Unless you were living under a rock, you heard the news: Tumblr banned all NSFW content last month. Overnight, there was one less place where queer men, and queer people, can be kinky, explorative, and curious. Tumblr was more than the best porn on the internet — it was a place where many of us discovered ourselves, discovered our interests, and found others.
Many queer sex workers — myself included — view the ban as the latest bullet point in a disturbing string of events that include the passing of FOSTA/SESTA last year and the federal seizure and shutdown of Backpage.com, a site popularly used by sex workers to find clients. The unsettling phrase “sex panic” rings truer and truer.
Tumblr’s ban is more than a crackdown on sex work — indeed, the stated reason for it has little to do with FOSTA/SESTA, at least on the surface (child pornography has been found on the site more than once). The reality of the ban is something a bit more alarming, something everyone both inside and outside the sex worker community should be concerned about: It is sweeping censorship on a site used by queer people everywhere and is part of a censorship trend that is disproportionately erasing queer people.
Don’t lose hope — there are other digital sanctuaries. Browse the list, and list any I might have missed in the comments.
At the sex toy company where I work, we hire porn stars to showcase our products in sexy videos. Instead of browsing agency databases for talent, we simply get on Twitter. The platform allows NSFW content everywhere except in profile and header photos, making it the go-to place for an up-and-coming performer to showcase their body (of work) and create a de facto portfolio.
Twitter poses a risk for people in the closet. Unlike other social media platforms, there is only a marginal access wall to protect your identity. In settings, you can protect your tweets and require followers to request permission to view them, but anyone can see your profile picture, header photo, and profile text.
While working on an article about Tumblr’s ban for Out, our sister publication, I tweeted a question to the Twitterverse: Have any adult performers had their Instagram accounts disabled with greater frequency since the passing of FOSTA/SESTA?
In under an hour, I received over a hundred messages from countless sex workers and adult performers — both queer and non-queer — claiming that, despite their diligent efforts to post non-explicit photos in accordance with Instagram’s guidelines, they were still kicked off the app, presumably because of their profession (many said this has happened multiple times in recent months).
Instagram is owned by Facebook, which is excluded from this list due to its recently updated community guidelines, which ban all mention of sex and arousal and read as a clear attempt to eliminate kinky people — and, presumably, private groups which may cater to people with specific kinks and fetishes — from the site. Facebook’s record for queer people isn’t great — the so-called “real name” policy has harmed the trans community and drag artists for years. Last October, Facebook was revealed to be blocking many LGBTQ+ ads as part of its new advertising policy (the company later told the Washington Post that many of these blockings were in error).
Still, Instagram is home to countless queer artists, illustrators, designers, and nonprofit organizations. As long as you don’t post NSFW photos or use explicit hashtags (although Instagram’s algorithm disproportionately censors queer tags), the app has value.
“Porn is dead, long live porn.” This isn’t quite true, but it’s no secret that studio porn is hurting. With the advent of social media and other technology, it’s easier to pirate content than ever before, and sales are simply down. Today, it’s common for top-tier performers to forego signing to a single agency or studio — “non-exclusives,” we call them — and studios must now compete with subscription sites like OnlyFans.com.
OnlyFans is a London-based company that manages a platform where you can upload original content (images and video) and charge subscribers a regular fee to view it. To say that OnlyFans has taken the porn world by storm is an understatement.
Now OnlyFans has competition. JustFor.Fans was created by gay porn star Dominic Ford. Unlike OnlyFans, JFF is a platform created explicitly for adult entertainers, by adult performers. In the wake of Tumblr’s ban, Ford’s goals for JFF are ambitious.
“I am working on turning JFF into a full social media platform. I want it to be the uncensored versions of YouTube and, now, Tumblr,” he says. “People are becoming disenfranchised on platforms beholden to advertisers and Apple, and those factors are determining what free speech is acceptable.”
Don’t forget old-school blogging. When I launched my WordPress blog in 2014, I did not intend it to be a place where I answer readers’ sex questions — in fact, my original goal was to write film reviews. But the internet had other plans.
Adequate sex ed is sorely lacking in American education. Queer people, for better or worse, usually teach each other. If you have something to say, questions to answer, or simply stories to tell, now’s the time to do it.
Recon is the most popular hookup site (and smartphone app) for queer men into leather, rubber, bondage, and various kinks. You have the option of displaying how dominant or submissive you are by percentage. Are you 100 percent dominant, 60 percent submissive, or 50/50?
FetLife bills itself as the “social media for the BDSM, fetish and kinky community.” This long-running slutty haven is very queer- and trans-friendly and is home to a lot of straight kinksters too. FetLife has content restrictions and guidelines of its own, and some users I spoke with say that FetLife has gotten more heavy-handed and restrictive in recent months — likely due to FOSTA/SESTA — but it’s still worth checking out.
When Rentboy was raided by the feds in August of 2015, it was a devastating blow to queer male sex workers. Many consider this event the trigger of our current sex panic — the first time we realized battle lines were drawn over the fight to decriminalize sex work (prostitution is illegal in all 50 states except parts of Nevada).
In every major city, there were protests led by queer men who depended on the site to survive. When I covered the West Hollywood protests, I excluded the fact that I, too, lost the site as a source of income. The Manhattan offices of the site were seized and its CEO, Jeffrey Hurant, and six Rentboy employees were arrested. Almost immediately, questions of corruption were raised, as there were many dubious and blatantly antigay motives behind the seizure, and virtually every LGBTQ organization along with many media outlets, including The New York Times, vigorously condemned the raid.
After Rentboy, RentMen was left. RentMen, a similar site, is not based in the United States and is therefore out of reach of U.S. law. This makes the many queer men in the United States who use the site — myself included — feel secure that it’s not going away anytime soon.
The world has changed a lot since The Advocate, the longest running LGBTQ publication in the United States, first launched. We may now reasonably ask what purpose this publication and others like it serve. With repeated attacks on media from the highest office in the land, all media outlets — both queer and non-queer — are reorienting themselves. I’m just a contributor, but I believe that the mission of this outlet as well as the mission of most others is to connect queer people and tell our stories.
When I was around 14, my parents set me loose in Barnes & Noble while they went shopping. At the time, I knew I was gay, but my sexuality was frightening to me — I was still praying over it, asking it to be taken away. I wandered into the magazine section and found The Advocate, and it was my first sign that there were others and that we exist. And that is why we do this.
Although Reddit has a lenient, hands-off approach to content, including NSFW content, it too appears to be affected by FOSTA/SESTA. Ten months ago (close to the time FOSTA/SESTA passed the Senate) Reddit announced new guidelines banning all content that facilitates the exchange of money for sexual services on the site. So, sex workers aren’t allowed, but NSFW content is — for now.
Websites like AssPig.com cater to men into fisting and assplay. Bareback RealTime — or, simply, BBRT — is for barebackers. There are others I won’t mention — you have to find them. These are the dirty corners of the internet where you can meet men, but unlike Tumblr, they are centered around sex, not sharing.
There’s a key difference between sharing kinks for their own sake, reblogging your favorite porn for others to enjoy it, and cruising for sex. There are few places on the internet where porn and kinks had such implicit value. The subtest of the site was, “Are you into this? Great, follow my blog, and let’s be into it together.” RIP Tumblr.
The internet is a really important thing we’ve created. We don’t fully understand it, or how to regulate it, and we know already that there are countless problems with it. But for all its downfalls and dangers, it does one thing well — it connects people.
Corporate regulation will always be the enemy of queers because we are not the majority. Our forebears and icons are great provocateurs and sex radicals, people who understood that insurgency and antagonism are key parts of being us. The future battle we may face in the United States may not be for marriage rights, but we will always have to fight for freedom and representation, freedom to explore and meet and play, and that places us invariably at odds with the corporatized internet and enormous businesses that do not understand our sex, our language, or our community, and are threatened by us. Keep carving space for everyone.