Illustration: Chelsea Velaga
In April of last year, the government disrupted the sex-work community when Donald Trump signed H.R. 1865, a bill known as the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act (SESTA). The law amends Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which gave websites protection for the content they host. To put it simply, it means that these days, the owner of any website that “promotes or facilitates the prostitution of another person” faces prison time. That’s affected not only traffickers, but also any kind of sex worker who uses the internet to access or vet clients.
As Emily Witt wrote in her June 2018 story in The New Yorker: “In the aftermath of the new law, sex workers have claimed that efforts to control sex work in the name of public safety are forcing them into riskier situations — working with unknown clients, who they can no longer screen, or on the streets, where the risk of violence is greater.”
There’s no better time to get to know your local sex worker. The Scene spoke with a woman who asked that we refer to her as Beth. For three years, Beth has worked as a cam girl — filming herself performing sex acts for online clients — before going into full-service sex work earlier this year.
Beth spoke to the Scene via telephone about how she got started, how the new legislation has affected her, and what she looks for in a client.
How did you get started?
I worked at an adult store, and I had regulars who would come in and want to be open about their sexual fantasies with someone who was open-minded, but I wasn’t being compensated for that emotional labor. So one day after work, I just left and I got on cam, and I made a week’s paycheck in one night.
So how did you go from doing cam work to full service?
I’d say the more I got involved with other sex workers, they would just connect me with someone that they knew. It kind of fell in my lap. I was fortunate enough to do that through who knows [which client]. … FOSTA and SESTA took away a lot of the websites that would allow you to screen people, and they took away a lot of the blacklists that you could look at.
And has FOSTA and SESTA affected your work, or has it made the people in the industry sort of band together more and look out for each other?
I would say both. It has definitely made everyone band together. It affects me because it affects the internet a lot, so it affects me getting paid. I can’t use PayPal, which is the easiest one to get kicked off of. … You used to be able to network through Instagram, and nowadays they silence and shut down accounts, even activist accounts, constantly. So there’s not a lot of places left on the internet for getting paid or promoting yourself without the risk of just one day losing your account.
What about sites like OnlyFans and those kinds of pay-per-view sites?
I haven’t used OnlyFans, but the cam accounts are pretty nice. They let you ban states — if you want to ban the state you’re living in, then no one can watch you in that state. Or if you want a ban where your family is. Unfortunately though, with online stuff like OnlyFans and camming, you get screenshotted constantly. … And if you want those to be deleted, you have to pay an outside party, so that can be a chunk of your paycheck going away just to make sure that you’re not being posted on these sites, because they’ll record you and then they’ll sell your videos, but you don’t get any of the money. Which is really lame.
Do you talk to your family or friends about the work that you do?
I keep it from my family, just because I don’t know how necessarily exciting that would be to them. I don’t mind talking about it with my friends, but I’m glad to know that I can talk to certain friends about it, but they can’t look me up. It’s a nice security, because talking about it is much different than you logging on, seeing me naked.
After a full day, how are you feeling?
I think it can be a little bit tricky sometimes. Sex work is fast money — you can make it really fast, and a lot at a time it’s easy to spend it quickly. I think that’s just a risk with any sort of fast money — all of a sudden you have all this stuff you didn’t have, and what do you do with it?
But I would say I generally feel very empowered, especially when I can use it on something that I’ve been wanting for a while, on art supplies, stuff like that. I paid for a semester of art supplies camming, which felt awesome. It’s sort of like you get this reward for making someone feel heard and listened to, and not like [thinking] they’re crazy for what their desires are.
Is there a specific type of person you seem to attract?
Guys who work a lot. Guys who work a lot and travel a lot, just because we only have so much time. I feel like that’s a lot of my cam viewers … guys that are in a hotel and they have a lot of time on their hands. They’re off for the day, but they’re stuck in some lonely city alone, so they have time. And usually because they have that time, and they want to be heard and listened to, then they are kinder and less demanding. Because there are guys that would, on cam especially, that would just be demand, demand, demand. The traveling businessman, I would say, is my favorite.
What do you wish that people in Nashville knew about people who are in sex work?
It’s a job, and you have awesome days and you have bad days. But I feel like there’s an assumption — actually, in my gender studies class the other day, the teacher did a presentation on sex work, and it was just kind of making it out to seem like if you’re a sex worker you’re always crying in a corner or it’s really hard. But there’s awesome days, and there’s great days, and there’s clients that you love. I’d also want them to know that someone they love or know is probably a sex worker.