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Tumblr’s adult content ban will devastate its most vulnerable communities

Jason Reed/The Daily Dot

Tumblr is kicking out the very people that made it grow.

From fandom shipping to porn GIFs, Tumblr is a safe haven for adult content. In fact, there’s so much porn on the platform, we’ve even covered the best adult Tumblr blogs multiple times at the Daily Dot.

But all that’s about to change. Tumblr is set to ban adult content starting Dec. 17, removing material portraying “real-life human genitals,” “female-presenting nipples,” and anything visual that “depicts sex acts.” Once the ban begins, adult artists will lose their galleries, queer users will be separated from their friends, and sex workers’ livelihoods will be threatened. And a lot of marginalized people will lose their favorite source for porn.

I should know. I am one of those people.

I started using Tumblr for adult content when I was 18, and I continued relying on it through my pre-transition college years. It was a liberating experience. For the first time in my life, I met other people who shared the same sexual fetishes as me. We roleplayed together, gushed about our favorite fantasies, or just kept tabs on each other’s blogs to see what we posted about next. Many of the people I hung out with were queer, too, and I even had some of my first online sexual experiences with other trans women from those spaces.

I was grateful for Tumblr’s come-as-you-are approach to kink, and while I’ve gone back to simply lurking on Tumblr these days, I walked away from those adult spaces with an immense respect for the content creators that fuel them. As I transitioned, I realized that adult art could let me figure out more about my sexual preferences—which is all the more reason to support artists’ work.

Shortly after I transitioned, I commissioned some kink artwork from Ktullanyx. I fell in love with the final version, and I’ve been a fan of hers ever since. When I chatted with her over DM, she told me, like many adult artists on Tumblr, her following on her adult blog Nyxondyx helped support her career and keep her afloat.

“People have actually gone out of their way to generously buy things for me off my Amazon wishlist simply out of support and interest in my work,” Ktullanyx told me. “I’m incredibly grateful to my followers and fans. They helped me get to where I am today and I do my best to work hard for them, despite all of my own gripes and concerns with my efforts.”

Granted, Ktullanyx explained that the NSFW content ban won’t necessarily impact her career as an adult artist because her Tumblr following is relatively small. Yet she also stressed that Tumblr plays an important role in many artists’ following.

“There are many skilled artists that use Tumblr as their only social media platform, so if they get the boot, there goes anything and everything of theirs,” Ktullanyx told me. “If they choose to migrate to other sites available to them, then hope is not lost, but to start from the ground up all over again, trying to gather up all those fans and followers you had, it’s a struggle.”

Ktullanyx won't leave Tumblr, but that her "explicit" art will move to other sites. Ktullanyx

Ktullanyx writes on her NSFW blog that she won’t leave Tumblr, but that her “explicit” art will move to other sites.

Not to mention, adult artists themselves benefit from an open-minded space where they can explore their own desires. Trans comic artist ThirtyHelens primarily draws adult comics for other trans folks. ThirtyHelens told me that she began exploring her sexuality on Tumblr three years ago by creating adult artwork. She’s also received a lot of fan mail from trans women over the years who came to accept themselves and their bodies thanks to her work.

“I think queer people gravitated to Tumblr because honestly, it felt like a natural evolution of LiveJournal, a place where many of us first started sharing our stories, passions, and traumas,” ThirtyHelens said to me. “At it’s worst, it was a nightmare but at it’s best it was this wonderful mishmash of things we were fans of, experiences we shared, and the things we longed for. Letting the site be a playground for our sexualities was a ray of light in what could potentially otherwise be an extremely isolating life.”

ThirtyHelens admits she’s “been seeing the writing on the wall for some time” as Tumblr made it increasingly difficult for adult artists to maintain a following on the platform. She’s since branched out to Hentai Foundry and Twitter, where she mainly spends her time.

She also stresses that the ban endangers escorts, adult models, and other kinds of sex workers that rely on Tumblr for financial and emotional support.

“It’s especially horrible that December 17 is also the Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers—I don’t think that point can be driven home hard enough,” ThirtyHelens told me. “If artists think their options online are getting worse and worse, you can’t imagine what it’s like for sex workers.”

Adult model Elizabeth Smith, who I met on Tumblr years ago, was affected by Tumblr’s initial NSFW purge when her NSFW blog with around 15,000 followers was shut down last month. She relied on Tumblr to keep in touch with her following and provide free content for advertising her live shows.

“Tumblr was a very vital site for me to gather new fans,” Smith told me. “My work has been crazy, my email blew up with people asking if I quit [after I was banned] so I haven’t had any time to do any more custom orders now that I’m redirecting everyone to my new social media.”

Without her Tumblr, Smith has to reach out to her viewers, fans, friends, and supporters off the site, telling them that she’s moving to PornHub and iWantFanClub. Of course, not every sex worker has the privilege to bounce back from a Tumblr ban, something that she’s quick to bring up.

“What bothers me is that is not the case for women (or men) who are not skinny/white passing,” Smith told me. “Not only that but it is harder for trans men and trans women to get ahead as it is more difficult to break away from only being seen as a fetish. This may affect me but this fight doesn’t hurt me the way it’s hurting sex workers in general.”

While the NSFW ban hurts marginalized folks looking to make a livelihood, or those just wanting get off, other legitimately harmful and hateful content continues to exist on the platform. A quick Tumblr search for the term “Nazi” brings up dozens of blogs run by fascists. In essence, Tumblr is sending a dangerous message to the world: Nazism isn’t as offensive as sex workers. Nazism isn’t as offensive as kink. Nazism isn’t as offensive as queer erotic art.

It’s unfortunate because this wasn’t always the case. For years, Tumblr fostered an enormous adult community and made porn feel casual and diverse, not stigmatized and homogenous. Sex workers made a home on the site, adult artists built followings, and queer users interacted with each other to figure themselves out. We learned to love our bodies and our sexualities thanks to Tumblr. Now, we’re being shown to the door.

“It’s just incredibly frustrating to see yet another platform build itself up on the shoulders of artists,” ThirtyHelens said, “only to toss them out.”

Ana Valens

Ana Valens

Ana Valens is an LGBTQ reporter and essayist for the Daily Dot. Her work has previously appeared in Bitch, the Establishment, Vice's Waypoint, Rolling Stone's Glixel, and the Toast. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.