“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.