The popularity of the exclusive, X-rated content-hosting fan sites has seen a new generation of heterosexual men making soft porn accounts for gay audiences, and detoxifying masculinity on the way
In April 2018, 26-year-old Ryan Yule had a “fuck it sort of moment” and joined OnlyFans, the platform that allows him to charge people $15 a month for access to pornographic photos and videos of himself. He had left the military in February and was “tired of being skint”, so began to upload – among other things – videos of himself masturbating. He makes a strong business case for doing so: “I used to have a wank and wouldn’t get paid for it, and now, I get paid for it.”
Ryan is one of an increasing number of heterosexual men uploading explicit content for their mostly gay subscribers – Ryan tells me that he estimates his subscribers to be “97 per cent” men. Many of the straight men doing so sit between ‘top-lad’ and ‘apex-lad’ – meaning, they perform heterosexuality to its most aesthetic extremes. Their watches are large, swollen biceps tattooed with crying Geishas, and for some reason, they photograph themselves sitting on the bonnets of cars. However, these adult content creators – the OnlyFans lads if you will – are redefining a brand of heterosexuality so fragile that it’s proven, in part, by its deliberate distance from anything faintly gay.
These OnlyFans lads depend on using their very public Twitter and Instagram accounts to entice gay men to subscribe to their soft porn account. Of his 250 regular OnlyFans subscribers, Ryan thinks that most were as a result of his Instagram account. He regularly posts to his 24k (87 per cent male) Instagram followers; often images of himself in his underwear, or more recently of him showering in his briefs with two other men. His Instagram account is followed by friends and family, but he isn’t concerned that his content will impinge the way they perceive his heterosexuality. He explains: “If someone’s going to get on at me and say ‘that’s gay as fuck’, what are you doing? I don’t care, it’s done.”
His content purposefully appeals to gay men, and he is aware that, invariably, some people will question his sexuality. “Some of the stuff I’ve done in photoshoots and video, from a straight perspective, you’d think, ‘oh aye, this guy is gay’, but, I’m not – I’m appealing to my target market”. Why is he comfortable publicly acting gay without fear he will be seen to be gay? Well, take note, lads: “I’m totally comfortable with my sexuality.”
We shouldn’t be surprised that heterosexual men are now increasingly comfortable appealing to a gay audience. As John Mercer, professor of gender and sexuality at Birmingham City University explains to me: “Many younger men have been raised in a cultural and educational context in which homophobia is not tolerated so the fear of gayness as the other is at a commonplace level, less prevalent.”
And while there has been a decrease in homophobic attitudes in young men, there has been an increase in young men sharing images of their bodies online. As Professor Mercer put it: “among a specific segment of young men, image-making and sharing is part of their construction of their social (and sexual) identities and bodies, especially sexualised bodies are important commodities with value”. The men who were being admired online or on the street for their appearance realised that their bodies could be put to better use than for likes on Instagram.
“Some of the stuff I’ve done in photoshoots and video, from a straight perspective, you’d think, ‘oh aye, this guy is gay’, but, I’m not – I’m appealing to my target market” – Ryan Yule, OnlyFans performer
Lotan Carter is a 30-year-old, former Big Brother contestant who shares content on OnlyFans. Lotan is a lad – no, actually, he’s a LAD. He says: “If I asked my Mrs right now, she’d describe me as a lad.” But he continues: “If you’d gone back ten years and described someone as a lad, I wouldn’t be friends with that person. How I’d see that back then would be a homophobic, narrow minded, I feel like I’ve got to be hard as nails kind of person.” He believes that a lad culture that is so manifestly insecure it needs to be repeatedly performed, is changing.
He doesn’t think there would have been many heterosexual lads 20 or even ten years ago that would have marketed explicit content of themselves to a gay audience. That has changed, he believes, because of social media showing different expressions of heterosexuality. “It can be terrible,” he says, “because you can compare yourself to someone driving a Ferrari and be like why am I not living that life, but it can liberate you to do something you have felt that you have always wanted to do”.
OnlyFans offers people with no pornography experience an opportunity to market their bodies. For instance, Danny Blue, who has over 800 subscribers to his OnlyFans account, works full time in construction. At $12.99 a subscriber he makes enough from OnlyFans to cover his rent, bills, and car, meaning that he saves all the money he makes as a digger operator. Like Ryan, Danny’s following was built through social media. A video shared to his 100k Twitter followers of him masturbating in his digger has been viewed over one million times.
Danny’s content is more explicit than Ryan’s – Danny performs with sex toys – and because of this, he has the unusual experience of being a heterosexual man subject to homophobic abuse. It’s not just in his DMs and on forums either: “You get the people that are not your friends that have a whisper and judge you about it.” Before the first video was filmed, he knew that he would be thought to be gay. “Using dildos and that, it’s obvious people are going to question (my sexuality) and I’d be silly to think they wouldn’t. It was definitely something I was aware of.” Yet, he went ahead nonetheless. Refreshingly, despite being heterosexual, he shrugged that someone might think he was gay. In his words: “At the end of the day, I work hard and earn a lot of money doing what I do – why not.”
It took Aaron McCleod, who is a full time electrician, over a year of thinking to make his decision to set up his OnlyFans account – his first post was three weeks ago. His friends with OnlyFans accounts had set theirs up anonymously, so he did the same. Then, in his second week, deciding he didn’t much care what people thought and wanting to increase growth, he used his personal Instagram account (with 25k followers) to promote his OnlyFans page. One week later he had 205 subscribers.
“You can compare yourself to someone driving a Ferrari and be like why am I not living that life, but it can liberate you to do something you have felt that you have always wanted to do” – Lotan Carter, OnlyFans performer
Aaron uses OnlyFans to save for his young son’s future; so, like the other men I spoke with, Aaron approaches his page like a business. He talks dirty to his subscribers for the same reason McDonalds sells Big Macs – it’s what the customer wants. The fact his customers are – by his approximation – 90 per cent men? He couldn’t care less. “I’m happy to appeal to an audience that are going to pay me money,” he says. He does, however, “know a lot of men that get freaked out by it, but it’s just the customers, it doesn’t bother me one bit”.
He and the other men I spoke with are so at ease with their own sexuality that they see a transactional dynamic between themselves and their subscribers where others may see a sexual one. So even though Aaron’s conversation with subscribers can be homoerotic, he would be unconcerned if his friends read them. “If my friend said did you chat to this guy in a gay way?” He makes a nonchalant scoff, “I’ve got a girlfriend, everyone knows that.”
The OnlyFans performers I spoke to, whose collective following easily surpasses the 100k mark, are proof that there are innumerable expressions of heterosexuality. Ryan, Danny, Lotan, and Aaron are contributing to a rupture in the expectations that are placed on heterosexual men. They each articulated a similar healthy disregard towards any aspersions made of their sexuality. As Lotan Carter said: “I don’t need to prove anything to anyone. I’m comfortable with what I do. I couldn’t give a toss.”