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Bella Thorne, we sex workers need more than your OnlyFans apology – we need your allyship and action

You said you wanted to 'normalise' sex work by engaging with it in such a public way. Please do not try to convince any of us that something that made you $2m was a selfless act

Lydia Caradonna
Monday 31 August 2020 16:22 BST
'Shame on you' Bella Thorne posts emotional response to Whoopi Goldberg's comments on her nude photo leak

Dear Bella Thorne,

I have redrafted this letter three times.

I can’t decide how I feel about you, because in the past few days I have seen my community torn apart.

In the first draft, I was just angry. I was angry that your actions on a website that so many of my sex worker community relies on, changed its payment system after you made millions of dollars in one week. I was angry seeing other sex workers, many of whom live pay check to pay check, suddenly face the prospect of a month without their earnings amid a pandemic which has decimated our incomes already. I was angry that this sudden rule-change on the part of website OnlyFans has been interpreted by some people as a direct result of you allegedly “scamming” subscribers by charging $200 to see an image of you and prompting a mass demand for refunds when they discovered it was not a nude image. Now OnlyFans has put a cap of $50 for images and $100 for tips, and it insists the change was already in the works.

I was very angry that all of this blew up in our faces instead of your own.

Bella, I’m not angry at you anymore. I read your apology.

I think it sucks and you should fire your publicist, but I believe it was sincere. There are only a few months between us. In some ways, we are the same. We’re both queer, we’re both survivors of sexual violence. We all make mistakes. My mistakes usually involve falling asleep while I’m cooking food, not harming the incomes of a huge amount of marginalised people, but I don’t exactly have the platform that you do.

What was the point of all this, really? I have seen you claim that you were researching what life as an online sex worker is like for a movie, but this research method was never going to pass a peer review. I can’t think of another sex worker whose introduction to the job was dropping an OnlyFans link to their 6m Twitter followers and making $2m on their first day. I definitely cannot think of a sex worker who can get a meaningful reply when they email OnlyFans with an issue, let alone miraculously secure a meeting with the website to discuss their “concerns”.

Maybe a better way to understand our lives would be to – and I hope I’m not thinking too far outside the box here – talk to us? As sex workers, our lives are not marked by just the labour of creating content or providing sexual services. As sex workers, we face violence and discrimination that a celebrity with an OnlyFans page will never face. As sex workers, we risk losing our homes, families, and lives as a result of stigma.

It’s a stigma that you will never feel the way we do. In your apology, you said that you had hoped to help end this stigma. You hoped that you could “normalise” sex work by engaging in it in such a public way. Not only is this a dramatic change from your claim that you were researching a role, but it is an insulting suggestion. Please do not try to convince any of us that something that made you $2m was a selfless act.

Bella, I need you to understand that stigma for selling nudes is not exactly the most pressing issue for sex workers right now. I need you to use your platform to question why it is that so many of us in the sex industry feel that we have been forced to pick between poverty and prostitution, and why it is that we face violence and discrimination as a result of this. I need you to look into the FOSTA/SESTA laws in the US that have resulted in the deaths of sex workers, and the way that criminalisation of sex work harms us.

Most of all, I need you to understand that allyship to sex workers is not inserting yourself into our communities in a superficial and self-serving way. It is not speaking for us. In your apology, you acknowledged that your large platform gave you a unique opportunity to help people. If you truly want to help us, perhaps you could follow the examples of FKA twigs and Neville Southall by offering up your audience to sex workers, so that we can speak for ourselves?

Perhaps you could do the uncomfortable work of calling out whorephobia in those close to you – people like your sister, who just days ago mocked the sex work slogan “let us survive”, which protests the laws that criminalise our incomes and contribute to the high mortality rates we face.

Perhaps you could even donate the obscene amount of money that you made to sex worker projects so that it can be distributed to the very people whose survival strategy you just tried to gentrify?

Bella, thanks for the apology, but you can keep it. It’s not enough anymore to have good intentions. We need action.

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