TikTok’s Excessive Labors: Attention, Algorithms, and Aestheticized Content Creation

TikTok’s Excessive Labors: Attention, Algorithms, and Aestheticized Content Creation

Peitho Volume 26, Issue 2, Winter 2024

Author(s): Ashley Hay

Ashley Hay is a PhD student at The Pennsylvania State University in the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences. She received her Master’s degree in Communication and Rhetorical Studies from Syracuse University. Her research interests lie in a/sexuality, sex education, digital rhetoric, and the formation of sexual subjectivities in online spaces. 

Abstract: Although much has been written about the gendered nature of work in feminized online contexts, critical attention to masculine postfeminist iterations of work is growing. By interrogating how femininity and neoliberal sensibilities extend beyond cisgender female bodies, scholars can attune to the political effects of neoliberalism and postfeminism upon differently positioned digital subjects. This is especially relevant in the context of content creators whose success hinges on the relationships they form with their audience—as with sex working content creators, whose labor lies at the nexus of the content creation and sex work economies. Through a frame of rhetorical excess, this essay attends to emerging rhetorical and material strategies of work designed to capture the attention and libidinal energies of viewers. Specifically, I analyze TikTok content creator Repairman67’s navigation of the digital attention economy, whose positionally specific strategies construct authority and intimacy even as he carefully navigates TikTok’s changing platform constraints. Pedagogical short-form videos and livestreamed lifestyle content represent excessive iterations of work in the attention economy; through their production, Repairman67 encourages viewers' consumption of his technosexual identity.  


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 Popular TikTok content creator Repairman67’s username reads as a subtle play on a pornographic trope: a blue-collar worker—a “repairman,” though sometimes alternately a plumber, pool boy, or delivery man—enters a woman’s house and fulfills all her sexual fantasies. In this fantasy, the repairman is a stand-in for the everyman: an ordinary, lower-to-middle-class figure who encounters a sultry, sexualized middle-to-upper-class woman to whom he readily provides his “services.” It is a classic, though dated, trope for a reason: men, the primary viewers of porn, can see themselves in the everyman figure and believably fantasize about a woman who is as wildly attracted to them as they are to her.  

With 1.3 million TikTok followers, smaller Instagram and X (formerly Twitter) accounts, an active OnlyFans presence, a merch line of sweatshirts and sweatpants, and a podcast, Repairman67 is well-known as a frequent thirst trapper, kinky sex educator, online sex worker, and general lifestyle influencer.[1] Despite his name’s allusions to a pornographic trope, however, Repairman67 explains his username on his FAQ page in a different, more personally revealing, way: “When you call a repairman he fixes things and then leaves. You don’t keep the repairman around after he has done his job” (Repairman67, “Repairman’s FAQ”). Repairman67 himself, at least in this public document, does not associate his name with its pornographic allusion, which represents a twisty, salient reminder. Despite Repairman67’s roots in online sex work, his public brand holds meaning beyond a flattened reading of one part of his online persona. This juxtaposition offers a frame of reference for this essay: the labor of content creators online is usually not as neat or cohesive as we might initially believe. The changing demands of the attention economy drive creators to create fluid and responsive textual and paratextual content for both their viewers and the platforms upon which they operate.   

Repairman67 is a useful case study to examine gender and the rhetoricity of work for a few reasons. On the one hand, Repairman67 is emblematic of a cohort of creators who occupy a contested digital space that conjoins sex work, content creation, and aestheticized forms of labor, whose precarity rests largely on financial instability, risks of de-platforming, and identity-based harassment (Are and Briggs 2; Duffy, Ononye and Sawey 14; Rand and Stegeman 2103). On the other hand, Repairman67’s content creation has undergone rapid transformation, which can lend insight into the pace of digital life and labor—a pace which is, by all accounts, increasing every day, even as this temporality participates in broader systems of power (Sharma 9; van Djick). Repairman67 also occupies a relatively unique space on TikTok, demonstrating the co-constituting forces of gender, sexuality, and race in the context of content creation and sex work. His online presence carries an aesthetic and an ethos driven largely by his appearance, which is white, slender, tattooed, pink-haired, and masculine.  

Although much has been written about the gendered nature of work in feminized contexts, critical attention to masculine neoliberal iterations of work is a burgeoning field of study. Driven by economic precarity, highly competitive markets, and outsourced labor, neoliberal workplaces produce neoliberal subjects—workers who are both entrepreneurial subjects and surveilled, laboring bodies (Moore and Robinson 2776). From a gendered standpoint, neoliberalism shares key logics with postfeminism, including those of personal choice and individualistic enterprise (Banet-Weiser, Gill, and Rottenberg 10; Gill, Kelen, and Scharff 231). By interrogating femininity and postfeminist sensibilities that extend beyond cisgender female bodies, scholars can attune to the political effects of neoliberalism and postfeminism upon differently positioned digital subjects (O’Neill 115; Rumens 252). This is especially relevant in the context of content creators whose success hinges on the relationships they form with their audience, which, in a postfeminist context, entails emotional and entrepreneurial forms of work.  

Sex working content creators face additional constraints beyond the average content creator, particularly in the formation of these relationships. Like other gig workers, sex workers on TikTok are often simultaneously “entrepreneurs, independent contractors, employees, contracted and freelance managers, and producers” (Berg, “A Scene is Just a Marketing Tool” 161). However, unlike other gig workers, they navigate an algorithmic landscape that liberally and frequently removes their content for violating TikTok’s 2023 Terms of Service, which bans “sex, sexual arousal, fetish and kink behavior, and seeking or offering sexual services” (“Terms of Service”). However, this algorithmic landscape is also increasingly defined by user experiences of digital lethargy, detachment, disillusionment, and fatigue (Berry and Dieter 5). This culture contributes to what Sarah Banet-Weiser calls an “economy of visibility,” where digital workers face precarity, targeted content moderation, and opaque platform governance as they seek popularity metrics within a highly competitive industry (2). Subsequently, TikTok has become a space utilized to amass followings and then to send followers off-app to more lucrative revenue streams, such as OnlyFans or Etsy. This all points to a broad technological sexscape that demands ever-evolving strategies to capture user attention, harness libidinal energies, direct followers to external income streams, and respond to changing algorithmic and social codes to remain successful. In other words, Repairman67’s livelihood rests upon his ability to remain visible by creating content, forming relationships, navigating TikTok’s algorithms, and directing attention to and beyond his sexual content—work that represents, in this essay, excessive forms of labor.  

Indeed, content creators labor in a technological environment driven by logics of excess writ large. In Bodies of Work: The Labour of Sex in the Digital Age, Rebecca Saunders argues that excess is “crucial to the ways in which digital pornography binds sexual desire to digital capitalism” (28). Excess is therefore tethered to the digital attention economy, where the viewer finds their time searching for pornography prolonged—it is the journey, not the destination, that draws the viewer in, certain that fulfillment of their sexual desires is always just around the corner. As Saunders writes, “the unfulfillable and insatiable nature of desire materialised in the endless pornographic possibilities of digital porn creates the conditions for further, economised searching” (48). In other words, digital pornography is defined by rhetorical and visual excesses. As I argue in this essay, this excess is rooted not only in the materiality of sex or bodies, nor in desire alone, but also in the interwoven platformification and circulation of libidinal energy online.  

Although there is, officially, no pornography on TikTok, excess here speaks to a broader cultural imperative that has left its imprint on digital space. The algorithms behind TikTok’s platform—their perpetual collection of data, never-ending touchpoints through which people are moved and transformed by coded space—also represent, and produce, further forms of excess. For example, when TikTok adopted the policy to suspend creators with direct links to OnlyFans, Repairman67 changed his bio to link out only to his Etsy shop, relying on his followers’ investment of time and knowledge to find him elsewhere, representing additional work for both him and his followers. Despite these constraints, however, Repairman67’s original identity is not left behind—he participates in this digital excess through increasingly nuanced strategies for capturing libidinal attention. Subsequently—at least on TikTok—it is not sex that Repairman67’s viewers are consuming, but his entire technosexual identity.[2] 

In this essay, I turn my attention to Repairman67’s navigation of the digital attention economy as an example of a creator with a multiplatform digital strategy whose excessive iteration of labor is located in both the content creation and sex work economies. Spanning approximately one year—October 2022 to October 2023—this essay attends to Repairman67’s changing modes of work responsive to TikTok’s changing platform. First, I frame this project through a material feminist lens driven by TikTok’s neoliberal and algorithmic platform. Then, I argue that facets of Repairman67’s identity are strategically leveraged through work that includes his construction of a pedagogical ethos—where he performs and commodifies his sexual authority—and his livestreamed lifestyle—which invokes intimacy with his viewers by collapsing the borders between his work and personal life. Finally, I discuss two takeaways of this essay, refocusing on what we can glean from Repairman67’s positional location within the broader paradigm of material feminist work.  

Sex Work, Content Creation, and the Attention Economy  

Locating sex working content creators’ labor on TikTok calls for attention to both a gendered neoliberal ethos shaping work expectations for digital laborers and to platform structures that content creators navigate to make themselves—and their work—visible before a wide audience. In neoliberal contexts, there is the tendency to treat individuals as businesses: the neoliberal subject is a constellation of traits and assets which must be invested in and optimized for maximum output (Gershon 539). Rooted in market rationality, self-optimization becomes a logic unto itself, where the individual is expected to remain in a state of upward growth. For content creators and influencers laboring online, these neoliberal rationalities can be highly gendered.  

Gendered labor can take the form of viewers’ expectations for content creators to perform authenticity and produce aspirational content. For example, Emily Hund points out that the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated viewers’ desire for influencer authenticity—a performance of ‘real life’ intimacy, often by women—which was already heightened through continual and ephemeral technologies, like livestreams (141). Even prior to the pandemic, Brooke Erin Duffy’s account of the aspirational labor system of social media production, largely driven by women, describes a rhetoric of creative production paired with a rhetoric of brand consumption, reifying feminized norms—including demands for ‘authenticity’—of neoliberal digital cultural work (443). Other norms can include a valorization of entrepreneurship (Brown 22), a hyper-individuated ethos of responsibility (Banet-Weiser, Gill, and Rottenberg 8), and a mobilization of futurity (Rottenberg 339). These norms are not unique to, even if they are frequently driven by, female digital subjects. For example, Shirley Xue Chen and Akane Kanai point to gay male beauty influencers’ mobilization of “girlfriendship,” a highly gendered digital intimacy that can be leveraged to forge affective bonds and sell products (103). They argue that gay male influencers participate in postfeminist hegemonies through their performance of “authentic” individuality, campy femininity, and depoliticized queerness before their predominantly female audiences (113). Within this neoliberal workplace, men adopt performative markers of successful feminine entrepreneurship to achieve visibility—like authenticity and aspirational content. Content creators who strategically subvert some norms of hegemonic masculinity, while upholding others, can find success in feminized digital work contexts.  

Content creators also interact with TikTok in fluid, strategic, and, occasionally, subversive ways. TikTok is notable for its platform governance through recommendation algorithms, where app users interact primarily with a curated feed (called the “For You Page,” hereafter “FYP”) that is constellated through massive amounts of collected data. The result is a churning, fluid environment that features algorithmically determined videos on an “infinite scroll” that can produce extreme “filter bubbles” for its users (Wang 63). Feminist scholars have long been vocal critics of the matrices of power that underlie interaction among technological artifacts, generated epistemes, and cultural imaginaries (Haraway 39; Murray and Ankerman 54). Algorithms and code represent digital infrastructures with tangible constraints and implications, and much scholarship has pointed out that presumably “objective” computational forces have material and oppressive effects on our lives (see Bucher; Kotliar; Noble).  

The contemporary creator economy is driven by codes—many quite literal—both online and off.[3] Feminist scholars are subsequently well-positioned to consider how creators, platform users, and codes co-constitute each other with an eye toward disrupted normativities, embodied performances, and changing economic, political, and libidinal economies. Contemporary coding sorts bodies and produces space through biopolitical regulation, the transformation of users into objects via coding, and the augmentation of spatial experience through digital representations (Cockayne and Richardson 1643). Thus, when code helps to construct a workplace, as it does for a growing cohort of laborers online, we must recognize its regulatory spatial resonance. Code’s biopolitical regulation of social life and digital space produces norms that render some bodies identifiable—and legible—and others transgressive and illegible (Are and Briggs 2; Cheney-Lippold 171; Cockayne and Richardson 1650). This shapes how bodies move through code, and how code moves through bodies—a necessarily opaque process, but nonetheless one which is productive for thinking through human interaction with digital platforms.  

Digital platform economies are therefore spaces where domination and oppression are multiple and interwoven, particularly for those at the margins (Durham 127). Sex workers are “caught up in complicity with hegemonies a well as resistances against them” in the context of technosexual demands in the digital economy (Durham 127). In scholarly contexts, universalized gestures of western feminism struggle to account for online porn content creators’ contextual interactions with economies of sexual desire. As Heather Berg argues, research that resists exceptionalizing and pathologizing sex workers can deepen our understanding of work under late-stage capitalism (“Labouring Porn Studies” 75). Platforms, however, can participate in the devaluation of sex work, reinforce existing racial hierarchies, and foster competition between sex workers (Rand and Stegeman 2113). In the second quarter of 2023, for example, TikTok suspended just over eight million “LIVE” sessions, and 39% of video removals were due to violations of “Sensitive and Mature Themes” (“Community Guidelines Enforcement Report”). Sex work and producers of sexual services—particularly those considered transgressive or kinky—exist within a stigmatized public sphere which has historically pathologized nonnormative sexual behaviors, creating an impetus for creators of kinky sexuality to hide their content.  

On TikTok, Repairman67, like other creators of sexual content, participates in a digital sexual landscape characterized by a fragmented constellation of practices designed to appear before interested audiences while simultaneously subverting TikTok’s algorithmic and censoring gaze. Hashtags, for example, can signal sexual content to users while simultaneously subverting algorithmic moderation. A generic hashtag like #fyp would indicate that a creator hopes their video gets picked up and placed in front of new and unpredictable audiences, widening their digital reach—but using no hashtags at all would usually indicate the opposite. Creators will use variations of terms that signal specific interests or identities without outright declaring “sexually explicit” content, such as #bratsoftiktok, #femdomtok, or #seggsytime. Repairman67 almost never uses captions (the text below a TikTok video) or public hashtags, but when he does, he uses the simple hashtag #ding, signifying that he is neither trying to reach broad audiences through the FYP nor trying to speak exclusively to a #KinkTok subculture. #ding is a hashtag unique to Repairman67’s own content, and although it’s difficult to ascertain why he chose it to locate to his own content, there is doubtless some strategy behind its use. Like users, scholars hoping to access kinky, surveilled content on TikTok must remain aware of the platform’s censoring gaze, in addition to the codes designed by and disseminated from content creators on the platform. There is much unspoken and unseen labor from sex working content creators behind the scenes—their strategies to both utilize and subvert censoring algorithms, paired with more traditional strategies of visibility, authenticity, and aspiration is, in short, excessive. This recognition drives my analysis of Repairman67’s paratextual, textual, and visual strategy in two types of content: his instructional short-form video series and his casual, domestic livestreams.  

Pedagogical Excess: Sexpert-as-Commodity  

Through a frame of excess, I see Repairman67’s rhetorical and material modes of economic production across platforms, brands, and performances as labor strategies driven by neoliberal rationalities and technosexual demands in the attention economy. Repairman67’s labor exists at the nexus of both the libidinally excessive expectations of contemporary pornography and the quantitatively excessive algorithmic demands for the public performance and dissemination of the self. Subsequently, Repairman67’s pedagogical work is responsive, in part, to TikTok’s algorithms that simultaneously censor and circulate, which code a workplace that the content creator must utilize, maximize, and circumvent to achieve visibility.  

As a form of work closely tied to his sex work, Repairman67’s educational TikToks encourage consumption of his sexual knowledge and expertise. This a performance akin to Paula Sequiera-Rovira’s porn star sexologists who leverage their pedagogical experience to become figures of sexual authority (142). Between July and October 2022, Repairman67 had produced a series of seven educational videos—each receiving hundreds of thousands of views—scripting various questions that newcomers to BDSM (Bondage/Discipline, Dominance/Submission, Sadism/Masochism) scenes might ask. Through this series, Repairman67 constructs his pedagogical authority to cover topics ranging from roleplay to aftercare (Repairman67, “#ding,” 23 Aug. 2022; Repairman67, “#ding,” 5 Oct. 2022). In each of the seven videos, Repairman67 plays two personas: the door-knocking questioner looking for guidance on a variety of BDSM topics, signifying a “sub,” or submissive BDSM positionality, and the “boss” who provides knowledge and erotic guidance, akin to a “dom,” or dominant positionality. 

Every video opens with the first persona, Repairman67’s confused self. This persona is casual, often wearing a plain t-shirt or hoodie, featuring just a head and upper torso. Questions introduced immediately after the greeting, include “is subspace, like, a real thing?” and “does it always have to be about pain?”, which frame the content of the rest of the video. Immediately after the question is asked, the video jumps to Repairman67’s second persona, the “boss.” This persona dresses differently, wearing thin gold glasses and a dark suit, sitting behind what is, presumably, a desk. Frequently, the boss will follow up with questions of his own or provide a brief answer which leads to further questions from the first persona, facilitating a back-and-forth exchange that becomes more specific over the course of the video. Repairman67’s formal dress, location behind a desk, subtle leatherwear, and concerned-but-eventually-declarative language construct a power differential between the two characters characteristic of a dom/sub relationship.  

In this series, Repairman67 is not just a pedagogical authority sharing advice, but also an object of desire: one brief glance at the comment section of these videos demonstrates that viewers can learn something about BDSM while simultaneously enjoying the eroticism of Repairman67’s dual performances. And although the series ended relatively quickly—it lasted only about three months—the imprint of Repairman67’s sexual authority is visible in later videos, where he occasionally answers BDSM-specific questions from his comment sections and livestreams. This form of content creation marries libidinal energies with a pedagogical offering. The labor that Repairman67 invested in this short video series is not merely that of content creation—the inventive work to script, shoot, and publish—but also that of visibility, persona, and affect, excessive in their extension into the content creator’s commodified persona. Viewers are encouraged to consume not just the erotic performance of the sex working content creator, but also the sexual episteme they embody and dispense. This is one step toward the transformation of Repairman67’s brand, where viewers find consumptive value in not just sex-as-commodity, but, more importantly, sexpert-as-commodity.  

Authority is a pivotal part of the creator economy, although expertise online can take many forms. Repairman67’s path to acquiring authority—which, in turn, supports visibility and quantitative metrics—is, in part, facilitated by his sex work experience and positionality. That Repairman67’s positionality can be viewed as emblematic of one iteration of masculine sexual success means that his content creation and visual appearance together are essential aspects of his digital work. Repairman67 performs a desiring, and desired, figure in these instructional videos, allowing his audiences to map onto his performance their own desire for knowledge, expertise, and sexual success. Thus, we see one strategy of content creation in the attention economy: the production of content that specifically utilizes and deploys various parts of the content creator’s constructed persona, where each of these parts are available for consumption.   

Livestreamed Excess: Lifestyle-as-Commodity 

Beyond pedagogical consumption, viewers can also consume Repairman67’s mediated lifestyle and sexual practice through viewing and interacting with his frequent livestreams. This is a relatively recent transformation of Repairman67’s digital content strategy. When this project began, in October of 2022, Repairman solely produced TikTok content in the form of short-form videos; as of October of 2023, Repairman67 livestreams almost every day. Livestreams are both a lucrative revenue stream and another strategy for creators to find visibility on the platform. As with TikTok videos, livestreams will appear in FYPs through TikTok’s recommendation algorithms, making the visibility creators can achieve with livestreams a game of both strategy and chance. TikTok’s “LIVE” feature allows viewers to buy “Coins” in-app to send “Gifts” to select creators, which range from one coin (worth just over one cent) to thirty thousand coins (about four hundred dollars).[4] Viewers can also comment publicly on the livestream, and content creators can respond at their discretion. When Repairman67 livestreams, he works to encourage viewers’ consumption of his entire persona through access to his offline lifestyle. In contrast to his pedagogical videos, Repairman67’s livestreams feature a casual, “unfiltered” intimacy from the privacy of his home. 

Repairman67’s livestreams, most fundamentally, showcase the more mundane elements of his lifestyle and appearance. He wanders around his house, makes coffee, responds to comments about his clothing and hair, and occasionally answers questions specific to sex and kink. In the latter case, this typically involves product recommendations, answers to technical questions asking for further detail on advice he’s given before, or, more rarely, responses to general inquiries about topics like wax play or aftercare. Rhetorically, this sends a nuanced message about the consumption of the worker in the context of sexuality, a domain often imagined as confined to the private. The thinning borders between public and private in the context of the livestream—where viewers are invited into the creator’s mediated home—comes into conflict with the excision of kink from the public sphere and relegation to the “private” bedroom (or dungeon). For sex working content creators, the growing cultural expectation that “influencers must continuously navigate a porous border between personhood and business” is textured by these cultural constraints (Hund 150).  

Repairman67, notably, does not stream from his bedroom, which, for sex working content creators, might carry pornographic undertones—instead, his “private sphere” is his living room or kitchen, each mundane in their own way. This distances the livestreams from his more overt sex work—possibly for the sake of TikTok’s censoring gaze—yet still invokes a degree of intimacy through his audience’s virtual invitation into his “authentic” living space. The tension between public and private are negotiated through careful attention to the material location of the livestream. The sex working content creator, even when—especially when—not performing sex remains beholden to the excessive demands of the many economies in which they are embedded. Although TikTok’s platform is one workplace for content creators, the home is another; it is not uncommon for content creators to use their home as a regular backdrop in their content. This heightens the collapse between home and work, and public and private, even as the collapse promotes viewers’ perception of intimacy and authenticity.  

Although previously Repairman67 constructed a sexual authority through his pedagogical work on the platform, here Repairman67 performs a casual, intimate masculinity reminiscent of postfeminist “girlfriendship” cultures that produce “authentic” interactions between content creator and viewer (Chen and Kanai 100). With an eye toward Tristan Bridges and C. J. Pascoe’s work on “hybrid masculinities”—men’s selective and dynamic uptake of traits stereotypically associated with marginalized masculinities and femininities—the labor underwriting Repairman67’s alternative performance of sexual success becomes more visible (246). Repairman67 is white, muscular, tattooed, pink-haired, and straight: superficial markers of a persona that engages a “dialectical pragmatism” to play with social and symbolic boundaries of masculine sexual success from a relatively risk-free position (Demetriou 345). Repairman67’s visual appearance nods to his transgressive sexual content and opens the door for his participation in the gendered sphere of sex advice, traditionally dominated by women’s magazines (Frischherz 553). Repairman67’s constructs a gendered intimacy through his appearance, the location from which he livestreams, and his dynamic, casual interactions with viewers. On the one hand, white, kinky masculinity engenders an iteration of sexual success through sanctioned desire, authority, and credibility; on the other, hybrid masculine alignment with kinky, BDSM, historically queer communities facilitates a degree of trust predicated upon his authenticity, mundane lifestyle, and invitation into the private home. Significantly, while Repairman67’s performance of kinky hybrid masculinity remains transgressive under TikTok’s official guidelines, both BDSM and pornography have, in recent years, faced widespread corporatization under consumer capitalist cultural forces (Saunders; Weiss). Further, given Repairman67’s following and reach, the culturally transgressive nature of his content is debatable.  

Regardless, Repairman67’s TikTok livestreams illustrate the transformation of the content creator through several vectors. Polyvalent performances of desire slot neatly into platformed channels of desire, and both together contribute to an ethos of excess in the late capitalist digital sphere. It is not just Repairman67’s visual appearance, but also his material location which represents gendered strategies of work in this algorithmic neoliberal sphere. Repairman67 operates in a sphere in which postfeminist, neoliberal narratives of sex work dominate public perception, but he leverages these constraints and an iteration of hybrid masculine sexuality to construct an “authentic” intimacy with his viewers, where sexual production is, if never fully absent, certainly pushed to the background.  

Between October 2022 and October 2023, Repairman67 decentered his sex-work-specific content and re-centered his lifestyle content, selling his holistic self as a product, rather than sex as a product (at least on this platform). Perhaps this is responsive to a changed algorithmic landscape, where TikTok has become increasingly notorious for removing and shadow-banning sex workers and sexually explicit content. Or perhaps this is reflective of the nature of content creation more broadly, where digital laborers are most accurately considered gig workers whose labor blurs the borders between work and life, consuming the worker temporally, during their “off-hours,” and spatially, in their home.  

Lessons from Repairman67’s Labor 

Despite claims in its “Terms of Service,” TikTok does not excise sexually explicit content or sexual solicitation from its platform; it merely facilitates new manifestations of sexual desire’s binding to digital economies. In this context, excess, in its myriad forms, represents one lens through which scholars can attend to the transformation of sex and labor in the digital sphere. As a workplace, TikTok’s platform surveils and constrains the many content creators who make a living, in part, on the app. However, we have also seen how the digitally producing subject works within, around, and beyond these constraints. Sex working content creators like Repairman67 represent generative case studies because they tend to be inordinately self-aware of their paratextual strategies regarding their own content and are strategic in the more aestheticized elements of their performance. Both forms of strategies respond to the excessive labor demands of the attention economy. Repairman67 embodies a hybrid masculine sexual performance that nuances this rhetoric even further—where authority, intimacy, and kink together contribute to his iteration of content creation. 

There are two primary takeaways from this project. The first is that gendered labor on TikTok has material implications for content creators who are not cisgender women—neoliberal feminized iterations of cultural work online participate in cultural matrices that affect creators like Repairman67. Repairman67’s positionality as a kinky, white, masculine sex working content creator means that he draws upon conceptual resources dispersed across many communities—a hallmark of the digital producing subject whose audience is broad, varied, and algorithmically unpredictable. Work in the attention economy demands careful attunement to strategies that utilize and subvert algorithms, hail many audiences simultaneously, and harness libidinal energies to remain visible and monetizable. In Repairman67’s case, pedagogical authority is married with casual intimacy through multiple forms of content that leverage different facets of his identity to appeal to viewers. Rhetorically, this involves attention to appearance, aesthetics, and subtle visual signifiers that draw or distance sexual desire—work that may have been formerly invisible to viewing audiences.  

The second takeaway is that scholars who focus on feminism and sex work cannot ignore the role of sex as a catalytic agent, but must simultaneously recognize the complexity of any libidinal economy—where there is not always material grounding in sex (Durham 81). The economy of desire, even sexual desire, does not necessarily need sex to find productive value. Repairman67 operates under both frameworks: sex is both a commodity and is not materially necessary for subsequent commodification. Given algorithmic governance of sex work and the simultaneous visual and rhetorical demands of sex on the internet, rhetorical invention of strategies to manage the visibility and commodification of sexual labor takes place. Even as some content creators detach their labor from (explicit performances of) sex, the commodification of their aesthetic and their knowledge remains fertile ground for visibility and revenue in the creator economy, a rhetorical form of sexual labor of its own. Instead of manifesting pornographically on TikTok, excess libidinal energies transform into consumption of anything and everything that the digital worker is able and willing to sell: their expertise, their advice, their time, their merchandise, their lifestyle, their aesthetic, and, in some notable cases, even their bathwater (Bishop).  

Where does this leave scholars? Intersectional approaches to labor, including those of digital and sexual subjects, are clearly necessary, where code, performance, identity, and visibility all contribute to the unique material rhetorical trajectories of the contemporary digital content creator. Scholars attuned to other identities would find different labor strategies for grappling with the collapsing boundaries between work and personal lives online, or alternative performances of authority, intimacy, and authenticity. While critical attention to masculinity in gendered work contexts is necessary, we know that “masculinities” is better conceptualized in the plural—and attention to variously masculine interactions with neoliberal, postfeminist, or digital work contexts can tell us much about the reification and disruption of gendered norms (Connell 57). Because sex work and sexuality cannot be detangled from race, gender, and class, Repairman67’s whiteness mobilizes his construction of pedagogical authority even as it allows him to strategically distance himself from his sex work. Sex working content creators along different identity vectors face constraints that would necessarily change their rhetorical strategies in this work. Additionally, because of its opaque learning algorithms, TikTok is a constantly evolving workplace. While this project examined the interplay between one creator and the platform, I look forward to seeing how scholars continue to characterize other corners of the app, where content creators do work differently.   


[1]Thirst traps are sexually provocative photos or videos posted to social media, where ‘thirst’ alludes to the viewer’s unresolved sexual frustration. 

[2]Meenakshi Gigi Durham’s technosexual subjectivity refers to “the figure of a new sexual subject emerging through a matrix of media technologies required to navigate an environment of multimedia corporealities” (22).  

[3]I allude here to John Cheney-Lippold’s biopolitical definition of code: “cultural objects embedded and integrated within a social system whose logic, rules, and explicit functioning work to determine the new conditions of possibilities of user’s lives” (167).  

[4]TikTok’s in-app “Coin” calculator charges $0.74 for 70 coins. Users can purchase up to 17,500 Coins for $185 or input a unique amount. 

 Works Cited 

Are, Carolina, and Pam Briggs. “The Emotional and Financial Impact of De-Platforming on Creators at the Margins.” Social Media + Society, vol. 9, no. 1, 2013, pp. 1-12.  

Banet-Weiser, Sarah. Empowered: Popular Feminism and Popular Misogyny. Duke University Press, 2018.  

Banet-Weiser, Sarah, Rosalind Gill, and Catherine Rottenberg. “Postfeminism, popular feminism, and neoliberal feminism? Sarah Banet-Weiser, Rosalind Gill and Gatherine Rottenberg in conversation.” Feminist Theory, vol. 21, no. 1, 2020, pp. 3-24. 

Berg, Heather. “Labouring Porn Studies.” Porn Studies, vol. 1, nos. 1-2, 2014, pp. 75-79.  

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