💋 Destigmatizing NFTs: Sex Workers in Crypto Art
Hello Defiers! Non-fungible tokens have been hailed as the technology that can help creators regain control of their value and connect directly with their audiences, disintermediating record labels and galleries, thanks to the miracle of true, verifiable d...
Hello Defiers! Non-fungible tokens have been hailed as the technology that can help creators regain control of their value and connect directly with their audiences, disintermediating record labels and galleries, thanks to the miracle of true, verifiable digital ownership. The chance to own unique pieces at the cutting edge of this revolution is fueling a mania maybe last seen in the ICO days; single tokens linked to jpegs, albums, or even socks, are spiraling up to several thousands or even millions of dollars. The success of these sales and the promise of regaining control have been attracting artists who wouldn’t have looked twice at crypto before.
But some creators are finding that this brave new world isn’t as open as its underlying technology. Cryptonatrix, a sex worker who started exploring digital art inspired by NFTs, has found the same stigmas that plague women and sex workers outside of crypto are seeping into the digital art space too. In this column, she dives into her experience in the space and makes a call to revolutionize not just the tech behind digital art, but also how creators are treated and perceived.
Cryptonatrix is a former international journalist turned sex worker who has been consumed by the crypto rabbit hole. Follow her on Twitter and view her NFTs.
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Destigmatizing the Blockchain: Sex Workers in NFT CryptoArt
The last time a stranger called me a “whore” in an effort to insult me, I was standing in line outside of a grocery store, wearing what any confident woman might wear on a beautiful morning in Los Angeles. I thanked her.
I knew upon entering cryptoart last fall that there was quite a task ahead: to help carve out space for more like me. I believe crypto can provide tools for sex workers to take greater control over our image, and for us to create communities where our work is accepted, where we can express ourselves and just exist without facing the stigma we already do outside of crypto. But we all have to pay attention to how these communities are being formed right now.
Sex work is the most stigmatized form of labor on earth. On top of that typical misogyny that women face in tech, art and everywhere in between, sex workers are also regularly excluded by movements of “women supporting women.”
Contrary to its libertarian roots which might suggest a group that embraces freedom, I’ve found the crypto community is not exactly the most welcoming for sex workers, let alone women in general.
To say that being a dominatrix is isolating would be an understatement. The stigma that sex workers deal with corresponds with the types of work we do, but we all feel it to some extent. It can be deadly. It is a risk and a privilege to speak this openly and share art about my job.
Part of what destigmatization requires is for us to exist as we are and express ourselves honestly – in this context, through art. But it must be safe for us to do so, and it must be safe for allies to support us. My past few months in this evolving world of cryptoart have been about finding that support, and I am grateful for that which I’ve found.
Though it started out lonely, I gradually connected with a handful of other NFT creators who were open about being sex workers. Some of us make art with our bodies or toys, others tokenize our usual online content. Sometimes a mix of both, or none of the above.
I especially love using my body to create meaningful pieces. This is quite the opposite of what was advised to me, which was “less brains, more boobs.” Also, “less strap-on dildos… those scare people.” Indeed, Rarible agreed my silicone strap-ons were “scary” enough to remove from their site, at least at first – you can read about those double standards here on Cent.
First Experiences With Cryptoart
Looking back at my first NFTs, it is clear I jumped in with no idea of what I was jumping into. I was always artistic, but never labeled myself an “artist.” The only artsy program I had any familiarity with prior to cryptoart was Adobe Premiere Pro, which I used to edit my femdom clips when the pandemic forced me to focus on online work. I do consider my femdom content to be art. But cryptoart provided an opportunity for me to express a different type of creativity, beyond the confines of my business persona, and to learn while doing it.
The first time I shared a newly minted NFT on Rarible’s Discord, the response was: “That’s not art. There’s no point in minting, selling, or showing that.” For reference, I had maybe eight Twitter followers at the time – no support system. I replied by pointing out that if a man tokenized the same thing using a random woman’s body, no one would tell him it’s “not art.” Because men get applauded for doing whatever they please with women’s bodies, with or without consent, while we get shamed for doing what we want with our own.
Non-sex worker women artists do have more leeway with sexy or sexualized art, for similar reasons that enable influencers and celebrities to join Onlyfans without experiencing the stigma faced by survival sex workers. So what if we’re actual known whores making art with our bodies, expressing ourselves and even profiting off of our own image as a livelihood?
Our bodies are considered even more disposable, and anything we do with them is seen as less respectable. After all, the go-to insult for any woman who is confident enough to exercise agency over her own body is to liken her to a whore. We are simultaneously the blueprint for both inspiration and dishonor. We have the most desirable bodies doing supposedly the least desirable job. Even other women appropriate our aesthetic while positing themselves above us – think, those who buy stripper heels for pole dancing class, but have no interest in the laws that kill us. Our bodies are less valued, less “pure” than non-sex worker women’s bodies – and this is reflected in how our art is received.
My presence in cryptoart has always intentionally been about destigmatization. Of sex work, of strap-ons, of mental health, everything. I sometimes wonder how my experience might have been different if I minted the same NFTs without explicitly disclosing my current profession. But I feel a responsibility to speak up to the best of my ability. It’s not really a choice for me. I know that the challenges I encounter are symptoms of larger problems that must be addressed by those who can.
One of my fears in speaking up is that I come off as so “dramatic” that no one will listen. You know, that gaslighting that women deal with any time we call something out. But we all understand that listening to marginalized communities strengthens us as a whole, right? It is my hope that sharing our experiences can be an invitation for solidarity, rather than seen as “complaining” about victimization that we should simply “overcome with our mindset.” Because we can’t. That’s not how systems work or change. We need your support. And though we shouldn’t have to incentivize anyone to care about us as humans, destigmatizing (and decriminalizing) sex work truly will result in more freedom for everyone.
Shame and Freedom
My work as a domme often involves holding space to explore the taboo. I understand that people have preferences they are too ashamed to share, even with their life partners. Similarly, I have lost count of all the people who gushed over my art in private, but are afraid to publicly interact with my tweets.
Imagine a world where a man can buy my strap-on art for whatever reason he wants without fear of judgment. We can create that world.
Online content creator and artist PolyAnnie has been making cryptoart for six months. While it has been rewarding, she says the biggest challenge is the way that the sexual nature of her art might “deter potential collectors who wouldn’t want to be associated with such things.”
It’s unfortunate, because we know most people consume porn in private. We know it’s not just about keeping things kid-friendly, because purchasing with a separate wallet can do that. We also know that sexy or erotic art is more praised and palatable when made by non-sex workers: detached from that stigma. It’s not just about risqué themes in the art – it’s about who is conveying those themes.
Men Using Women
Meanwhile, there is no shortage of support for men using anonymous female bodies in their work. By and for the male gaze. All women in cryptoart must be cautious of any man who asks for nudes or lewds to use in a “collaboration” – they often either want free content, or to feel ownership over our image and do with it what they please.
I was recently approached by a man (with zero experience in adult work) looking to tokenize disembodied boobs as collectibles. I have also been approached by an NFT creator using AI to generate nude women collectibles, with the admitted goal of replacing human sex workers. As if we’re not where they got their data.
Of course, besides the few sex worker cryptoartists I know, there are other people who tokenize nudes and lewds on the blockchain. But there’s really no way of knowing if it’s actually them in their photos. This is where my main concern around 18+ NFTs arises.
WTF is NSFW Anyway
When selling my femdom content on any adult site, I am required to verify my age and identity. Even if I want to sell a non-nude video of an obviously middle-aged man sucking my toes, he must get verified. Buyers are also age verified. There’s no way to do that in cryptoart. Not yet, at least.
Besides, the criterion for labeling something as NSFW is subjective. Is it nudity? Is it anything sexually suggestive? Who decides what that is? Cent, for example, has marked some of my posts as NSFW. When I inquired about their criteria, they said “conspicuous nudity” – but my posts contained zero nudity. So, where is the line between sexy and sexual? Is it about… censoring certain people? Is it about intention or impact? Some of the most successful sex workers never even undress. What seems innocent to you might be someone else’s biggest turn-on. No one can control what people will sexualize.
I anticipate that when adult content becomes more popular on sites like Rarible, more restrictions will be enacted, for the sake of legality. But in the meantime, anyone can tokenize anyone’s nudes. That’s disturbing, but that’s the internet. Without a solid social media presence, you don’t know whose body parts you’re looking at. Even with a social media presence, catfishing happens.
Women Supporting Women
And of course, sex workers must already be painstakingly vigilant about revealing our identities. Online sex worker and artist GFXP has been minting cryptoart for over a year, though she keeps her artist persona separate from her sex work identity, largely due to security concerns. She says she has “made a lot of really rich people mad just for wanting to be in the space,” to the point of being violently threatened.
Some of GFXP’s first NFTs were glitched selfies in her bra, minted alongside her other art. Over time, she saw more and more women tokenizing their image, as well as an alleviation of pressure to remain anonymous. She also notes there are now “more men in the space who are willing to stand up for women selling whatever the fuck they want on the blockchain.”
As important as it is for men to stand up for women, it is also important that women stand up for sex workers. There is more than general misogyny at play when a woman is likened to a “whore” for exercising agency over her body and image. The root of such degradation is whorephobia, a disdain for sex workers specifically. Neither I nor you should have to fight to distance ourselves from the concept of a “whore” just to be treated like a human being.
So, please: when standing up for women’s rights to do what we want with our image on or off the blockchain, don’t forget to support those of us who don’t have the privilege of opting in and out of this. This is our survival, not a costume. Feminism must destigmatize sex work specifically, or it’s not feminism.
I meant it when I thanked that random woman for calling me a whore. Sex workers are resourceful and resilient. I am not ashamed of my job. I should not have to tell you about my résumé and my degrees, or explain why I got into this and how it is “empowering” just to be seen as worthy of the same respect as anyone else with any other job.
Consider this an invitation to support sex workers in the cryptoart community. Vocally and tangibly. Loudly and consistently. Progress has been made, so let’s keep going. Don’t just decentralize – destigmatize the blockchain. Because when we are free to live and work and love and create what we please, so are you.
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