@GhostHoney’s TikToks Will Heal Us All

Soft-spoken and shy with a bashful smile and an aversion to viral challenges, TikTok star Tyler Gaca doesn’t seem like your typical social media superstar. However, the beloved creator known as @GhostHoney has still managed to drum up a fierce cult following thanks to his unique brand of left-field comedy — and if you take a quick look at his TikTok, it’s easy to see why.

Related | PAPER People 2020: Meet 20 TikTokers We Love

With his imaginative storytimes and nostalgic YA novel and art school parodies, the 26-year-old former art teacher is probably best known for his retellings of “fever dream” scenarios and fanciful daily musings about anything from possums to mothmen to the Great British Bake Off. And though they’re always delivered with his serene, even-keeled voice that feels well-suited to a guided meditation, it’s an offbeat juxtaposition that’s lent itself well to the fantastical escapism of his “chaotic” videos — and garnered him 1.3 million followers in the process.


this is how I watch the Great British Baking Show

♬ original sound – tyler

“I think that’s why people like my videos, because I lull them into a false sense of calm and the words coming out of my mouth are like pure chaos,” Tyler laughed during our Zoom call.

“I get so many comments where people are like, ‘Oh my God, I listen to your livestreams just so I can fall asleep at night.’ Or, ‘I watch your videos at night to relax,’ because they think my voice is soothing,” he added. “And that’s something I never knew about myself or anticipated when I first started making videos on the internet.”

Initially, Tyler began making TikToks last year while still working full-time at the Columbus College of Art & Design’s Continuing Education Department. And though this was something that influenced him to post under a different name as he “didn’t want to be known,” he explained that he mostly wanted to find a creative outlet for all the “ideas that come to me at like 3 in the morning or when I’m in the shower.”


I need some hot possum facts!

♬ original sound – tyler

“I use the Notes app to kind of catalog every extremely random and semi-coherent thought I have throughout the day,” Tyler said of his filming process, which mostly takes place in the comfort of his bedroom. And even though some of these concepts are “sometimes too chaotic to even make a coherent thought,” as he explained, the beauty of TikTok is that the oddest thoughts can oftentimes give way to the best videos.

“So it’s like a long process of writing a long diary entry of these obscure thoughts. It’s like 3 AM madness vibes,” he added, joking about how many of these ideas come to him while his husband JiaHao — who’s also become a fan favorite in his videos — is “like fully passed out next to me.”

“I’ll be like, ‘What if all vampires are gay?’ And somehow, I have to make some weird passing thought into an entertaining 59-second video,” he laughed, before confessing that he can be hesitant about sharing many of his TikToks.


our wedding day 💕 #mypride

♬ flowers by in love with a ghost – moth

“I will say that every video tops the previous one in terms of secondhand embarrassment, and there are times where I will post a video and turn my phone off, because I can’t even look at it,” he explained. “It’s like I can’t even watch myself right now. It’s the art school kid thing where you pour your heart out into a piece and it’s critique day, and you’re like, ‘I don’t even want to look at it anymore.’ That’s how I feel about my TikToks sometimes.”

And though these videos in which he’s “being vulnerable and showing [his] deepest, most embarrassing inner-thoughts” have created a devout following, Tyler said that he didn’t realize “the magnitude of [his] internet presence” until TikTok reached out to help him with a growth strategist and began providing him with opportunities “that blew [his] mind,” such as flying him out for New York Fashion Week.

“I was like, ‘Wrong person!’ And my content there was very chaotic. It was like me panicking in my hotel room, because I had to walk by the paparazzi and they were like, ‘Can we snap a picture?,'” he said, adding that while the experience was “a dream come true,” it was also one that took him “really out of [his] comfort zone,” especially after working a desk job for the past three years.


🕯💐Ghosthoney’s Guide to Dressing Like a Love Stricken Victorian Dandy💐🕯

♬ Chefs Table – Mibe Music

As his star has risen though, Tyler has continued to grapple with his newfound fame while “trying to figure out how to make a full-time career out of it.” Granted, this was also something that partially influenced his decision to move to Los Angeles earlier this year with JiaHao after they were both laid off due to the pandemic.

“So far it’s going really well, but it feels very surreal trying to navigate it with the current state of the world. I think it still hasn’t hit me [that I’ve become internet famous],” he admitted as he joked about the anxiety he feels whenever he’s now recognized while walking around LA. “It’s kind of like, ‘What! Oh no! I’ve never heard of [@GhostHoney]. I don’t know what you’re talking about!'”

But even amidst the garbage fire that is 2020, Tyler said he’s grateful for the community conversations spurred in his comments by topical videos about things like election anxiety.


brb using nostalgia to heal

♬ Pokémon (Littleroot Town) – Blue Brew Music

“What I love the most about TikTok and the community I’ve created [is that it feels like] a really beautiful support group of these weird art kids and the loners from high school. Like, I ate lunch in the art room every day in high school,” Tyler said, before adding that he also hopes his videos give the younger generation an opportunity to “see LGBTQ ppl just living authentic, normal lives.”

And though he added that it’s “definitely nerve-wracking” to have such a large audience now, he tries his best to use his platform to “put out things that feel authentic and good,” especially if he were “to watch it as a small, 15-year-old boy in the closet.”

“Growing up, I never had anything like that, especially not on TV and social media wasn’t a thing,” Tyler said. “That’s something I really hope people walk away with. Like, ‘Oh, it’s possible to be 26, happily married and living the best life you possibly can.'”

Welcome to “Internet Explorer,” a column by Sandra Song about everything Internet. From meme histories to joke format explainers to collections of some of Twitter’s finest roasts, “Internet Explorer” is here to keep you up-to-date with the web’s current obsessions — no matter how nonsensical or nihilistic.

Photos via TikTok @GhostHoney

Enroll in Sex Worker University

It’s no secret that in the past six months, people all over have been joining subscription-based platforms like OnlyFans and FanCentro, which allow online models to charge a recurring fee for access to exclusive adult content.

But amid the ongoing pandemic, more and more individuals have been turning toward these sites to make money, including amateurs, offline sex workers pivoting to online and performers moving away from studios. However, in between things like banking issues and legislation like FOSTA/SESTA, those who are brand new to the online sex work industry often face a steep learning curve.

Related | How Sex Workers Are Grappling With Coronavirus

And this is where FanCentro’s new educational initiative comes in.

Launched on September 30, Centro University is an online business school teaching everything from film production to accounting to censorship law for adult model-influencers. Taught by sex work entrepreneurs and industry veterans, the classes are free and available to anyone interested in online sex work with the intention of empowering models to make their own content on their own terms.

“The more financial independence you have, the more control you have over what work you do or don’t do,” FanCentro Vice President of Marketing Kat Revenga said. “There’s very little institutional knowledge in sex work, because of the stigma and the harassment and the decentralized nature of the community. If Centro U can become a home for education and a community from which to organize, hopefully, we can be a tool for sex workers.”

While the idea for Centro U was already in the works for two years, Revenga explained that the “huge amount of sex workers that came to our platform due to COVID-19 made us feel a sense of urgency and responsibility for making this educational program a reality,” especially as more and more people turn toward online sex work to make their livings.

She continued, “Online sex work has become more accepted, but many people getting involved who would start and quit. Some people are natural marketers and producers and others are not. As far as society is concerned, you don’t get into this business part way.”

“There’s very little institutional knowledge in sex work, because of the stigma and the harassment and the decentralized nature of the community.”

After you put out one video, people call you a “porn star” for the rest of your life, Revenga said, adding that they “wanted to create an educational program that would let people know that this is a business, and there are skills you need to succeed.” She pointed toward the difference between those struggling to sell clips and performers “who have built homes, paid for school, supported families” through their work.

“We want people to know that this is a business — that it takes time and commitment and learning,” Revenga explained. “You hear from people all the time who try to sell nudes or clips and think it’s them, that they’re not good enough, if it doesn’t sell immediately. They’ve taken all the risk by putting out adult content and then they never get anything out of it. But there was very little knowledge being shared. Every new person was having to figure it out for themselves. Centro U was set up to help experienced influencers teach those who were struggling.”

One of these influencers is MelRose Michaels — a FanCentro Brand Ambassador and industry veteran with nearly a decade of experience in the space — who created the initial video crash course. According to MelRose though, the experience of writing it from a “day one” perspective was something that just highlighted how essential Centro U was. Because whether we’re talking about selling shoots, or even proper consent practices when collaborating with another creator, MelRose said that she was surprised by the vast amount of accrued information she took “for granted, because I’ve been in the industry.”

She continued, “A lot of other courses are for models that didn’t start from day one, they kind of already started. Like, ‘Oh, you’ve already been in this year and you have a fan base, and this is how you monetize it.’ We’re starting as if you don’t have a fan base… And it’s definitely centralized, which is beneficial to the model because she can [watch her own progress], complete the things we suggested and actually grow her business along with the courses.”

And on the topic of a centralized knowledge base, Revenga added that while there are already similar initiatives for sex workers — such as collectives and social platforms — the resources provided by a premium platform like FanCentro allows for this kind of information to be disseminated in a “more fully formed” way.

“We’ve been reaching out to people we think are doing great work and finding ways to collaborate or promote them. To have them teach classes and promote their work,” she said, explaining that they can do things like pay experts to teach monthly master classes and provide courses in multiple languages for all different sorts of adult influencers.

Related | FKA twigs Is Supporting Sex Workers During COVID-19

Perhaps more importantly though, as the conversation surrounding the decriminalization of sex work continues forward, Revenga said that they ultimately hope to become “a base of knowledge and a source of stability.” And as MelRose added, while she believes eventual decriminalization is inevitable, it’s important for places like Centro U to continue providing a safe community space for online sex workers in the meantime, especially as they grow in numbers.

“As a content creator, I want the same thing, I want to see sex workers protected and treated as a protected class. I think society needs to get on board with that idea,” Revenga said, before pointing toward the way the pandemic has also led to many mainstream influencers “crossing over” into the sex work space.

“Mainstream is bleeding adult media, and the more of that we have, the better and stronger our voices are going to be when it comes to decriminalization or affecting legislation that will support us as a protected class,” MelRose concluded. “I’m excited for that. And I think FanCentro is going to be behind that [sort of push] as well.”

Welcome to “Sex with Sandra,” a column by Sandra Song about the ever-changing face of sexuality. Whether it be spotlight features on sex work activists, deep dives into hyper-niche fetishes, or overviews on current legislation and policy, “Sex with Sandra” is dedicated to examining some of the biggest sex-related discussions happening on the Internet right now.

Photos courtesy of MelRose Michaels

Meet the Girl Who Jumped Into the Hudson River

As far as waterways go, few are rumored to be nastier than the Hudson River. In between its metropolitan locale, history as a dumping ground for toxic chemicals and pollutants, and reports about the billions of gallons of raw sewage that end up in the harbor each year, it’s unsurprising that most people tend to be wary of taking a swim in it. Unless you’re Donna Paysepar, that is.


Swimming with lady liberty 💕##newyork ##statueofliberty ##nyc ##boat ##independentwoman ##stepintolove ##JustVisiting ##electriclove

♬ Electric Love – BØRNS

💜💜💜💜this feels like a dream ##nyc ##newyork ##persian ##statueofliberty ##boat ##ellisisland ##coneyisland ##manhattan

♬ original sound – favsoundds

Recently, the 20-year-old Long Islander went viral after uploading two TikToks of herself jumping off a boat and “swimming with Lady Liberty.” And while she wrote that the dip felt “like a dream,” it didn’t take long for grossed-out internet users to wonder what the hell she was thinking.

“This is a death sentence,” as one Twitter user wrote, while others joked that she could face potential health problems from “chemical burns” to “tetanus.” Or worse, “mutations” from all the supposed toxic sludge.

In fact, the response grew so intense that Paysepar eventually followed up with a set of videos talking about the Hudson’s water quality. According to the pages she cited on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s website, “the answers are mixed” when it comes to the water being clean and/or swimmable. However, “water quality has improved since the 1960s” and so, “swallowing a few mouthfuls of river water does not significantly expose a person to these pollutants.”


Reply to @itsneonchurch ##greenscreen ##independentwomen ##equality ##peace ##blm ##nyc ##hudsonriver ##statueofliberty ##newyork ##summer ##covid19

♬ original sound – chef_dp

Reply to @icecaramellatte ##greenscreen I’m fine guys 😊💜 thank you for your concern, I will be attending my annual check up soon! ##learn ##hudsonriver

♬ original sound – chef_dp

According to Paysepar herself, these sorts of concerns were the last thing on her mind. While what she swallowed tasted “like something was not right,” the water itself “looked clear” — much “like a regular lake or body of water that’s brown” — which is why she had no problems with jumping in.

“I’m always thinking of ideas to make cool TikToks and I’m pretty adventurous and like to have fun,” she recalled. “But I’d never seen anyone ever jump into the Hudson River in front of the Statue of Liberty. So I went ahead and saw an opportunity.”

And though she initially didn’t expect to go viral, Paysepar — who is an actress, singer, lifeguard and food blogger — explained that, as an entertainer, she saw the publicity as a good thing and has since decided to “make the most” of her newfound viral fame.

“Honestly, I have no regrets. It got me to have a couple more followers on TikTok and hopefully something great will come out of this,” she said, mentioning that she’s now running “a giveaway of $100 and two knock-off penny boards.”

Related | What Happens When You Unintentionally Become a Meme

“I don’t really see anything bad about [going viral],” Paysepar continued, before adding that she hopes people will now be able to see “the other side of her” — namely, that she’s “a giving person [who] wants to be there for my followers.”

The only thing that did “shock” her about the entire experience was the mean comments and death threats she received over the video — though Paysepar said that she’s keeping her own head high.

“I’m an advocate for anti-bullying and I believe that the internet is a very easy way to get behind a screen and troll,” she said. “It’s a big problem we have today. I just ignore it, because I know hurt people hurt people. If they’re treating other people that way, I can only imagine the way they treat themselves. So I just feel bad for them.”

Aside from the online negativity, Paysepar is determined to keep making content and is “open to collaborations.” And while she said she probably wouldn’t ever be swimming in the Hudson again, she does want people to know that she’s making a doctor’s appointment ASAP.

And yes, she also took a shower after.

Welcome to “Internet Explorer,” a column by Sandra Song about everything Internet. From meme histories to joke format explainers to collections of some of Twitter’s finest roasts, “Internet Explorer” is here to keep you up-to-date with the web’s current obsessions — no matter how nonsensical or nihilistic.

Photo via TikTok

This Viral Dominatrix Is Writing BDSM-Inspired Rock Music

If you’ve been anywhere near Twitter in the past week or so, you’ve likely seen a video of Black dominatrix flogging her sub. In the now-viral clip, she can be seen commanding a white man — who is wearing a pig mask and has the words “Reparations” and “BLM” written on his back — to say “Black women are superior” over and over again. And now, the performance artist, musician and domme behind the video itself is speaking up.

https://t.co/dapBUPrUMm https://t.co/x82SyvbUPl — Zhariah_ (@Zhariah_)1594058414.0

“It wasn’t originally supposed to be that, but in the middle of the session I was just like, ‘Fuck it, this is how I feel right now. So I’m just going to go ahead and do it,” Zhariah explained. “I was like, ‘This is me getting my anger out.'”

After all, amid continued protests for racial equity, the 22-year-old’s domme performance videos have been steadily gaining traction online. And as clips of her reminding people that they are “still [her] bitch” to sitting on a sub soundtracked to Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” proves, Zhariah definitely has a knack for creating content that resonates with Twitter.

My grand entrance into domme twitter. https://t.co/HN7sxM09Ro — Zhariah_ (@Zhariah_)1594382777.0
I got the pigs in the back @LilNasX https://t.co/n8AqOGsQF4 — Zhariah_ (@Zhariah_)1593464800.0

But as she sees it, in addition to boosting her client base and domme profile, this turn of events has also proved helpful to her career as an alt-trap artist writing BDSM-inspired songs. Pointing toward songs like the recently released “Metals, Whips, and Chains” — a tough-as-nails celebration of dommeing with a video that sees her parading several subs around on leashes — the multifaceted artist said she’s excited to be integrating these facets of her career together through her elevated online platform.

“I was just saying all those things and people loved it so much. And I was like, ‘If it’s going to get me noticed for my music then let me do it,'” she explained, admitting that it’s been exciting to see how “the stuff that I was doing to make money for my music became my brand.”

Even so, virality hasn’t come without its own considerations. And this is especially true since she felt like she feels as if she’s had to balance her “raunchy domme” persona with her desire to “stand for women’s empowerment” — something that also plays into her goal of “educating people on Riot Grrrl, Black women in rock n’ roll and Black women’s empowerment.” After all, as she pointed out, this all also lends itself to a larger discussion about how an artist like Zhariah is pushing back against racist stereotyping that contributes to the pigeonholing of Black women, particularly in music.

“I think women and people are ready to see… Black women in power,” she said. “At the end of the day, I could be a stereotype because I am loud and I am dominant, and I could be screaming and people are used to that and want to see Black women in that form. But I want to make it more about being alternative and having that edge.”

Related | The Financial Dominatrix Making Space for Black Sex Workers

Thankfully, Zariah said that she hasn’t gotten any pushback yet for being a Black woman in rock. However, as an artist who started by performing at hip-hop shows, she has gotten “a bunch of people who don’t understand it” — though she’s not about to let the naysayers get to her.

“[When I started making music] I felt so powerful, so enlightened, and so [I was like], ‘I’m just going to see where this takes me,'” Zhariah said. “I would bring subs to shows and perform with them on a leash. And to vanilla people it was like, ‘Oh my god, this is so crazy. I can’t believe she’s doing this… Is she really beating him onstage?’ And it just became me, honestly.”

However, balancing dommeing with her music has been its own sort of journey. According to Zhariah, while she has “always wanted to be a domme,” her journey actually started after she met her dommeing mentor at a performance and was subsequently introduced to a prestigious dungeon in Philadelphia. After dropping out of Temple University and moving back home, she stopped dommeing for a moment and opted to focus on music — though after “Metal, Whips, and Chains” was completed, she felt like she had “to get back into the lifestyle again.”

“At the time, I was going through the phase of, ‘Oh my god, I dropped out of college’ and society was like, ‘What are you going to do with your life?’ I was basically holding myself to societal standards of being a valuable woman. And I was like, ‘Okay, I’m a domme, but me spitting on people isn’t appropriate.'” Zhariah explained. “But at the end of the day, I sat with myself and was like, ‘But I love this. I love being dominant. I love being wild. I love the attention. I love the money. I love all of this and this is me and who the hell is everyone else to tell me I can’t [do this]?”

Related | Meet the NYC Dominatrix Turned Nightlife Mogul

As a result, she’s since joined the Black Domme Sorority, continued to make music and is determined to keep the momentum going when it comes to her popular dommeing videos. While juggling that all has proven to be a lot at times, they’re things she said that she’s not planning on stopping anytime soon, especially since they both feed into each other.

“If I stand for that as a brand, I have to be that for myself. We can be both. We can empower women, but I wanted to have my edge,” Zhariah concluded, before adding, “Because if I’m not practicing what I preach, I’m a poser. And I’m not a poser.”

Welcome to “Sex with Sandra,” a column by Sandra Song about the ever-changing face of sexuality. Whether it be spotlight features on sex work activists, deep dives into hyper-niche fetishes, or overviews on current legislation and policy, “Sex with Sandra” is dedicated to examining some of the biggest sex-related discussions happening on the Internet right now.

Photos courtesy of Zhariah

Animal Crossing and Club Penguin Are Actually Dating Sites

When it comes to dating in quarantine, we’ve all been forced to get a little more creative with our online interactions. Whether we’re talking about Zoom orgies or FaceTime Tinder meet ups, digital hangouts on every possible platform have taken over. This also means social simulation games like Animal Crossing and Club Penguin have become great places for people to go on dates together.

As billions of people around the world are self-isolating at home, it makes sense that Club Penguin — or rather, the “Rewritten” remake of the popular original — has seen a huge increase in student users since the beginning of quarantine, while the launch of Animal Crossing’s New Horizons edition has become the talk of Twitter. After all, both are games that take place in virtual worlds where you can meet up with other players, chat and do activities together, which make them perfect places for digital hangouts.

That said, there is a bit of a difference when it comes to dating via these two games due to the way they’re structured. Club Penguin is an open world where you’re surrounded by other users, while Animal Crossing user Damian* said he thinks the game’s one-on-one experience of going to hang out on another person’s island makes things feel more intimate.

sometimes you gotta turn club penguin into a dating website. pic.twitter.com/93tZVXvz7X

— 🧚🏻‍♀️💕 (@SinfuIFairy) April 14, 2020

“It’s almost like getting someone’s number, because having them visit your island is kind of like inviting them to your house,” he said, explaining that “it’s a pain to get to an island.” According to him, you still have to go to the airport and fly there, which means you have to be a little more determined to go on dates with someone in Animal Crossing.

“They get to see your house and plants, and you have to trust them not to steal,” Damian added, saying that the experience of hanging out with someone on their island has been a “wholesome and cute way to flirt” through chatting, participating in virtual BBQs, or gifting each other useful tools to help their overall progress in the game.

Related | This Is How My First FaceTime Date Went

“It’s a fun way to hang out, because you’re not fucking,” he laughed, “It’s like, ‘You’re on my island, let’s give each other gifts. Here, I know you’re stuck, so I’m going to give you a ladder.'”

Additionally, Damian also said that he sees Animal Crossing as an easy way for singles in particular to connect with their crushes. As he explained, sometimes casual hangouts can turn into more — something that also led him to compare it to a less overt way of “sliding into their DMs” late at night.

“The game updates in real time, so you can see when someone’s on and be like, ‘Can I get your island code,'” he said, showing how one of Animal Crossing’s big appeals is that you can get together with someone without being so direct. “You can talk to your crushes without being so forward. It’s a good way to connect with someone you wanted to talk to, but may have never had an excuse to in a funny, safe way. And you can get close if you’re playing together every day.”

Singles aren’t the only ones using Animal Crossing and Club Penguin to hang out. In fact, many long-distance couples have been using both games to go on virtual date nights together.

After all, as Canadian Club Penguin user Sophie said, while she and her UK-based boyfriend have still been FaceTiming regularly, “During quarantine, we’ve done everything but go on a virtual date like this, so it was a whole new experience. We’re long distance, so we have to find virtual stuff to do together.”

Sophie was a Club Penguin regular at its peak, but she said she had “kind of forgotten about it” until seeing a Twitter post about CP Rewritten. And though her boyfriend had never played, they both decided to create accounts so that they could go on a virtual date to celebrate their six-month anniversary — something Sophie said was an incredibly fun, nostalgia-inducing experience for her.

my gf and i dating on my island #AnimalCrossing #ACNH #NintendoSwitch pic.twitter.com/9mdgDu2vAo

— ★彡 (@bopeepwillow) April 20, 2020

“I loved reliving some of my childhood, and he enjoyed experiencing a part of childhood that he missed,” she said, noting how they spent hours playing games like hide-and-seek and hunting for treasure together. “I think that by going on these dates, they allow for us to relive old memories and make new ones together.”

Even after quarantine ends, they plan to continue going on Club Penguin dates because “games like these let us try to imitate IRL dates, as we are currently unable to,” she said.

Related | People Are Identifying as Digisexual. Here’s What That Means.

Similarly, long-distance couple Jo and Stephen have been using Animal Crossing to meet up virtually, as she lives in Belgium and he’s in the UK.

“Since the lockdown and the borders being closed we couldn’t meet up like we were supposed to, so we decided to both get Animal Crossing after seeing other people going on dates on the game,” they said. “On our first Animal Crossing date we visited each other’s islands and took loads of pictures together in the museum… sat by a campfire and talked a bit. It was very cute.”

Explaining that the game itself is “really addicting,” the couple went on to say that because new stuff is added to the game every month, they’re looking forward to continuing these dates and doing things like “seeing how far the other got with their museum.”

Jo added, “I think the people who go on dates in the game just want to be with their partner during these hard times and the game keeps us connected.” She said hanging out with Stephen on Animal Crossing has been an “adorable and fun” experience that “really makes this quarantine a bit easier.”

Ultimately, using these games has helped her feel better about the situation-at-hand, and would also prove beneficial to anyone else looking to connect with those they care about during these strange times.

“It really felt like we were meeting up even though it was just in a game,” she said. “I would recommend it to all the couples out there who are having a hard time coping with not being able to see each other in real life.”

*Name has been changed.

Welcome to “Sex with Sandra,” a column by Sandra Song about the ever-changing face of sexuality. Whether it be spotlight features on sex work activists, deep dives into hyper-niche fetishes, or overviews on current legislation and policy, “Sex with Sandra” is dedicated to examining some of the biggest sex-related discussions happening on the Internet right now.

Photo via Twitter

This Is How My First FaceTime Date Went

As we’ve entered the second week of quarantine with little more to do than agonize over the ineptitude of others and the systemic failures of our current infrastructure, things have been getting wild online. From people lusting after New York State governor Andrew Cuomo to a proliferation of dubious thirst tweets to the virality of NYC’s Coronavirus Sex Guide, it’s obvious that we’re all lonely, a little stir-crazy, and desperately horny — something that’s led me to think a lot about dating in the time of quarantine.

Obviously, dating is a fraught practice, even without all the extra anxiety and existentialism that comes with being sequestered in your apartment during a global pandemic. Because in-between all the swiping, agonizing over who should make the first move, and coordinating chaotic schedules, it’s always been hard enough to nail down a date — let alone a good one — and that was even back when we weren’t practicing social distancing. So then, in today’s brave new world, what does dating in isolation look like?

In the past few weeks, a large number of people (myself included) have turned toward dating apps as a way to cope with crippling loneliness — especially when our feeds are clogged with the new Instagram aspiration: cute photos of couples hunkering down and isolating together. And though the media tends to deride the advent of Tinder as a harbinger of the millennial “dating apocalypse,” as this strange and sudden situation proves, perhaps being an online dater isn’t as bad as people make it out to be. As a spokesperson for the app tells me, “as a certain area becomes more affected by physically-isolating measures, Tinder is seeing new conversations happening there and those conversations last longer.” Not only that, but apparently conversations have also begun adopting a more serious tone across the board, with more users prioritizing check-ins with each other and using that as a jumping-off point for further conversation. In short, there have been less horny messages and more collective concern and care.

Related | Cyber Sex Will See Us Through the Apocalypse

To that end, I’ve recently been arranging FaceTime dates with matches who, based on our pre-existing conversations, I feel like I could have a fun video chat with. And so far, I’ve gotten surprisingly positive results. Although I can’t really discount self-isolation’s influence on the attention economy, I do think there is something to be said about having someone’s willing, undivided attention for an extended period of time. Additionally, this collective need for socialization also appears to have affected the way people take initiative when it comes to actually following through and staying present on these dates — something that can normally be challenging for even the most well-intentioned of us.

After all, in between other IRL distractions, last-minute things that pop up, and the desire to just kick back after an exhausting day, flaking on both ends tends to happen more than we’d like to admit. And though I may have just gotten lucky with these particular FaceTime dates, I will say that my craving for some facsimile of intimacy has spurred me (and, I believe, my dates) to put some more effort into trying to cultivate a meaningful interpersonal connection. Rather than just viewing it through the lens of a potential, one-off hook-up for the time being, I feel like I’m being encouraged to really get to know these people on a deeper, more meaningful level in the weeks before we can actually meet for real — and that’s been an uncharacteristic, yet heartening, premise. My desire for social interaction combined with the level of normalcy I feel by doing my makeup and getting dressed for these things has created a unilaterally lovely experience.

I’m not the only one who’s noticed a blatant shift in our habits and dating dynamics on these virtual dates. One friend, Blair*, also touched on this idea while recapping her own FaceTime session with a guy she met on Hinge, explaining that it was somewhat jarring to no longer have the crutch of touch present. “Where you would normally fill an awkward pause with some physical intimacy, now there’s no buffer,” she explains. She’s also a big believer in the IRL pheromones phenomenon and says she’s inherently more skeptical about virtual dates. But, ultimately, Blair says she’s definitely still interested in meeting her virtual Hinge date in person, given that her “curiosity is piqued because the banter was so good and he’s very sweet and smart and objectively attractive.”

Like in Blair’s experience, a lot of people seem to be more open and receptive when it comes to social interactions as a whole, even in the midst of any doubts about virtual dating. Within my own (admittedly) small sample size, I feel as if I’ve been connecting with more people who I may not have necessarily followed up with if our in-app conversation had fizzled out in a normal context. Not only that, but I’ve also noticed that I’ve been getting a lot more matches from people who I typically wouldn’t expect to swipe right on me either, which got me wondering if our collective need for human connection has officially begun to supersede hesitations about whether there may be a physical end-game or if it’s worth driving 30 minutes out of the way for what could be a disappointing date.

This idea of a more open-minded approach to dating is dovetails with another interesting experiment in self-isolation romance: The personality-first dating premise of viral Netflix series, Love Is Blind. There’s now even an Instagram send-up, Love Is Quarantine, that’s gone viral in its own right. Run by roommates Thi Q. Lam and Rance Nix, Love Is Quarantine, like the Netflix original, encourages daters to get to know each other through a phone call from their homes, aka their “pods.” Sign up is done through a Google Doc from which Thi and Rance pair up daters and then set them up via text along with a couple “light and fun” conversation starters — though there’s no video chat or online stalking allowed. But the best part of the series? The self-filmed, confessional-style videos in which contestants dish on their date.

Related | People Are Identifying as Digisexual. Here’s What That Means.

And while the show’s only been live for less than a week, thanks to its combination of two extremely relevant cultural touchstones — Love Is Blind and self-isolation — it’s already racked up a substantial online following.

“People want real connection, especially in a time like now when you’re sitting at home lonely and have nothing to do,” Rance says, before adding that he believes the appeal of Love Is Quarantine versus dating apps is that the former distills the whole dating process — swiping, back-and-forth conversations, and all — into a single step with extremely wholesome results.

“It takes away the physical aspect of it,” he explains of the premise’s appeal. “There’s no judgement and right away you get to the nitty-gritty, the good stuff, the connections, and that’s what people ultimately want.”

Not only that, but Thi adds that in these depressing times, Love Is Quarantine is helping to provide people with a healthy dose of escapism via a “fantasy world.” Because, even if you’re not directly involved as a contestant, getting invested in something that isn’t the news — whether it’s “shipping new couples, villainizing people, or making new hashtags” — is an uplifting change-of-pace. And I’d argue a part of its appeal also relies upon a vicarious hope for our own promising, new connections during this time. As Rance puts it, our collective desire for “love will never go away at the end of the day.”

Ultimately, even though dating will always be somewhat of a toss-up, continuing to meet prospective new partners (even on FaceTime) — or keeping up any sort of fun, unexpected social interaction that lends a bit of normalcy to these crazy times — has been a welcome change of pace from never-ending doom and gloom. Though we can’t yet predict what dating in isolation’s long-term impact will be on the dating landscape itself, let’s hope some of this new openness, attention and follow-through will stay with all of us when we finally re-emerge out of our homes and into the world.

*Names have been changed.

Welcome to “Sex with Sandra,” a column by Sandra Song about the ever-changing face of sexuality. Whether it be spotlight features on sex work activists, deep dives into hyper-niche fetishes, or overviews on current legislation and policy, “Sex with Sandra” is dedicated to examining some of the biggest sex-related discussions happening on the Internet right now.

Photo via Getty

The Former Disney Stars Are Doing Alright

Internetty: From the people who broke the internet, a look at the week’s biggest online news, trends and social media phenomena. No subject is off limits, and no topic is taboo.

This week on Internetty, Peyton and Justin discuss their pits and peaks of the week including a night out in Brooklyn with a few former Disney stars. Then they’re joined by the genius behind PAPER’s Internet Explorer column, Sandra Song, to dive into some hilarious moments from Fashion Week and TikTok’s move into the mainstream.

Listen to Internetty on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.

Illustration: Hilton Dresden / Photo via Instagram

Gay Porn Star Demands Bottoms Get Paid Equal to Tops

As we continue to grapple with the issue of pay inequity and transparency across industries, one performer has kickstarted the conversation within the gay porn realm — and from the responses, it seems as if this is a discussion that was long overdue.

Last weekend, Armond Rizzo took to his Twitter to call out a studio called Blacks on Boys for allegedly underpaying bottoms in their productions. In a series of tweets and a follow-up livestream video, Rizzo said that the studio claimed the pay discrepancy was due to the fact that “the site is more top dominant.”

“I don’t give a fuck who are you to say that a bottom is worth less????” he wrote, before writing, “For @BlacksOnBoys if your wondering what my response is to working for you I think your [sic] smart enough to know that, it’s going to be a big NO THANKS! I don’t care that you even raised my fee up. It’s just unjust you pay bottoms less and for that I decline working for you!”

Though a request for comment went unanswered by Blacks on Boys’ parent company, Dog Fart, Rizzo tells PAPER that he was “shocked” by the company’s supposed pay rate policy. Explaining that he was recently approached by Blacks on Boys to do a scene in line with the site’s fetish, which revolves around videos of Black performers tag-teaming a light-skinned or white model, Rizzo says that the pay rate was far below what he expected. According to him, he was initially offered between $400 to $500 — a figure the site apparently said was their minimum rate for bottoms.

“I was like, why am I getting paid that low?” he says, before touching on the site’s “top dominant” rationale. “I was like, that still makes no fucking sense, because I’m the one who’s taking two dicks.”

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And while they kept trying to up the rate — eventually making a final offer of $1,000, alongside the caveat that Rizzo would “be the only person getting that” — at that point, Rizzo said he came to the realization that this was an issue that was “beyond me.”

He explains, “It’s not about me if I’m hearing that other bottoms are getting paid that fucking low for the amount of work they do. It just doesn’t sit well with me, so I was like, I don’t care if I just lost $1,000. That to me, isn’t even what’s important. What’s important is what other models are going through.”

“Bottoms are seen as women, tops are men who can do no wrong. It’s all about masculinity.”

After all, if Rizzo — as an established, award-winning performer — was getting low-balled like that, then what were studios doing to newer bottoms? And, more importantly, how pervasive was this problem? “At first it was my hunch, but then a lot of people started reaching out to me like, ‘Oh my god, thank you for calling this out,'” he says. “It is actually happening, but they’re too afraid to speak out, because they’re new in the industry.”

As Rizzo points out, being a bottom is “a lot of fucking work if you break it down.” Detailing everything from the amount of work he does on set to the health risks of constantly cleaning out, he explained that he believes it’s really “all about the bottom.”

He says, “I’ve made a career literally out of being a bottom, so when people say the bottoms not important, I’m like, ‘So where’s the dick going into then? Are we just having a jack-off scene or what?’ No hole, no shoot.”

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Rizzo points toward the dismissal of bottoms as further proof of a larger problem rooted in misogyny and related to the fact that society tends to “fetishize” masculinity. “A woman cannot be strong without someone being like, ‘She’s on her period.’ But a man can go off, and they’re like, ‘That’s the powerful person,'” Rizzo explains. “It’s the same thing in the porn industry. Bottoms are seen as women, tops are men who can do no wrong. It’s all about masculinity.” He pauses for a moment, before adding, “I hate to say it like this, but they try to treat us like we’re women, because we are the ones taking it.”

That said, if the response to his tweets is any indication, it does seem as if Rizzo’s decision to say something is helping to further a very important conversation about pay disparities in gay porn. In the wake of his posts, many fans and performers — tops and bottoms, alike — have begun to publicly speak out on the subject, sharing their stories while demanding accountability from studios like Blacks on Boys.

Granted, Rizzo reiterates that his ability to speak out on this issue was mostly contingent on the fact that he’s a well-known model with a devoted following and an independent contractor without any major studio ties or commitments — which means he has “nothing to lose, because I got myself here.” Therefore, Rizzo says he’s not particularly worried about losing work if he’s blacklisted by some gay sites, seeing as how he still has access to tools like OnlyFans, which he believes “gives a lot of power back to performers.”

“You can cut me from the studios, but that doesn’t mean I can’t come back and take money from them,” he explains. And while he adds that he was unsure of how things would play out, he emphasizes that the most important part of this for him was utilizing his platform to advocate for other bottoms, especially seeing as how he remembers being “used” at the beginning of his career, “and doesn’t want them to have to go through that either.”

“As I tell my fans, do more with your following. It’s not just about the money. Speak up, because you may not know who out there may need to hear what you have to say,” he says. “I’m just out here telling people what’s happening to me in real time. So, instead of just allowing something to happen, I have the power to change it.”

Welcome to “Sex with Sandra,” a column by Sandra Song about the ever-changing face of sexuality. Whether it be spotlight features on sex work activists, deep dives into hyper-niche fetishes, or overviews on current legislation and policy, “Sex with Sandra” is dedicated to examining some of the biggest sex-related discussions happening on the Internet right now.

Photo courtesy of Armond Rizzo

The Financial Dominatrix Making Space for Black Sex Workers

Financial domination, an erotic form of humiliation that involves a subordinate losing control of their wallet to the dominant, has been getting a lot of airtime in the past few years. However, despite findom’s empowered rhetoric and glamorous reputation, it can also be a somewhat difficult subset of sex work to break into — and that’s what Mistress Marley is trying to fix.

An NYC-based dominatrix with a client roster that includes “a 19-year-old kid in college who can only tribute $50 a month to a wealthy guy on Wall Street who can contribute a $1000,” Marley has subs across the board that do everything from pay her bills to send her gifts — which, on paper, can only be described as a dream job. That said, as a Black woman who started off without any guidance, she says getting to this point was a trying journey in and of itself.

After losing her job in 2017, Marley began looking into ways to “make money as a woman online using your sexuality.” Because while she had been a stripper before, this time around she was looking to control her work hours from the comfort of her own home — something that eventually led her to Twitter’s findom community.

“The biggest difference between findomming and other forms of sex work is that you don’t have to really be in physical contact with anyone,” she says. “Doing that in the safety of your home, branding and marketing it, being able to do your safety screening on your own. This form of sex work gives you more control.”

Related | People Are Identifying as Digisexual. Here’s What That Means.

However, Marley adds that breaking into this particular line of work proved to be somewhat of a challenge. Starting without a mentor, Marley researched and studied what others were doing for almost half a year before even deciding to make a Twitter for herself — though the initial pushback she received from other findommes was, at times, discouraging.

“There were times when I’d go into other dommes’ inboxes, and they’d give me the cold shoulder, ignore me, or be rude,” she says. “They were like, I had to figure it out myself, because they figured it out themselves.”

Partially inspired by her own experience, Marley decided to create the Black Domme Sorority this past July. A “safe space for Black and Afro-Latina women to come together,” the 1,000 member strong organization allows newbies and veterans alike the ability to chat with each other and attend classes taught by Marley across the country. After all, as Marley says, within a space where many of the most visible players are white women, the importance of helping other women of color — who often “have to work harder, especially in terms of content and marketing and branding ourselves” — can’t be understated.

“There are a lot of Black women out there that can find complete financial freedom doing kinks like this, and there’s a market for it,” Marley says. She emphasizes the benefits of visibility, especially when talking about introducing other women to the subset of findom that revolves around reparations, Black female supremacy, and power-reversal play that sees white subs “living to serve us.” However, as she points out, given that even “talking about kink and fetish is still very taboo within the Black community,” she wanted the Black Domme Sorority to exist as a way of educating aspiring Black and Afro-Latina dommes.

“We don’t have that help,” she says. “But once people see someone who looks like them doing it, they’re more motivated to try.”

Above all though, she says the organization is meant to act as a support network for its members, whether that comes in the form of providing job opportunities for each other, creating emergency funds for sisters in need, or sharing essential industry-specific information — especially in a post-FOSTA/SESTA landscape. From teaching women about protecting their social media accounts from deletion to tips about dealing with banking institutions, the educational scope of the sorority is far-reaching, especially as findom has become much more visible.

While there’s something to be said about its increasing pop cultural presence, Marley admits that there are a lot of fundamental misunderstandings about findom still floating around. Reiterating that findommes don’t necessarily need to meet up or ever touch a client, she goes on to detail her annoyance with the idea that findomming as a concept is exploitative — even though pro findommes will never ask their subs for money.

“With the findom community, it is a bragging game,” she says, explaining that many findommes post their tributes as it encourages other subs to donate. “But when some people see all these big tributes coming in, they’re like, ‘Oh, you guys are just taking someone’s money. They’re not going to have any money for themselves.’ That’s not true.”

As Marley points out, most of the subs coming into the scene know that they won’t get anything, even something as small as a picture, in return. “But that’s part of their kink and why they like it,” she says, calling it a power-reversal “fantasy.” But it’s up to the sub themselves to know their financial limits when it comes to their tributes.

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“If you have a sub that’s like, ‘Oh my God, Goddess, I don’t have any money, you’re taking all my money, that’s just part of the fantasy,” she continues. “The misconception that we are taking people’s money and being completely selfish and not caring if they have anything to spend is just wrong.”

Despite the negativity, Marley is still enamored with her job, as it allows her to “connect with so many different people and help them fulfill a fantasy, all while getting paid and feeling safe.” In fact, she sees findomming — as well as her advocation and education of other Black findommes — as a long-lasting career move.

“My goal is to open up a BDSM dungeon for Black and Afro-Latina women,” Marley says. “We do have dungeons [in NYC], but they’re very white-centric, so my goal is to have a safe space for us. And if that safe space can be funded by my findomming, well, that would just be amazing.”

Welcome to “Sex with Sandra,” a column by Sandra Song about the ever-changing face of sexuality. Whether it be spotlight features on sex work activists, deep dives into hyper-niche fetishes, or overviews on current legislation and policy, “Sex with Sandra” is dedicated to examining some of the biggest sex-related discussions happening on the Internet right now.

Photography: Lanee Bird

People Are Identifying as Digisexual. Here’s What That Means.

At this point, tech has taken over many different facets of our lives, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that sex tech is on the rise. And while many of us have used things like a smart vibrator at least once or twice in the past, for some people the integration of technology within their sex lives goes much further than that. In fact, for many of them, it has become its very own sexual identity known as digisexuality.


A term first introduced via Drs. Neil McArthur and Markie L.C. Twist’s 2017 Journal of Sexual and Relationship Therapy paper, “The Rise of Digisexuality: Therapeutic Challenges and Possibilities,” a digisexual is someone whose “primary sexual identity comes through the use of technology.” So if a big part of your sexual experiences and connections with another person have come via things such as sexting or Skype, you’re probably also a digisexual.


Falling within this categorization is the use of teledildonics, or tech that helps facilitate remote sex between people. And while teledildonics as a field is still relatively new, it’s also one that’s growing fast and will likely be widely used very soon, according to teledildonics pioneer and OhMiBod founder Suki Dunham.


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Founded in 2006 with the intention of helping “enhance relationships by bridging the intimacy divide that also happens because of technology,” OhMiBod was, up until recently, one of the only sex tech companies really trying to integrate interactive tech into sex toys. However, as Dunham explains, the number of new competitors entering the space indicates that people are increasingly drawn to these types of products. Granted, that isn’t surprising to her given the fact that technology has become an integral part of everyday life.


“For Gen Z’ers and millennial, they grew up in an age where intimacy was happening digitally,” she says. “We already are digisexuals by nature of the fact that technology like this exists, and this is how people are interfacing daily.”


While that aspect of digisexuality is likely relatable, as Dr. McArthur tells PAPER, the term still carries some stigma. That’s mostly thanks to a second, emerging type of digisexuality — one that encompasses the use of immersive technologies like robots or VR to experience sexual pleasure, sans any other humans.


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Though there are a few real world examples of this second wave shift — such as the Japanese man who married hologram Hatsune Miku in 2018 — as Dr. McArthur says, “a lot of it is still quite underground” thanks to misconceptions about identifying as a digisexual. Being digisexual is far more than just marrying a sex robot. As he explains, though they’ve found a lot of people who do identify as digisexuals during their research, they’re “almost never willing to speak publicly” about the matter thanks to the stigma attached to the concept as a whole. But where exactly does he believe this stigma comes from?


Primarily, he attributes it to a mischaracterization of those who use immersive sex tech, particularly sex robots. Because while the many sci-fi stories sexually pairing humans with robots — à la Blade Runner or Westworld — may prove that there’s always been “fascination” with the concept, on the other hand, Dr. McArthur notes that this media fixation on sex robots is also rooted in a great amount of “repulsion.”


“The mainstream understanding is that it’s all just lonely men,” he explains, before touching on the fact that people have always been simultaneously intrigued and panicked by anything that has to do with either sex or tech. “Destigmatization [of the digisexual label] means getting past that misunderstanding.” Dr. McArthur also believes the sex robotics industry itself helps to proliferate the stigma, as everything “is just so clearly male-oriented and directed at a certain kind of stereotype” — something that Dunham also agrees with.


“It ignores women for sure, because men will spend major bucks on masturbators that work with VR porn,” Dunham explains. “And yet, when you look to see what’s available or an equivalent for women, our Fuse [bi-directional vibrator] is the next best thing.”


Coupled with this misunderstanding is the alarmist concern that digisexuality will spell the death of real relationships, as people begin to “disappear into their tech.” However, this is something that Dr. McArthur also believes is unlikely given the fact that many people are already choosing to be single, with or without sex tech or identification with the digisexual label, for a variety of reasons. Plus, as he theorizes, “while relationships are hard and tech is easy,” people will hopefully realize that “human relationships have payouts that people won’t forget.”


The main takeaway is that many of us are digisexual, though there’s a lot of work to be done in terms of lessening the stigma surrounding the concept — even though you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t fall into this categorization. Because unless you’re part of the “vanishing minority of people who have no relation to technology or don’t use technology in their relationships,” there’s little reason to be afraid of this terminology, which basically describes a larger shift in the way we approach sex.


So, in short, continue sexting, because digisexuality, and everything it entails, is definitely not going anywhere anytime soon.


Welcome to “Sex with Sandra,” a column by Sandra Song about the ever-changing face of sexuality. Whether it be spotlight features on sex work activists, deep dives into hyper-niche fetishes, or overviews on current legislation and policy, “Sex with Sandra” is dedicated to examining some of the biggest sex-related discussions happening on the Internet right now.


Photo via Getty