WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because necessity is the mother of invention.
In mid-March, I became one of the many who lost their jobs to the pandemic. As my unemployed friends started applying for and receiving government benefits, I was trapped in the shadows. I’m a sex worker and until the pandemic hit I did all of my work in person.
COVID-19 was forcing me to think, and quickly: Go digital or not?
There was a lot to consider: Would I have to show my face? Probably. Would I have to get naked? Almost certainly. Before March, I rarely sent out nudes because of how scared I was that they’d be seen by the wrong people.
Now I was faced with the choice to either move my sex work online or continue to risk my health, the health of my grandmother, whom I live with, and the health of everyone in my community.
Did trans people have sex appeal and was there even a market for that online? I knew we must, but what I didn’t know was what our sex appeal looked like.
I had always been paid in cash for my sex work. The importance of receiving payment in cash had been emphasized by my sex worker friends. But I couldn’t exactly report to the government that I had lost my job.
A friend told me how I could use online camming to make money. Never in a million years did I think I’d be joining the ranks of online cammers, but then again, never in a million years did I think there would be a pandemic.
I didn’t own a computer or a laptop with a webcam, so for the first three months I used the front-facing camera on my iPhone. With no wardrobe but the one that most sleep-deprived college students have — e.g., track pants and baggy T-shirts — I created an account on Chaturbate and started to cam.
My start was slow, I didn’t know how to sell myself and my sexuality virtually. Things felt so much easier in person: You could flirt and give someone all of your attention and let them touch you and make them want you. In an era where porn can easily be found online for free, I needed to find ways to make myself so desirable that someone would want to pay me.
Also, working in the dark meant I couldn’t bring my previous clients with me. I had no way to contact the people who had hired me, even my regulars, so there was no way for me to point them in the direction of Chaturbate so that they could start paying me there. Besides, they used to get everything I had to offer in real life. Could I convince them to start paying for the idea of me?
I had to be careful too. As sites like OnlyFans began to gain traction, I knew that increased visibility meant I could get caught.
I’m trans, which already makes being a sex worker difficult. Now I had to try to build an online fan base that would be interested in my trans body. Did trans people have sex appeal and was there even a market for that online? I knew we must, but what I didn’t know was what our sex appeal looked like.
There still aren’t many positive role models for me to look to so that I can learn how to take advantage of my sexuality and sell myself and my body. Things were already tough enough with the amount of hate comments I got from racists who felt I was personally to blame for the pandemic.
I’m Chinese, and it’s not hard to tell that I’m Asian, even when I’m naked and you can only see my backside — my brown skin gives it away.
Even if I chose to stop working online, my body could be downloaded to hard drives in perpetuity.
Today, I use both the trans side of Chaturbate and the male side. I know I’ll make more money on the male side, where the audience is bigger, but that means denying a core part of myself. It’s an internal battle, which wasn’t all that bad in the beginning, though.
March was steady and so was April, but by May things started to take a turn for the worse. My growth on the platform began to plateau and the tips were getting smaller. I started to think something was wrong with my content, which meant something was wrong with me. But Chaturbate didn’t exist in a vacuum, of course, separate from the real world.
People still didn’t have jobs and money was starting to run out for everyone.
Being online was scary, and I didn’t know if what I was doing was viable but it already felt too late. I went from someone who rarely sent nudes to his own partners to someone who went live at 12:30 a.m. every night, naked.
Still, as my Chaturbate room began to grow in popularity, I started to feel the weight of the whole situation build as I lay awake at 3 a.m. after a show thinking about all the people who had just seen me at my most vulnerable.
People could watch me, record me and then rewatch those clips, which I didn’t want them to have, as often as they wanted. Even if I chose to stop working online, my body could be downloaded to hard drives in perpetuity.
With that being said, I’ve also managed to make almost a thousand dollars that I didn’t think I’d be able to. It’s a far cry from what I usually made pre-pandemic, but it will help pay for school and it allows me to continue getting the hormones that let me attend school safely.
Becoming an online sex worker has been and still is scary. I don’t know how sustainable it is for me. All I know is that COVID-19 forced me to pivot my entire business to a virtual model and that for now I can’t go anywhere else.