The following story was written by Josh Riley, a sex worker that wanted to shed light on an industry struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The highlighted sex workers have either remained anonymous or allowed us to use their name they use as a sex worker. All of the workers were compensated for their emotional labor that was put into this story. We recognize that their industry is suffering and we would never ask them for free emotional labor.
Sex work is criminalized, stigmatized, and inherently dangerous for all folks. Add in a queer identity which itself, is a double edged sword, allows more financial success due to fetishization but often more dangerous work environments.
‘Sex Work’ is an umbrella term that includes, camming, adult films, escorting and all adult content creation for money.
‘Queer’ is an umbrella term for all people who find themselves relating to LGBTQ+ community. With the pandemic, all work has changed. Including sex work. There’s a greater need for safety for workers and clients — as well as an acute change in the way consumers as a whole shop and value customer service. Because of the pandemic, customers have had less disposable income to spend with sex workers. Sex workers also don’t qualify for unemployment or any government assistance.
These are all facts and they’re easy to distance emotionally for the average person. Facts that directly affect human lives, your neighbors, families, and friends. In order to humanize sex work, I am telling the stories of sex workers.
From a human perspective I hope queer folks who work in this industry feel visible, and those on the outside looking in relate in a way that inspires them to help de-stigmatize this industry.
You can call me J. I’m a white cisgendered queer HIV+ (undetectable) male who loves my queerness. I love the inclusion built into the term, and lets just say my queer self love has come along way. I heard the word faggot long before I heard the word gay. I stuffed the negative feelings of the derogatory term down and weaponized my queerness. Eventually I processed that shit, and just learned to love my community and myself.
I’ve been a sex worker for 12 years myself and I’ve been HIV+ for 5-ish years, and have remained undetectable since a month after I began taking my meds daily.
While I got my health together, moved across the country, and learned to love my HIV+ body…sex work naturally became something I was drawn to.
I’m passionate about what I do, the intimacy I can give to a person desperately in need of it, and of course the money isn’t bad.
So when the pandemic hit, I immediately realized my life was going to change, I stopped all sex work for the first few months, isolated, and was responsible. Then the savings ran out, and I was left with the option of meeting dozens of strangers daily at a “9-5 job” or meet a couple guys a month for twice the pay.
I began sex work passionate, proud, and empowered. This crisis, the isolation, and not having personal discretion with which clients I see, has stolen some of that passion from me. I don’t think I truly respected the autonomy I had pre- pandemic, and I’ve certainly learned how much I value it has now. I don’t know how long this crisis will last, I only know that there is no new normal for me, in my industry. My hope is that my passion and love for my work is reignited as we level out as a society, in new and exciting ways that wouldn’t have been imaginable before the world changed.
The first person I spoke with we’ll call K. An artist, a student, they are non binary, queer, and black. One of the first things we spoke about was their queerness and where they felt the fit into the community.
J: Queer is kind of a big word that represents a huge umbrella for all of us. How do you feel about your spot on that umbrella?
K: I don’t know. It’s kinda weird being black and queer….especially here in Louisville a lot of the clubs and bars I go to are predominately white, so I guess when it comes to where I fit in in the queer community I kinda don’t
J: Sex work is also a pretty big umbrella term, as far as sex work goes, what’s your avenue?”
K: At first I was like selling it on Dropbox or some storage drive, but OnlyFans made things a lot easier they kinda keep track of your customers and it gives you like an opportunity to make more money.
J: A lot of sex workers that I know were unable to receive any government assistance throughout this pandemic. What’s your experience been like with that?
K: I’m like my own independent contractor…there’s like not any assistance out there. I’ve ran into like some micro grants that popped out for BIPOC/nonbinary and trans folks, but as far as unemployment that’s kind of like a wrap…even with the stimulus check I didn’t get that
J: Has your mindset changed when it comes to how you approach it (sex work)?
K: So it’s kind of like something to do on the side, but it’s fun. But it’s also very demanding……keeping consistent content you know not making things boring.
J: What would you like people to know about how the pandemic specifically has affected sex workers?
K: It’s getting a lot of people evicted……there are a lot of BIPOC trans people getting evicted from their home now because they don’t have that assistance.
N is a nonbinary queer sex worker, who was incredibly open with their experiences during this pandemic and in general with sex work.
J: I wanted to start out with touching on the subject of queerness and how it’s a pretty big term for all of us and where you feel like you fit in within that community?”
N: I definitely identify as queer, I used to identity as pansexual, but I feel like my sexuality like my gender is on a spectrum.
J: How do you feel your queerness has influenced who you are and how you express yourself?
N: In society….you can definitely tell I’m queer because of my appearance and I’m very androgynous. They went on “I think that influences how others look at me…..like especially here in, like, Bible Belt Kentucky.
J: What does sex work look like for you because that too is an umbrella term?
N: Okay, So what it looks like for me…and this is gonna sound a little bit off the wall. I feel like his therapy to be honest, because the reason I got into it, um, without going into my past too much or anything like that, was because of trauma, and I could take control of my sexuality through the sex work that I do, which is typically leaning towards dominate, dominating other people.
It’s been therapeutic not only for me, but also for the clients that I have. Um, my, my, my babies…..it’s been therapy for them, too, because a lot of the people who would come and see me are people who were either in positions of power and they never feel like they can take a break, you know what I mean? And so for them it was therapy for them. Other people who have dealt with traumas as well would come to me and not to relive them, cause that’s not right. That’s not the right way to word it, but to work through them. So we would set up scenes and things like that that they would consent to a quote because enthusiastically considered, too, because that’s important to me. And we would play those out. So it looks like therapy.
J: Can you kind of give me a rundown of how the pandemic specifically affected your clientele base, financially, and have you been able to access any of the assistance programs like unemployment and the stimulus check?
N: Yeah. Oh, Lord, 2020. It should be, um so, no, I was I’m not able to, (get unemployment) because sex work, you know, is illegal. So I’m not able. I wasn’t able to get, you know, unemployment or anything like that. So it’s really affected me. Also, because of Covid not able to see my clients in the same way that I used to. I’m just saying I haven’t been able to get paid as much as I was before, And it sucks. Because before I was making this money and I was loving it, you know, and also connecting with all these different human beings. And now it’s just like it feels isolating. Even though I do still have a few people that I work with, I’m seeing the numbers drop significantly because of precaution with Covid. It hurts, you know, it sucks. It really stinks. And I miss some of these people as well.
I did get a stimulus check. Um, because I don’t know. I guess it was just sent to me. I filled out the little thing and I did get that. But I haven’t been able to get unemployment. And so I really have been struggling. I mean, you know, it’s been it’s been hard, but the work has changed. So what it looks like now is different.
J: As a nonbinary person of color sex worker during the pandemic, do you think people need to hear about that maybe we didn’t touch on?
N: I don’t think so, but I will say that being non binary and being androgynous and black…It’s sort of like a niche clientele, you know what I mean? Most of my clients are white and older. That being said, it’s like it kind of fucks with you a little bit, you know what I mean? Like just a little bit. But at the same time, you like, I gotta get this bag, So that’s fine. We can play with that. But I think that people should, like, not do that so much because it’s weird, You know what I’m saying?
The following is an email sent from Goddexx on their experience as a sex worker.
My followers call me Goddexx. I am SelfLovingEnby on Twitter, Instagram, and OnlyFans. I personally identify as queer because of my gender and sexuality. I am a trans non-binary boi who uses they/them pronouns. I am attracted to all genders on the spectrum, therefore I identify as queer. Some people try to label me as a pansexual, but that doesn’t feel right to me, especially since sometimes I avoid cis-men. My queerness has influenced how I choose to express myself in many ways. I wear “men’s” and “women’s” clothing. I switch between presenting “masc” and “femme”. I am a verse/switch in my sex life as well. I feel free, like I can do/say/wear whatever feels good without being pressured by “gender roles” or society’s expectations.
I first started sex work in college. Boys would want to see my body and I jokingly told a few that if they paid me or did a favor for me I’d show them my body. At the time I’m not sure that I knew what I was doing was sex work, but I knew that I loved how I felt when they paid me to see my body, which quite frankly I was eager to show off any way. I’ve done many types of SW over the past 8 years or so since then. I didn’t learn that I was non-binary until 2-3 years after that started because before than I didn’t know there was a word for how I felt. After that it still took me another 4 years to use non-cis pronouns, and then a few more years to enforce those pronouns. I say that because when I let people assume that I was a cis sex worker, it was so much easier to get a following.
I believe the first time I realized that the pandemic would change sex work for me was in May. I realized that more people were subscribing to see my content because they were home in quarantine and horny. I personally think that they thought it would be more worth it in quarantine because they have more hours per day at home therefore more time to consume my content. I also noticed that certain customers stopped purchasing side services and my theory is that their partners or children or housemates were home with them all of the time so they wouldn’t be able to get away and use my side services.
You can tell people that sex work is never easy…but its harder when you’re queer, its harder when you’re trans, its harder when you’re black, and its harder when you’re fat. I’ve got all of these things going against me and it’s not easy. Sex work is not the easy way out, its not lazy either. I have to make content, buy my own wardrobe, buy my own props, be a camera man, do lighting, be an editor, and I have to be the clean up crew. Then I have to manage all of it, market myself, and self promote. On top of interacting with people who may or may not actually purchase my content. It can be overwhelming af, especially during a pandemic. Never, ever, think that sex work is a cop-out, or that it isn’t real work.
Break the Stigma
Queer stories are often unique to our individual selves. We challenge gender, sexuality, and the idea that self acceptance is to be celebrated. We offer language, guidance, and a family to folks who have none of their own.
These stories matter, being heard matters, because the more we speak up and speak out the more society will respects us, our work, and our queer identities.
Sex work stories are often unique as well, and I feel as if it’s important to note that while these stories were a lot of positive examples of autonomous sex work. That is not always the case. I’m here for celebrating, hearing, and lifting up my peers in this industry. While also denouncing the fact that the continued criminalization of sex work in this country often leaves people vulnerable to trafficking, assault, and murder. As queer folk we should be acutely aware of this, we can barely go a month without a trans person being murdered without any recourse. Thank you to every single person who participated in this, shared their story, and provided me and anyone who reads this a snapshot of your life. I loved every minute of writing, reading, and listening to y’all. I pray we all get through this pandemic, and safely as a community.