As a result of the fallout from Abiola Abrams most excellent column that dealt with non-consensual race play – in which I was quoted – I was contacted by The Grio, which is a pretty big deal news outlet geared towards African-Americans. Or Blacks. Whichever you prefer. I’m all for brevity and I like saying “BLACK!” so I opt for the latter.
But I digress.
So, The Grio is seeing this huge blowup about this column, they see me being all “No, you guys, sometimes it is OK.” And so they were all “So, race play. Tell us about that.”
OK. I’ll try. Again
I wrote as well as I could, and I doubt the’ll run my replies unedited. In the interest of journalistic integrity and shit, I’m posting the whole of what I wrote so that, if something is lost in translation, (or oft-necessary brutal editorial brutality) there will be a record of all I shared.
Q & A for The Grio (complete)
1.In a recent Essence relationship column, a black woman who married a white man was shocked to find that her husband liked to use racial slurs during sex. Many users in comments about the piece have commented that “race play” is actually a common form of sexual expression among people interested in exploring fantasies. Can you explain to our audience what that is?
While there is no one set definition, for the purposes of discussion and when I conduct lectures on the topic, I describe it as follows:
“Race Play” is a form of consensual sexual role-playing in which the actual, perceived or assumed racial / ethnic / national identities of the participants is specifically the focus of the scene. Race play can include the fetishization of a specific racial feature, (skin color, hair texture, facial features, etc.) it might incorporate an assumption of supremacy based on race, and it sometimes even delves into troubling aspects of bigotry and privilege manifested in base racial slurs and exploitative scenarios.
There is often an assumption that the “dominant culture” is always the one taking the “oppressor” role in race play scenarios. That simply isn’t true. Anyone can be the aggressor, and some race play scenarios are heady “revenge fantasies” against the institutionally advantaged, privileged individual. Race play can run the gamut from subtle to horrific. A scene could be something as subtle as people of the same ethnicity engaging in a teasing one-upmanship because the other is “lighter / darker” and incorporate the conflict of intraracial politics. It could be as horrific as re-creating the interrogation of an Iraqi prisoner by a racist US Marine Corps officer that then turns to an explicitly sexual scenario. Truth is, these fantasies might or might not be fodder for our day-to-day fantasies. Most of us have, at some time or another, had a thought – even if it is fleeting and quickly quashed – about a sexual desire that is disturbing or unsettling. Those who choose to engage in consensual sex that explores taboo scenarios will, sometimes, choose to plumb the depths of these fantasies in order to titillate, to explore, and to see how they react in high-stakes situations. I’ve discovered some truths about myself I might not have encountered had I not chosen to explore these types of scenes. I’ve seen where I am able to be strong, and seen where my spirit was bruised. I’ve re-created scenarios from my life and experienced, and “flipped the script” so as to gain some measure of closure. Racism and bigotry and the pain they engender are real. But now often do we have the ironic opportunity to consent to and control our own pain? I have discovered that consenting to small amounts of pain and abuse and suffering is like an inoculation of my soul against the pandemic of hatred. That controlled dose can be a spiritual inoculation: I emerge from these journeys with a newfound faith in my own strength, a new sense of resilience and powerful resolve.
2. The letter makes it clear that the woman is not happy that her husband uses slurs during sex. How did it happen that they married without her knowing that he might have this sexual interest? Can you discuss the need for openness and clarity between all couples regarding sexual matters? Do you think this is even more important for interracial couples?
In the letter, the author indicates the proposal happened within six months of the relationship beginning. That is a very rapid turnaround for a lifetime commitment. It begs the question if they even engaged in sexual activity before they married. If they chose to wait until they married to have sex, the fact is his desire to participate in racial humiliation likely wouldn’t have come up in casual conversation. If one is going to wait until marriage to have sex, I feel it is exceedingly critical to have many frank talks about your needs, wants and desires. Sexual compatibility is a critical function in a marriage for most people, and having a surprise as disturbing as this obviously is to the author is one reason people who choose premarital abstinence may opt for extended engagements so that these issues can be explored. If it was the case that they did engage in premarital sex, it might be that he was holding back this particular facet of his desires because he was reluctant to “scare her off.”
If you are committing to spend the rest of your life with someone, honest and open communication about your sexuality is something to ignore at your own peril – and the peril of your relationship. Some folks wish for sexual contact every day of the week. For others, once a month is fine. Both of those levels of frequency are reasonable. But put those two people in a marriage and suddenly the do-it-once-a-month person becomes a frigid prude and the do-it-every-day person becomes a wanton slut. Those things aren’t true, but perception and desire absolutely need to be aligned in order to have a successful sex life.
As a kinky person, I have learned to take a deep breath and explain as much as I can about my desires when first getting to know a potential partner. People who are involved in BDSM routinely and frequently negotiate “scenes:” which are encounters that can include all sorts of kinky sex. We take in stride the discussion of “Yesses” and ‘No’s’ and boundaries and limits to what we will and will not do. Though it can be awkward, it helps to minimize the risk of mismatched intentions and desires. This would be a great tactic for non-kink identified people to embrace! Talk it out. If you are too shy to talk, write an e-mail. But get it out there.
Interracial couples are often coming from divergent backgrounds when it comes to traditions of dating and mating. When I was younger and beginning to explore my sexuality, I remember some distinctly racial and cultural divides between my friends when it came to sex. Most of my Black girlfriends though oral sex was “nasty” and “dirty” and something freaky white folks did, while my white girlfriends saw it as a great way to get off without risking pregnancy. Talking about your sexuality not only in terms of your personal experiences, but also within the framework of your racial and cultural experience can open up whole new realms of communication that can engage mutual compassion and expanded understanding. Traditional gender roles, the use of sexual aggression, and the role of sex within a relationship are things that can have distinctly different flavors depending on one’s culture, ethnicity and heritage. Sharing on that level can foster understanding and minimize damaging missteps.
3. Many readers and commenters on this letter have stated that there is no way a white man who says these types of things to his black female partner can really love or respect her. In your experience, is this truly the case? Can you explain to readers that it is possible for love and mutual respect to co-exist in a relationship in with race play is desired by both parties?
Love and respect is not guaranteed by avoiding certain modes of speech, nor is it obviated by the presence of seemingly hateful speech. One of the most remarkable things I have found about exploring uncomfortable sexual fantasies is that it takes an enormous amount of trust, love and respect simply to share these fantasies. MOST people will never explore them, because of fear. Fear of rejection, fear of seeming abusive, fear of seeming emotionally damaged, fear of losing their partner. By acknowledging, sharing and exploring these deeply taboo desires, we trust each other to listen, to take an enormous risk, and to “go there.” When partners consensually, mutually agree to wade into these deep waters, they are trusting that the other does truly desire this activity, and that they will be respected on the other side of that intense journey. The person taking on the “oppressor” role is not exempt of risk. A white person coming at their Black partner with racial slurs without mutual negotiation, consent, and ongoing assent risks, at the very least, alienating their partner in a way that is potentially irreversible. I contend that it takes a fearless heart to manifest these fearsome desires. Respect also means respecting the difficult and complex reality of our sexual desires. When I respect my desires enough to share them with a partner, and they respect me enough to risk massive emotional fallout in the name of mutual sexual gratification, the resultant explorations can lead to unsurpassed intimacy.
I cannot stress enough the absolute need for consent on ALL sides of this equation. Without consent, without a strong affirmative from ALL involved parties, this moves from the realm of edgy role-play to abuse. Straight up, end of story, no compromise. Love and respect can look like a hug and a kiss, a bow and a curtsy, or inescapable bondage and brutal words. What is vital – what is real – is the love and consent and respect that embraces ALL of who we are, not just the easy parts.