On February 4, the alternative and queer porn performer Andre Shakti launched a campaign on the crowd-sourcing platform Fundly in order to raise money to attend the 2014 Feminist Porn Awards happening this April. Aware that many crowd-funding sites are leery of any reference to adult content, Shakti looked over the terms of a platform taglined “crowdfunding for all.”
Fundly’s terms are pretty straight-forward: “When posting any information, materials or content User agrees that User will not: … Post any material that is obscene, offensive or indecent.” Unfortunately for Shakti, Fundly uses WePay to process payments, and their terms are more specific: “By registering for WePay as a Merchant, you also confirm that you will not accept payments or use the Service in connection with the following activities, items or services: Adult or adult-related services, including escort services, adult massage, or other adult-entertainment services; Adult or adult-related content, including performers or ‘cam girls’.”
And that’s where Shakti ran afoul of the process. While not obscene, the campaign offers incentives to donors like custom private videos, 30-minute Skype chats, 2-month memberships to the adult site TheCrashPadSeries.com, and worn underthings — the sort of “adult-entertainment services” that WePay wants to have no business with. Now WePay is refusing to give Shakti the $545 raised on Fundly, but visiting Shakti’s campaign still triggers a pop-up asking viewers to contribute to the campaign.
According to Shakti, Fundly doesn’t have an issue with the campaign and has apologized for WePay’s refusal, but Fundly has yet to offer any solutions.
“If you know your CC [credit card] processor is conservative, why wouldn’t your TOC disclaimer mimic theirs?” Shakti tweeted.
But even instances where “adult entertainment services” incentives don’t come into the picture, people have faced issues from payment processors simply by being associated with sex work. In 2010, sex educator and sex worker Maggie Mayhem announced that she was going to Haiti to provide support and relief in a small city a few hours out of Port-au-Prince. She asked her readers to donate money to help fund her travel and supply costs using a PayPal button on her blog until PayPal cut Mayhem off — it didn’t matter that the funds being requested were for relief. Mayhem was a sex worker and PayPal didn’t want to have anything to do with her.
“We have a real problem with our sex educators and writers getting booted off of sites like Facebook and â€ªLinkedInâ€¬, and having their funds frozen by processors like PayPal, because of these companies’ refusal to touch the erotic,” wrote sex educator Sabrina Morgan following a similar problem with a payment processor last year. She added:
Specifically, perceived status as a (current or former, as PayPal clarified to me in a phone call) sex worker or association with erotic materials (such as an erotica Tumblr; let’s not even start on porn) is license to shut down our educators.
[...] Educators such as Nina Hartley, Buck Angel, and Jessica Drake use porn as a platform to reach many who might not otherwise seek out sex and pleasure education. Lots of sex educators have backgrounds in the erotic professions that inform their work as sex educators. When we’re too scared to defend sex work, because it’s not our battle, because there’s a legal gray area we’re scared to touch, we’re saying it’s okay to let the sex workers — our front-line sex educators — take the bullets as long as we get to play the game. And we get to play the game only as long as we play it safe.
Playing it safe means being afraid to show what it is that we’re teaching. Playing it safe means we can’t make our material too erotic or explicit or we’ll lose our billing. Playing it safe means knowing our client needs to see a sex worker but being afraid to make the referral because of what it might mean for us professionally.
We all do it. And we can all be braver. Because it is our fight. Sex work is under assault because it’s both sex and work. When we work in sex, however we work in sex, we brush up against that stigma. If we want sex to be taken seriously on our watch, we have to commit to standing up for access to sex education and health, for pleasure, and for treating all of the sexual professions with respect.
I reached out to Fundly CEO Dennis Hu for comment. None has been forthcoming.
In response to the situation with Shakti, San Francisco’s Citadel Club, a dungeon offering BDSM education and entertainment, has left WePay as a payment processor for its events and classes. They’re doing this in solidarity, however, and not out of necessity.
“We didn’t have trouble getting our money from them,” they told me when I reached out on Twitter.
UPDATE: At 6:00PM Pacific, Fundly issued refunds to all of Shakti’s campaign contributors. One month of fundraising is gone with it — and that’s not something that anyone can give Andre Shakti back. Guess Fundly is not “crowdfunding for all,” after all. Here’s hoping they update their terms.