When I began my sex-work career years ago in the Deep South, the rules of sex work and race were unforgiving. White women who saw black clients were scorned. I remember working in small-town strip clubs with white dancers who, observing a white woman doing a lap dance for a black man, would mutter racist epithets and spit on the floor. Interestingly, black men and Middle Eastern men reliably aroused this response, but Asian men and Latino men rarely did.
Fast-forward to liberal, mostly white Seattle. I have clients of all colors, as do all the other white sex workers I know, and no one thinks anything of it. Or do they? I still occasionally hear stories of white sex workers refusing to see dark-skinned clients. So I asked Seattle sex workers: In the era of Obama, is this still an issue? Does the race/ethnicity of potential clients matter? Some women admitted mixed feelings:
Nikki: "I've had bad experiences with [Middle Eastern] non-Americans, so I prefer American men. Non-American men, if they're from a country with no rights for women, will treat me with contempt."
Barbara: "I give everyone a chance. I admit, though, when I hear a strong Middle Eastern voice, I have to 'gear up' [try harder to get in the mood] for the session."
Arabella: "No, I am not attracted to black clients. But I have some Latino and Middle Eastern clients."
Others were enthusiastic:
Jeanette: "I've had great experiences with black men. Middle Eastern men are hot, if they're raised here with our habits." What about Middle Eastern men who aren't Americans? "No, the cultural differences are too great. [They say,] 'Do this, now do this! No, do that.' I have said, 'No, I don't want to do that,' and the guy looked really mad. They tipped well, but I can't compromise my comfort for a tip."
Elisa: "I am very open because I am of mixed heritage myself. I would never turn down a client on the basis of race."
Except for Elisa, all the women quoted identified themselves as white. (I e-mailed more escorts for their feedback, but no black or Middle Eastern sex workers responded.)
I don't think it's inherently racist to have preferences about sexual partners. The only thing that made me wonder was the issue of scent—most of the white escorts felt that black men and Middle Eastern men have a different body smell than white or Asian men, and thorough bathing was required for it to not be a turnoff. Is that racist? I'm not sure. But it's worth noting that escorts are very sensitive to personal hygiene in white American men as well.
In the end, sex workers see clients they feel will be polite, appropriate, and pleasant to be intimate with—and who respect the rules of the game. Several of the ladies put it succinctly: "The only color that matters is green."