Trans people are turning to OnlyFans to fund their transitions
Facing a transphobic legal pushback against their healthcare access, and more vulnerable than most to the looming global recession, OnlyFans is a lifeline for some trans folk.
Image via YouTube
Trans healthcare, though its inaccessibility and price-tag may suggest otherwise, is not a luxury. It’s a necessary part of trans people’s physical and emotional health. Yet some governments seem bent on denying this. Last month, on the anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shootings, Trump’s administration announced a reversal of Obama-era protections for trans people, now allowing insurance companies and healthcare providers to exclude transition-related care. In the UK, leaked reports of a rollback of trans rights, which include a crackdown on “quack” doctors, leave the future of trans healthcare uncertain.
At the same time, we may be at the precipice of financial meltdown. In the UK, for example, the Bank of England has warned of the sharpest recession on record. At the end of May, 40 million Americans were unemployed. Trans people -- and particularly Black trans people -- already face severe socioeconomic disadvantage, and will likely experience the effects of economic collapse more deeply. As the gulf between what trans people have and need widens further, some trans people are turning to OnlyFans to fund their transitions.
Kate is one such trans person. She lives in Bath and once worked for the NHS as a trainee psychology practitioner. “I loved it, but the pay was nowhere near the amount of hours I was doing”, she tells me. Eventually, the long hours, heavy stress and absence of fair compensation took its toll. “I had quite a large caseload of patients I was seeing... and obviously with my own stuff going on, I couldn’t do it anymore.”
As a way to earn more money, Kate started her OnlyFans. It’s still time-consuming work. She tells me that if she doesn’t post for a day she starts “haemorrhaging followers”, and spends much of her time posting on Twitter (the main avenue for OnlyFans performers to promote their channels). Still, she has more free time then before, and her mental health is improving. She’s also earning much more money. Kate can finally put away savings each month for her gender confirmation surgery which, due to impossibly long waiting times at the NHS for trans healthcare, she plans to pay for privately.
Ember is also paying for transition-related expenses out of pocket. The local health centre where she got her hormones for free has shut due to COVID-19. The clubs where she worked have boarded up too, meaning that she’s lost her regular income. Things were looking patchy: even though Ember started her OnlyFans before lockdown, she didn’t have much of a subscriber base. Fortunately for her, she went viral. Over 1,300 people retweeted a nearly-nude picture of Ember participating in a Twitter meme featuring a shampoo bottle. As her Twitter following swelled, so did her OnlyFans income. She now pays for her bills and her hormones with the money she makes from the platform. “It’s kinda insane to me. I kind of laugh everyday and I’m like ‘wow, I can really pay rent in Brooklyn by selling pictures of my butthole.’”
The story seems a little different for trans men. Gunner, who lives in L.A., has struggled to grow his following. He only has 11 subscribers, consisting of a mix of cis and trans men. It doesn’t cover all his bills, including his testosterone that he purchases on the black market, but in his words “every dollar helps.” He thinks that, in general, trans women build followings more easily. “[Trans women] do better unless [a trans man is] already a porn star. There are some guys who already have a following because they do Crash Pad Series or some kind of porn already.”
Jacob, who lives in Canada and makes money on both OnlyFans and Chaturbate, agrees with Gunner. “I think that there's no market [for trans men]. And not in the sense of, like, ‘oh, this is an untapped market’. I just feel like there's practically no market for it... people aren’t really looking to support trans men.”
Even then, not every trans woman is a viral success either. Dorian lives in New Jersey. She’s still in the early stages of her OnlyFans journey, with a free-to-subscribe page she hopes will build up a following. Laid off right before lockdown, Dorian is currently on unemployment benefits. Her goal is for OnlyFans to be a source of side income. “I’ve always lived paycheck to paycheck, so this is something that I feel like I can pursue [as a] side hustle... to either self-fund or use for my transition.” It can be even harder for Black trans women. Ember feels especially lucky for her viral fame when she notices how fellow Black trans women struggle on the platform. “Honestly, there are too many black women struggling on OnlyFans...," she says. "The Black girls that I see and talk to on Twitter are like ‘how do I do this?’”
Even for the trans people who are making bank, it’s a longshot to say this is straightforwardly empowering. Lauding the democratising effect of OnlyFans -- which, compared to traditional mainstream studios, puts trans performers at the helm -- ignores the structural issues which lead many trans people to it in the first place. Firstly, that trans healthcare is a human right, and nobody should be out of pocket for it. Secondly, that the failure to effectively implement policies such as rent holidays and sufficient unemployment benefits disproportionately affect trans people, who are at increased risk of homelessness and unemployment. If anything, this looks closer to a single chapter in a very, very long book about trans people surviving in a world which should -- but fails to -- provide for their needs.
There are some positives, though. Kate loves OnlyFans and says she thinks it’s helping to show a more human side to trans sex workers, and to trans people in general. “I talk about my experiences in life as well as transphobia and other things like that, and they do see you and think like ‘shit, like, you are just like any other woman.’” Ember agrees with this sentiment. “Although this would still make [cis men’s] first interaction with a trans person porn, at least it’s made by a trans person and even for trans people.” It’s something that even Gunner’s trans fans are grateful for. “They are really happy about some of the porn that trans guys are making right now, because it’s more realistic.”
So is OnlyFans going to become the bulwark of trans liberation? Probably not, but it’s a good reminder of why trans liberation is coming: trans people have always done what it’s taken to survive, and we’re not going anywhere.