For Black Sex Workers, The Deck is Already Stacked Against Us
The way Black and brown sex workers live our lives is an act of rebellion and protest in and of itself.
I am a sex worker, a Black one, and I specialize in dominance and submission. This Black woman is trying to get paid so her Black child and family can survive, and that is my truth. Fuck, I’ve been Black all my life, it is nothing new.
I could be angry but I am too tired just trying to survive. Survival looks different for all of us – have you ever heard of Plaçage? It is the practice of white men taking on consorts who are women of color. This was believed to ensure a modicum of safety and social standing in a society that was otherwise hostile to the point of violence towards women of color. Women of color who were so sexualized by their white counterparts, that to wear adornments of any sort was seen as an assault on white sensibilities and was an opening for violence. Though let’s be honest, things haven’t really changed that much.
But plaçage means that I can feed my child. Plaçage means that I can pay for my roof. Plaçage: I am expected to talk and act a certain way and as a light-skinned woman, to admit to anything ‘niggardly’ is seen as an act of betrayal.
Fuck, I’ve been Black all my life, it is nothing new. I could be angry, but I’m too tired just trying to survive.
Running a business that is so demonized from the start creates a fucked power dynamic, with the client usually expecting some sort of upper hand and it is important to disabuse them of that immediately. Add in the already landmine-ridden areas of gender, socioeconomic status and race, and the deck is fully stacked against us.
But you learn, and you grow, and you get quick and shrewd– or you just don’t survive.
The expectation of being appreciative in what is solely a business transaction is exhausting. I am constantly asked the “how black are you?” questions, like:
“You don’t like that rap music do you?”
“Isn’t it true that black men are rougher with their women?”
And these are usually followed by, “I’m not racist, but [insert racist statement].“
By now I have mastered the art of artful dodging & redirection through sex work – politicians got nothing on me.
Add in the already landmine-ridden areas of gender, socioeconomic status and race, and the deck is fully stacked against us.
The majority of my clients are white men– some are chill, many of them are broken. Many spend inordinate amounts of time trying to validate themselves to me, show me how important they are, how needed, how knowledgeable – they aren’t.
They are nearing 50 or 60, realizing the special rewards life promised them at the end of hard work, ‘supposed to do’s and emulating societal standards aren’t going to be there for them. So, what happens to a culture of people who are trained to believe they hold power over others but reality proves they don’t even have power over themselves? That’s right, cognitive dissonance!
Racists need marginalized groups to compare themselves to so that they know where they stand and Blackness keeps being defined by white folks and we keep catering to it for survival. Misogynists do the same with cis and trans women. They define themselves by using us as markers, it is the definition of self by other.
When people have already invested large amounts of time and energy to tell themselves their lives aren’t fucked, it usually gets worse, and includes the demonization of the other so that through false separateness, they can say, “At least I’m not them.”
The big secret no one wants to admit to, is that our oppression damages the oppressor as well. But the false senses of superiority are addictive – after years of systematic oppression and privilege, the white cis-hetero patriarchy doesn’t want to let go – if they took count of how much time they spend demonizing Black and brown people – especially women and femmes – to feel superior, they might just kill themselves. Or they might just grow.
They define themselves by using us as markers, it is the definition of self by other.
All the violence against women, against women of color, against sex workers, trans folks, sex workers of color, trans sex workers of color – see how I did that? Goin’ down the marginalized line – we didn’t ask for this. Yet, it does appear people’s egos are quite literally more important than other’s lives, so when Assata Shakur said, “Nobody in the history of the world has gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them,” I agree.
I know that statistically I am more likely to be killed, raped, or go to prison if I accidentally defend myself and kill someone if they try to kill or rape me. I also know that when I let men call me mixed I make more money, and it furthers the lives of my Black family.
I also know when I give a good ass beating or mind-fucking, a lot of these men feel redeemed. I also know if given a chance, they will lie to themselves that they can “save me,” lol.
Sometimes I get angry, sometimes I get tired, sometimes I shake my head in wonder. But like I’ve said, I’ve been Black my whole life– you deal. I think the issues here are pretty transparent, so I sip my tea and exchange looks with other women of color.
I know that when I let men call me mixed I make more money, and it furthers the lives of my Black family.
What I do know is, being a Domina is a million fucking times better than the exploitation of my body being ogled at while it’s used to work in a grocery store. My child can now go to a good school and I can afford avocados whenever the fuck I want. So, there’s progress in that.
At this point in history, it would behoove many of us to remember, that whether we choose to or not, the way Black and brown sex-workers live our lives is an act of rebellion and protest in and of itself.
My individuality will never be an institution, this is a good thing.
Featured Image c/o Reuters
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