There are some hard-working sex workers in Hulu and ABC News’ new documentary, Only Fans: Selling Sexy, and I respect them. I’ve been a sex worker for over 20 years, and being in a documentary about doing sex work is a gigantic leap of faith. We’re rarely treated with respect, and sometimes not even with much humanity. It’s often difficult for me to even watch many sex worker documentaries; such filmmakers favour drama and controversy, and choose to sensationalise the lived experiences of myself and my sex work peers.

For those who’ve been living under a rock, OnlyFans is a subscription service website where individual models can create and sell photos and videos of themselves. (There are creators on OnlyFans who do not sell adult or erotic work, but they are not the subject of Hulu’s doc). There are several other sites that work the same way, but OnlyFans got name checked by Beyoncé, while Bella Thorne almost blew the whole thing up, and these, among other things, made it the biggest player in the game.

Hulu/ABS News did better than most with their documentary – it’s smoothly made, and it only made me wince a few times. But the true value in OF:SS is the voices of the sex workers. In media, anyone who does sex work is deemed not to be a credible witness to their own life, so there are always non-sex workers in these documentaries who serve to confirm (or more often deny) what we say is real. Irony in 2021 is watching a glossy TV show inspired by a sex work website, which features non-sex working actors saying to the camera, in serious tones, that giving sex workers “all this attention” might make us “go too far”. Ask yourself: why does that sound a little hypocritical to me?

But it doesn’t matter, because I’m sure they got legally paid to say it. Actors and models generally are – even when they act in steamy love scenes. In fact, I’m sure everyone who worked on this TV production about OnlyFans models got paid. And no one is upset about any of that; it’s just the models on OnlyFans being paid that upsets some people.

And these people aren’t alone. Writing moral panicky takes on OnlyFans (and sex work in general) has been some opinion columnist’s favorite hobby during the pandemic. But all that manufactured hand-wringing is a grift – see: The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof. These articles are an island of garbage that floats into your Facebook feed when radical feminists collide with upscale suburban wine moms, and stories about zip ties on your car mirror start bubbling up. Sex workers are a gift to people who stir up fake outrage for a living. In a changing world, it’s still permissible to hate sex workers and scapegoat them for anything you don’t like – facts not required.

There is another forthcoming documentary called Buy/Sell/Date, which also claims to be about the sex industry, but I’m sceptical. That’s a tacky, dehumanizing title, and producers Rashida Jones and Meryl Streep have both come out against sex worker’s right in the past. Why is it OK for corporations and famous people to take the lives of sex workers and sell them – and therefore make money off us – but somehow not OK if we do it?

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A dominatrix explains why documentaries about sex work never get it right by Mistress Matisse

March 24, 2021