In many ways, Alex Grant is your typical nice Jewish boy. From Potomac, Maryland, he’s a sweet and unassuming mensch with a cheeky sense of humor and a mind for business. When he’s not studying information science at the University of Maryland, he loves spending time with his family and places great value in his Judaism and love for Israel. What most people don’t know about him, though, is that he is one of the top gay porn stars today.
The 22-year-old Grant, a self-described nerd with a “muscle jock” body, is known as @Alexzcee on Instagram, where he boasts nearly 100,000 followers; he has almost 350,000 more on his X-rated Twitter account. Neither of those sites brings in revenue directly, but both of them link to his page on OnlyFans, where he has become a sensation. Founded in 2016, OnlyFans is a content-based, paid subscription platform where creators can post anything online from fitness classes to music—some of its biggest users include rapper Cardi B and Teen Wolf star Tyler Posey—but most of the content is porn.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Grant collaborated with other porn stars, but for the past year he has focused exclusively on solo work, which includes masturbating and playing with toys. Looking beyond the pandemic, he doesn’t plan to film sex scenes with other people any time soon because he’s now in an exclusive relationship.
Though Grant won’t disclose how many people subscribe to his page, where he charges $9.99 per month, it’s enough that he’s making serious bank; he recently bought a home with his earnings.
“For right now, it’s a lot of fun. I enjoy it. I love the freedom I get,” he said, before adding, “I definitely don’t want to do this forever, that’s for sure.”
Part of what makes OnlyFans different from traditional porn outlets is that it offers performers complete independence. Those who become successful end up making big profits that would’ve been unthinkable to a conventional performer—and they’re no longer beholden to pimps and porn studios. OnlyFans’ popularity has grown exponentially thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic leaving the entire world isolated in their homes for much of the past year. In March 2020, the number of users on the site increased from 7.5 million to 85 million.
Now that porn has given Grant a large following online, without having to answer to outside managers or producers, he has felt free to speak out on social media about other issues—particularly about Israel, during the recent clashes with Hamas. “I don’t understand how so many gay people are anti-Israel, because try going to Iran or Gaza,” he said. “Try going around there with a Pride flag. They’ll throw you off a roof.” He says he and his mom have been talking about antisemitism a lot lately, and his large following allows him to educate others who may just be following him for his looks and not his heart: “What non-Jew in the porn business is going to talk about these issues right now? I’m definitely a minority in this field, even if it looks like I don’t stand out,” he said. “If I have this big audience, I’m going to fight it and stand up for Jewish people because it’s just what I feel is right.”
Grant isn’t the only one using the platform he built on porn to express his views on other issues; there’s a whole new crop of Jewish gay men who are using their newfound fame on OnlyFans to showcase their Jewish identity to fans who might have come expecting a very different kind of content.
Cody Silver is a biracial Chinese American Jew originally from Orange County, California. We spoke over Zoom, during which he was casually shirtless, his iconic red yen tattoo emblazoned on his chiseled chest. “I’m not your typical generic-looking white twink,” he said. He describes feeling different “growing up being a biracial Jew in an almost strictly conservative white and Christian community.”
A 2020 graduate of the School for Visual Arts, Silver went to school to become an artist, and now he’s become one in a different way: making porn in Brooklyn from his bedroom—or, as he puts it, his “gay baby jail.” The timing of his graduation overlapping with the COVID-19 pandemic closed off more traditional career paths. So he turned to OnlyFans.
Though Silver had prior experience with nude modeling and go-go dancing, it was never his main focus until the pandemic disrupted everything. Unwilling to break CDC guidelines and collaborate with others, he made a fortuitous decision: “I should just start an OnlyFans and just start jerking off for money. Lord knows I do it for free.”
Success followed. Under the username @PostMaload, Silver has made a name for himself. “This is the most money I’ve ever had in my life,” he said, pausing for a moment of gratitude. “All of my struggles feel like they’re finally paying off with this.”
The success has come somewhat as a surprise to him. “People of color: We work twice as hard to make half as much as white people do,” he said. “It’s something I’ve dealt with my entire life.”
Now he’s in high demand and can afford to pursue his passions. Silver writes and illustrates his own comics, which shine a light on his various identities. One such comic focuses on the casual antisemitism and anti-Asian racism he faced growing up, such as questions about why his dad wore a kippah or about whether he’s adopted (he’s not).
Silver mentioned how powerful it was to travel to Israel in 2015 on an LGBTQ Birthright trip, though, even in his home away from home, people kept mistaking him for a “lost Asian tourist.”
Similar to Grant, Silver also uses Instagram to talk about social justice issues. While their main feeds are for posting shirtless photos, their IG Stories—a content platform within the Instagram app where posts disappear after 24 hours—is where things get more personal and political. “I try and be as genuine as possible, which is a double-edged sword,” said Silver. “I’m giving my authentic self to so many people. I’m not giving any kind of persona.”
Silver says his mixed-race identity requires him to be an educator. “People don’t realize their microaggressions,” he said, so he feels it’s up to him to tell people “what the fuck is up.”
“It’s weird being queer, Chinese, and Jewish,” he said. “It’s like, damn, what isn’t going to offend me these days?”
Silver says he is “tired of hiding who I am,” so he puts his identity front and center in his porn. “There aren’t many Asian or openly Jewish performers that I know of,” he said. “I’m the representation that I’ve always wanted to see and have never seen.”
And then there’s the rabbi (of sorts).
Unlike Grant and Silver, Lee Epstein is not a porn star but more of an activist and community organizer; he describes himself as more of a “sex volunteer” than a sex worker. But he, too, has used his following on OnlyFans to connect with his followers about Jewish subjects.
Growing up, the 34-year-old battled internalized homophobia and struggled with his bisexuality in what he calls the “psycho-wealthy” town of Greenwich, Connecticut. His sexual and spiritual liberation would coincide in his early twenties, when he spent a summer working at Camp Ramah, where he was inspired by Jewish mysticism and spirituality as a way of building community. The impact summer camp had on him led Epstein to enroll in rabbinical school at New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary. After a short stint, though, he dropped out and found his spiritual practice in a completely novel way.
Instead of becoming a rabbi, he created an online rabbinic persona. Using a variety of platforms––including Skype (@BigDJ086), a Snapchat group, and OnlyFans, to name a few––Epstein hosts gatherings, both online and in-person, which he says have connected thousands of people looking for spiritual-sexual healing.
Epstein has completely branded his online persona around fusing Judaism and sex. He refers to his sex toys as “tchotchkes” and posts solo porn videos with captions such as “Shabbat Shalom” and others relevant to Jewish holidays. Epstein sees his nude exhibitionism as a way to connect with queer Jews on a deeper level. “The Jewish stuff is integrated in all of it, that’s for sure,” he said. “There is a very rabbinic and Jewish element to it.”
A former kindergarten teacher at a Jewish day school, Epstein is still on a path of finding himself. “I haven’t really made peace with this,” he said. “I think that queer people and queer thinking have something unique to offer in terms of how we organize ourselves in society and how we think about wellness and healing.”
Epstein describes himself as a “super connecter lover of people,” and he says that this world that he finds himself in is a natural expression of his Jewishness: “I know about their lives, I know about their families, I know about their coming out stories.”
While hard to comprehend for many, the work he is doing serves a meaningful purpose to those who seek him out. Epstein’s followers often share their own Jewish queer stories, viewing his online accounts as a refuge to disclose deep personal anguish and enlightenment.
In an era where superficiality and fake fantasies abound online, Grant, Silver, and Epstein have managed to do the impossible: turn a platform that most associate with simple pleasure into a liberating and meaningful way to express themselves in full authenticity. They have found a way to transform the physical into an emotional connection, all while refusing to hide their Jewish identities, values, and beliefs.
Peter Fox is a social commentary writer whose work has appeared in CNN Opinion, Newsweek, The Jerusalem Post, and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @thatpeterfox.