Harlotry: The Client I Rejected Because He Was Seeking Racist Roleplay

“Look,” I said, “I’m really sorry, but I don’t know if I can do this.”

I explained to him that I had been raised to never, ever, ever say “that word.” I tried to make it clear that I understood as much as a white person can how much power “that word” can carry, and while I thought it was perfectly understandable that he would want to play with that power in a sexual context, I was absolutely sure I wasn’t prepared to do it with him and I hoped he understood.

Fortunately Sam understood this perfectly, and said that although he was disappointed at another rejection, he also understood my reasons for giving the rejection very well. I wished him luck in his search, and told him that if he ever was in search of the services I offered (but didn’t need his provider to throw around racial epithets) I would love to see him.

Sam wasn’t the first client I rejected. But unlike the others, I still think about this one every so often. To this day I’m not sure if I made the right decision. But I am also sure I didn’t make the wrong one. At 22 I have a better understanding of sex and the role that power plays in sexual encounters, whether for pleasure or pay, than I did at 18. I understand that referring to someone as a nigger within the parameters of what is essentially playacting could potentially be a positive thing, but I’m not sure that I would make a different decision if I were faced with the situation today.

I’ve always known there were some words one does not say, but until I encountered Sam I didn’t quite understand why. I knew that words have power, but it wasn’t until I was faced with a request to direct one of the last purely negative and hateful words in our language at someone who had done nothing to deserve such negativity and hate did I understand quite how much power they can have.

Cathryn Berarovich is a bit of a renaissance sex worker; she’s currently employed as a stripper (and writer) but has held numerous interesting jobs in the industry. Each week, she shares her stories in Harlotry.

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    • Babettchen

      Great story! An “Icelandic Blonde” sex worker friend of mine had this happen to her as well – she couldn’t separate her upbringing from the roleplay and had to turn him down.

      Like the Israeli Nazi porn “Stalags”, this plantation play seems to be about processing extreme or pervasive oppression by eroticizing it to sublimate pain, fear, and shame into sexual pleasure.

      I sooo wanted my Blondie friend to refer him to me, since I’m Latina and didn’t grow up on the mainland – I haven’t internalized the U.S.’s racial cultural baggage so I could, I think, see the roleplay for what it is and get into character. He probably would have turned me down for that exact reason: I’m not Blondie-blonde white.

      • Cate

        I think you’re right. Honestly, I think that processing that kind of oppression into some kind of sexual fetish could really be very healthy. In a way I’m sort of sad I couldn’t get over my upbringing and do this scene, but I suppose that in a way that says something good about the way my parents raised me and possibly even my own character.

    • alex

      I think it was racist of you to not take this man’s money.

    • L

      I think it was right of you not to do this one encounter. I never truly understood the power that words can have until I, for the first time, encountered a real bigot. I live in Boston aka liberal capital of the US; i was on my way home from work on the T. It was late, like 8-ish so way past rush hour, but it was still packed for whatever reason. Without going into ostentatious amounts of detail, there was a woman on the train (who I must assume was mentally ill–that’s the only excuse i can conjure up for her behavior) but she started screaming anti-Semitic obscenities at another passenger. I’m (almost) happy to say, that passenger chased her off the train and then slammed her into a parked car. Normally, i would never condone violence of the like. However, hearing someone say those things and with such unimaginable hate. Man, that changed me. I felt like i had been living in some perfect politically correct bubble my whole life, being surrounded by educated individuals who would never fathom saying such things. That day though…i think i’ll carry that with me for the rest of my life.

      so my point being, even though it’s just pretend…i dunno, i think you were right in trusting your gut feeling. saying that kind of stuff, it’s just not right.

      • Cate

        Yikes, I’m super sorry you had to see that, but also pretty glad the passenger chased the woman off the train. Maybe she was mentally ill but just, yikes. The really illogical prejudices like racism and homophobia seriously upset me because they’re just so god damn stupid and pointless.

      • koolchicken

        I’m guessing you just live in Boston and aren’t really from there. And I mean in real neighborhoods, not just Beacon Hill or somewhere else with mostly idealistic transplants. Sadly I can assure you racism is alive and well in Boston, always has been. Little has changed since the bussing riots. The violence isn’t very shocking either. I always hold out hope things will change, but I’m just not that stupid.

      • L

        @chicken. i’ve been living in brighton since i was 8.

    • Chelsea

      As a Black woman, I’m not only proud of you for not doing it, but have the utmost respect for you and the way you explained your feelings against it. I think that word carries power that we shouldn’t give it. Getting rid of that word, along with other racial slurs about other ethnic groups, isn’t about putting a positive meaning behind it (I’m looking at you 99.9998% of “rappers” out there). It’s about having respect for yourself and other human beings, regardless of color. That man’s issues are his own, but I’m glad that you stayed true to your good upbringing.

      And by the way I really enjoy reading your articles!!

    • Hydeparker

      Racially tolerant and diverse? Try dangerous and empty… There were 2 kids mugged at gunpoint on campus, and several muggings off campus. There are a few crappy restaurants and even crappier bars. Hyde Park is awful. Now that I have graduated, I cannot wait to move.

    • Meagan S

      Great story! Thanks!!!

    • MM

      Your articles have been incredibly interesting. I’m looking forward to reading more about your experiences.

      I don’t think you should feel bad for not doing this. Even if your aversion hadn’t been due to racism, you should ALWAYS be able to say no to sex, even if you were a prostitute. Just because you’d get paid if you did doesn’t mean you have to do it!

    • Sambo

      Dumb white woman.