your favorite millionaire; they do not see themselves in you no matter how many stan accounts you create. People who otherwise have incredible language and praxis around capitalism and white supremacy drop “eat the rich” tweets as jokes but overlook the impact when it comes to their favorite celebrities. There is no way you are prepared to choose casualties of revolution when you can’t even comprehensively critique your fave for having fucked up politics. Your critiques of, at minimum, their capitalism are flimsy because your identity is wrapped up in celebrity culture, a symptom of capitalism itself.
Many of you are the same people who seek to validate Sex Work only when you come to learn it may mean access to a big bag. Where was that energy when Sex Workers content was being stolen and placed on the internet for free? Or does your support for Sex Work only happen when you imagine yourself in a fever dream of capital, capital that most Sex Workers almost never actually touch. This, at its core, is Beyonce’s “Black Bill Gates” mindset, seeking to capitalize on a trend for the illusion of wealth, in this case, at the expense of Sex Workers.
This ignoring of praxis in favor of stan culture is how someone like Beyoncé can name drop OnlyFans alongside Megan and within days shift the narrative from, “I would never” to “eh… I might.” If the quarantine wasn’t enough to keep the, “anyone can do it” or “I might start an OnlyFans” jokes rolling, Beyoncé name dropping it might. OnlyFans shouldn’t become palatable after Beyoncé mentions it in a song without actually supporting the Sex Workers who use this platform to eat. Sex Workers have been building this platform for years while enduring massive amounts of violence around uploading adult content online and now that Beyoncé puts the stamp of approval, it’s somehow shifted the narrative?
OnlyFans as a company is even guilty for constantly downplaying Sex Workers being a huge part of their success and have even suspended the accounts of Sex Workers, refusing to pay out thousands of dollars owed to them. People are running to celebrate a website and simulate the lifestyle with no regard for the people responsible for building the culture. Before you bump the Savage (remix) with an attitude akin to your favorite escort demanding her rate, have you asked yourself how these lyrics will affect Sex Workers using this platform, and others, to survive? How tourists and celebrities infiltrating this site might affect the income of Sex Workers who aren’t pulling in 100k a year? Occupying Sex Work-spaces doesn’t make you pro-Sex Work and does little to comprehensively protect and destigmatize the people who engage this work.
Beyoncé is rapping about something provocative while having no proximity to the issue and yall are reveling in the fantasy of joining her with no consideration to the material impacts it’ll have on actual Sex Workers. Beyoncé has likely never considered doing Sex Work in any capacity. And Megan Thee Stallion raps about sugar daddies to then flex her “pick me” politic every chance she gets, reminding folks how much of a “hoe” she isn’t. Is it oochie wallie or one mic, sis?
Isn’t it upsetting to you that there are poor Black Sex Workers, on OnlyFans, struggling to make ends meet while people dabble in their culture for clout? When Beyoncé speaks, every side of Twitter collides: hotep Twitter, woke Twitter, pick me Twitter, and Black capitalist Twitter unite to create an unstoppable force, in this case, conveniently forgetting the impacts her behavior has on Sex Workers and others. And to further the delusion, there are people claiming that this song, and Beyoncé herself, are creating awareness for Sex Workers. “Representation matters” twitter understands that white folks dabbling in Black culture to acclaim isn’t “raising awareness,” what’s different here? We know that what matters most is seeing and hearing Black folks tell their own stories, not being overshadowed by white folks who attempt to emulate us. Imagine if Beyoncé or Megan used their platforms specifically to help the material needs of Sex Workers or spoke, explicitly, about pro-Sex Work politics or, better yet, amplified Sex Workers doing this work. And while we’re aware that the proceeds from Savage Remix are going to Bread of Life, this both doesn’t negate the harm from co-opting or the concern that Sex Work aesthetics, in part, were used to raise the money but Sex Workers specifically won’t receive the funds.
Dismantling whorephobia looks like refusing to be complicit in the oppression of Sex Workers, that includes seemingly small things like appropriation. And while we can only ask or expect so much from celebrities, what’s more feasible is turning to community to demand accountability. You’ve made it clear the humanity of Sex Workers isn’t the center of your politic or even a peripheral concern. That needs to change. You need to be asking yourself what support, safety and being an accomplice looks like for Sex Workers. You probably think this isn’t your conversation to lead or engage, so what responsibility do you have? Or rather, do we have?