When Role-Playing Might Bring You Out of Your Comfort Zone

· Updated on May 28, 2018

In this week’s Hola Papi!, the advice column by writer, Twitterer and prolific Grindr user John Paul brammer, a reader has a problem with race-based role play.

What happens when a white person is asked to role-play a real world power-based scenario in the bedroom? Would saying no be kink shaming? And would participating make you a bad person?

This week, Papi dives into fantasy, fetish and morality.

If you want his advice, just email him at [email protected] with your question. Just be sure to include SPECIFICS, and don’t forget to start out your letter with Hola Papi!

Hola Papi!

I’m a youngish gay dude living in a new city trying out the dating game.

I was getting hot and heavy with this cute dude and he asked me to role-play. I’m a white dude and he’s a Middle Eastern dude and he wanted me to play the role of TSA agent and I guess he would just be himself?

I said no and we had a fine evening, but it just has me thinking and I thought I’d ask. I know kinks can be all about power dynamics, but I don’t want to be a part of a kink where my privilege as a white dude is part of a narrative that includes institutional racism. That last sentence is exhausting, I know. But I really do want some insight.

Am I being just supremely uncool? I don’t want to shame anyone’s kinks and I also want to be respectful, in that there’s a lot I don’t know because of my own privilege. Am I overthinking this?


T.S. Nay

I feel like before I answer this question I need to speak with multiple activist organizations, a sensitivity reader, a sex-positive dominatrix of color, bell hooks, and the International Peace Institute. The funds will probably have to go to a charity. This is a trap.

But I don’t have time, T.S. So make sure your seatback is in the upright position and the tray table in front of you is put away during liftoff and touchdown, because this is going to be a bumpy ride.

Look, first of all, good on you for not immediately throwing on a pair of plastic gloves and frisking this guy without pausing to consider the optics. There is definitely a way in which someone can be a little too giddy to accost a brown person at the sex airport.

And it’s nice to know you had a good time regardless. What a welcome reminder that we can still have a decent night out without one of us assuming the role of a looming government institution that abuses its authority by detaining brown people with impunity. That’s the beauty of being gay. We can eschew tradition!

But let’s feel around inside the matter at hand. What you’re describing is “race play,” a controversial form of sexual role-play based on real world racial power dynamics. It’s not just white people who enjoy this, as you are now amply aware.

It might sound strange. But sex is a wilderness where strange things crop up. It is an arena where the subconscious creeps into the conscious, and where fantasy can become tangible reality. It’s no surprise power play shows up here. Sex without some degree of power play is a rare thing. But it’s important to remember that a person engaging in a submissive role is not powerless.

This guy wanted to be in that role, for example, but he asserted himself by requesting the scenario. It is a common mistake to equate a position within a fantasy for an actual lack of autonomy. You would not actually be a TSA agent. He would not actually be at your mercy.

That’s role-playing when it’s done right, and it can be lots of fun, T.S! When it’s discussed beforehand and not sprung on someone mid-lay. If Bradley and I are having sex and he whispers “call me Border Patrol, Papi” in my ear, he’s getting deported to the afterlife. This guy did the right thing by discussing his kink with you and respecting your wishes.

It’s also good you don’t want to shame his kink. This person might be scared of the TSA, with good reason. Fear is one of the most potent body highs there is, which is why so many people use it as an aphrodisiac. How he processes, uses, or subverts that fear is entirely up to him, and for his sake I hope he gets the sexy pat down he’s looking for.

Whether or not you want to be party to that, however, is entirely up to you. You’re not “uncool” for choosing not to engage in it. You were reluctant, which is a feeling you should listen to and address before you try new things in bed.

Sure, you enjoy many privileges he does not. But you can always say no. He might be perfectly comfortable with this sexual fantasy, but if you aren’t, then it’s not flying. Just like thousands of brown people aren’t flying every single day because of institutional racism, Michael.

Sex is never all about one person. Even (and perhaps especially) in dominant and submissive role-play scenarios. Needs are still being met, wants have been discussed, as well as limits, and nothing should be happening that both parties aren’t OK with.

We should also be mindful of the fact that our desires don’t exist in a vacuum. Pretty much nothing exists in a vacuum. There’s, like, no air in those things. Racism can keep certain people from our bedrooms to begin with, and it can also manifest there with the people we do get physically intimate with.

The power dynamics we bring into the bedroom can’t be separated from those that exist beyond that space. It’s good and healthy to observe, analyze, and discuss those issues before and after sex. But probably not during, unless that’s a kink of yours.

All of that is a rather highbrow way of saying go ahead and perform a cavity search next time and keep it moving, officer.


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