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Archive for April 8th, 2019

I met Elsi Dawson at my Vancouver screening a few weeks ago, and when our conversation turned to new advertising venues she offered to do a guest column on the new site Tryst, which I have recently started an ad on myself.  I really like the way the site looks and operates, and I’m really hoping it catches on well enough that we can all start to abandon platforms which regularly invent new ways to annoy or actively hurt us while offering no customer service.

It’s been well-established that FOSTA/SESTA has shuttered, or at least, stunted many advertising platforms that are based out of the US.  While that nightmare has been felt most acutely by American sex workers, especially those in marginalized positions, the ripple effects have hurt sex workers in Canada as well.  The puritan moral panic that sought to end all sex-slavery has succeeded—if their goal was to cut the legs out from under independent sex workers and drive human trafficking underground.  Bravo.

Backpage went down, but the supply didn’t.  In Canada, the overflow moved to the next nearest website, Leolist – similar in function, but with better aesthetics and a much higher price tag.  Initially it seemed much more sex worker friendly, with the ability to verify yourself, bump your ad, purchase upgrades with premium features and navigate on a mobile platform.  But the longer you stay on Leolist, the more you notice that, even though it’s your credit card attached to the account, you’re not the client, you’re the product.  And, with all the people hustling on Backpage now looking for somewhere else to grind, Leolist found themselves running a monopoly.  A few years ago, an ad cost about $2 US, would go to the first page, scroll off onto subsequent pages until it expired thirty days later on page 16 or so.  Or, one could pay another $2 US to bring it back to the top of the list again at any time, multiple times a day.  A heavy volume day would probably be four or five bumps, and one could expect nearly a thousand views on their ad from that.  But post-FOSTA/SESTA, ads which used to be on Page 1 for an hour on a busy day, now barely last 30 minutes.  The result is a sex worker either not getting as much “primetime” ad exposure, or bumping more frequently to make up the difference.  After a small struggle (and a change of bank vendor) the prices changed to Euros, with a promise to keep the rates comparable.  In a move that surprised exactly no one, they did not.  Every few months for the past year, their rates have been climbing.  Not content with being at the top of the pile or having the most local traffic, Leolist gradually increased the cost of an ad, the cost of a bump, the cost of premium features.  Was it a move to try to starve out the scam artists and the fake ads?  Maybe, but we’ll never know because Leolist doesn’t have any interest in answering to their advertisers.  They don’t take comment or feedback, and even their Twitter is locked (after they directed people to contact them there).  The result is a frustrated group of independent sex workers who are watching their overhead costs tick up like the start of a rollercoaster, while their ads get less visibility and fewer bites.

And then there are the review boards.  In Western Canada, we have the archaic and wholly unwieldy Pacific Escort Review Board (PERB.cc) run on vBulletin (you know it’s bad when even academia has left the format behind).  On any given day, the old guard of “perberts” post degrading and vulgar comments about providers, their bodies and a scale-ten judgment of their services.  Hobbyists take nit-picky circle-jerk punches at “girls with boyfriends” and “girls who have cellulite” and “girls who think they have golden pussies.”  They routinely marvel at how providers could even dare to ask them for a deposit.  They jostle to outdo one another on their conquests and oscillate between “I think I’m going to quit this hobby” and “I can’t wait until the market pulls the prices back down and these girls get a good idea of what they’re actually worth.”  A month of all the ad posting you can eat (but only two ads a day, and posting a selfie counts as an ad, by the way) runs $113.  There are a litany of rules spread across eight different threads, with vague wording and a system of infractions, points, expirations, perbatory and permanent deletion.  A provider is allowed to comment on their own review, but not anyone else’s, and only while they’re “in red” (a bassackwards term that means “paid up” to them and no one else in the English-speaking world).  Necroposting (replying to an old thread to bring it back into discussion) is an infraction, and so is reposting (starting a new thread on a topic that has already been discussed but may have long since gone quiet).  It’s a minefield and a distraction from the day-to-day operations of running an independent sex work business.  Oh, and Leolist has exclusive rights to advertise on PERB – a cute little bromance that keeps client traffic swirling around the same toilet bowl.

Suddenly, a ray of hope appears.  Tryst.link arrives on the scene to balm our wounds and bring sanity to online marketing.  The superhero geniuses that brought us Switter (the Sex Worker Twitter, get it?!) when FOSTA/SESTA scared the other Twitter into shadow banning everyone with a visible nipple, have branched into making an advertising platform and it’s like a breath of fresh air.  Their team, Assembly Four, has put together a platform that works for the sex worker.  Do you want to set your weekly availability?  Sure. Wanna promo a tour? Here’s a drop-down menu for that.  Do you have different rates for different session types and lengths?  Go ahead and list them in as much or as little detail as you’d like.  Tryst, like Switter, has been built while avoiding the use of US companies, and prioritizing the privacy of the workers who reside on their platforms.  They ask for minimal personal information from clients (the basic username, email, and password) upon sign up.  Provider verification for Tryst is also quite standard and based on a handful of factors such as social media presence, other verified accounts, and verification photos.  They don’t ask for or require any civilian forms of ID for verification, and any information sent to them is treated with extreme sensitivity.  Tryst is rapidly gaining user profiles in Asia, Australia + NZ, Canada, Europe and – you guessed it – the United States of America.  As their traffic has increased (by 15.6x since November), they have encouraged feedback from providers and clients alike.  Since their launch, they’ve added features to better advertise genders, ethnicity, and transgender disclosure options at the suggestion of their members.  Their mission is not to be “your elite [cis white conventionally attractive woman in her mid-twenties] companion website” but to offer affordable and effective advertising with a sleek, contemporary, and user-friendly interface to sex workers at all price points and in all specializations.  This year, Tryst plans to implement a range of other features to further help workers of all demographics thrive in a post FOSTA/SESTA world.  For the first time, possibly ever, the way we advertise online is within our own control.  Solutions which cater to the needs of sex workers and still bring in clients are finally within reach.

What this development says to me is that whores are collaborating, investing in our communities, and coming back stronger than ever.  FOSTA/SESTA is devastating and terrifying, particularly for US providers, but It’s going to take more than a short-sighted and thinly-veiled prohibition/censorship bill to break us apart.  We’ve got a revolution on our hands, honey, and we’re not going anywhere.  This may be the world’s oldest profession, but we’re also gunning for the title of boldest as well.

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