What Being A Phone Sex Operator Taught Me About Sexism And Racism

I used to do professional phone sex. I used my words to create feeling, to create action, connection. As a result, I saw some of the ways sexual excitement and racism intersect. I learned about the human condition, witnessed the way we abandon our undeveloped fantasies like unwanted children and then are surprised when they come back to confront us, jealous, entitled, demanding to be indulged. This knowledge helped me become a better writer — and a better person.

Long ago, I dropped out of college and moved to New York “to be famous.” Twenty years-old, beautifully idealistic, full of confidence and so very bold, I was ready to show the world talent it had never seen before. In reality, a few theaters did readings of a play I wrote and I played a jazz-singing cat in a small children’s production so far off Broadway it could have been Jersey. No matter, I was certain this was the beginning of the beginning and there was no need for me to finish school.

My roommate and I lived off the highly inconvenient G train in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Our two-bedroom apartment had a short red couch against the wall that we had rescued from the curb along with a scrawny cat. We sprayed the couch with Lysol and hoped for the best. The cat stayed, as did four to six people — depending on the month — and I worked a lot of jobs.

Because one cannot work as a waiter in New York without having worked as a waiter in New York, I worked in politics for a while (because, no experience needed). I spent a lot of my time going door-to-door begging for donations, without which I would literally not be paid for my hours of work. This was not sustainable, especially in the winter. I applied for jobs in coffee shops and bookstores. I got no responses. Desperate for work, I stumbled into writing a radio commercial for the Hummer 2, despite not knowing how to drive. I did phone sales in the basement of a dusty apartment, setting up appointments for my boss to sell more Hummer commercials. I was good at phone sales, but I felt terrible about the product and the boss touched my shoulders and spoke too close, often spitting slightly when he got excited. My primary roommate managed to get a job in retail. We still made so little money that we spent months eating rice out of a 50-pound bag his mother, thankfully, gave us, and which I believe he hauled back on a packed bus from Philly.

One day, after spending all day in cat makeup and all evening having doors slammed in my face, I responded to an ad in the back of The Village Voice and set up an interview to do phone sex. It turns out I was a natural at sucking dick on the phone. But the job required a lot more than that.

Unlike other phone sex operations, we were housed in an actual office. About 100 women worked in shifts 24 hours a day in cubicles with headphone microphones — many of us wore pajamas to work. We took up an entire floor in a fancy office building in Midtown, Manhattan. My first shift started at 10 p.m. and ended at 6 a.m. I was assigned a cubicle and given a breakdown of the rules, of how breaks work, and the bonuses in place to reward calls over 10 minutes. I had a computer to take notes on each caller and my very own fantasy alias. I was Eva #450. I was put on the phone immediately.

“Are you pregnant, Eva? Tell me you’re pregnant!”

I had never been pregnant, but I described what I thought it might be like.

“Oh yes, sweetie, my belly is sooo round, I can barely see my feet!”

“Oh yeah?”

“Oh yes, and I’m standing in front of the mirror right now, lifting my tank top and running my hands over my belly.”

“Yes, and it’s big, right?”

“Oh yes, it’s so big, like, a balloon-”

His breath was fast.

“All swollen and huge like a big, fat-”

He let out a small moan.

“Basketball!”

He shuddered and hung up.

***

It turned out that phone sex, like other sales gigs, was about playing a round of the improvisation game, “Yes, and . . .” in which one must accept what has been said and add to it. I kept my first client on the line for 11 minutes. My manager, a former operator herself, whispered “Good job!” at minute nine.

After a few weeks, I had repeat customers. They requested me and usually spoke to me for at least an hour. I typed notes while I spoke in an old version of Notepad, careful to build a consistent character in a consistent world.

We spent at least 75% of our time not speaking in a sexual way. Callers reached out because they were lonely, frustrated, embarrassed, afraid, ashamed, excited, curious. I created entire worlds for them. They called when they were single, married, sheltered, and worldly. They called on September 11th, more than they usually did. They found succor on that terrible day in the company of another, in an anonymous listener, in release. I learned that I was able to provide a real comfort with the right words.

***

One regular customer had moved home and was cleaning out his mother’s house as she died. He was isolated. He was grieving. For an hour each day, four days a week for six months, we spoke. The very first time, he had me describe a simple sex scene and was done in 10 minutes. At the end of the call, he thanked me and told me he was embarrassed, lonely. The next time he called and every time afterward, I asked him questions and really listened to the answers.

I discovered that asking intuitive questions can help someone talk through trauma. At 20, I did not yet have the words to know what I was doing, but I became a better listener, and started to pick out when people were asking for one thing but wished they were asking for another. I began to understand how often sadness sounds like anger.

“It’s just that I miss her and she’s still here. It’s like I’m fucked up, Eva. I just want to burn and break all this stuff, the house is so empty and so . . . full!”

“I just want to lay your head in my lap, hon, pet your hair and tell you it’s OK to feel how you feel.”

He cried with me. He told me his secret fears. I listened. I held him with my words.

Calls came in for “Barely 18,” “Asian girls,” and “Beautiful Big Black Women” — they all got me. Even when they hadn’t called the “Barely 18” line, men often wanted me to say I was 18 or 19. Many customers tried to get me to say I was younger, even trying to break the rules with “Can you just say you are 18 minus four?”

No, I could not do that legally. “The FCC could listen in and shut us down,” our managers reminded us. There would be no bestiality, no underage characters, no non-consensual violence, no incest, no murder.

I learned that women’s sexiness seems to have an expiration date for so many men — rarely did a fantasy involve an older woman. When they did, however, the men always mentioned how a woman ages like wine and it made me laugh, the idea that we age like wine — rotten grapes, fermented; as a non-drinker it sounded like such a waste of sweet juice.

***

I learned about deeply ingrained prejudices about women of color, which anatomical abnormalities men were convinced were fact, which sexual practices they were absolutely sure all women of a certain ethnicity loved, and which accents and dialects they associated with the color of someone’s skin.

For every “Asian girls” call I took, I used my best impression of the way I sounded as a teen growing up in California. My voice was high, my mouth small. I laughed a lot. I never mentioned being Asian. It never mattered.

I spoke to older white Southern men who saw racism as tradition. Every single one of them wanted to hear about my “big black” boyfriend and more than half of these men wanted me to construct a fantasy in which a big black penis “accidentally” slipped into their mouths. More than 10 times, I brought a white Southern man to orgasm by telling him how my big black boyfriend was going to “spread his seed all over the South.”

I learned how fear and arousal are intrinsically connected.

“Are you ready to watch, Mr.?” I sounded young, nervous.

“Absolutely, darling!”

“I want you to watch really, really close while I use my mouth, OK? Watch as I slide my lips, get close, I don’t want you to miss as I flick my tongue.”

“I’m watching, he’s got a big one, doesn’t he?”

We had spoken before. I took this clue to what he wanted. “Oh yes, it’s so big I can barely even handle it myself! I hope it doesn’t slip!”

He was quiet and I knew it was time. “Oh no, it slipped and brushed past your lips, you couldn’t even help it, you have a big . . . black . . . cock in your mouth!”

I heard him moan and scramble to hang up the phone quickly.

***

There was nothing more terrifying than speaking to police officers. I spoke to over two-dozen cops and there was not a single one whose fantasy did not include violence against women. So much so that I often found myself having to explain the law, that one cannot speak about horrific violence and murder on a phone sex line, that if they continued talking about wanting to make me black and blue, wanting to “choke the life out of” me, I’d have to hang up.

I hung up many times.

I spoke to many men who wanted to be dressed in “women’s” clothing. At least once a night a man asked me to dress him up, and I told him about the silkiness of the panties he was putting on, the long, luscious hairs of his wig, how beautiful he looked in my mirror. I called them she. They told me they weren’t gay, even though that hadn’t occurred to me. They told me they didn’t even like women’s clothing. The calls often ended suddenly.

I learned about shame, and how it silences our true selves. And more importantly, that we all have it — so many people share the same fetishes, need the same conditions to feel safe, to get excited, to achieve pleasure, to feel their fantasies are fulfilled.

I learned to research. Having never been a dominatrix, I read up. One evening I had a regular caller begging for pain.

“What shall I do, mistress?”

“Go to the medicine cabinet.”

“Yes mistress. I’m here mistress.”

I remembered its contents from our previous calls.

“Take out the tweezers and take off your shirt.”

“Yes mistress.”

I heard the shuffle of cloth over his head.

“I want you stand in front of the mirror so you can see what I see. Put the phone on speaker and lift your arm. I want to see your armpit.”

“Yes mistress!” His voice sounded far away but I could still hear his excitement.

“I want you to count.”

“Count what, Mistress Eva?”

“Count for me as you tweeze one hair at a time from your hairy armpit.”

His voice was tender then. “How many, Eva? M-mistress Eva?”

“Why until I tell you to stop, of course!”

Thirty-two hairs and 45 minutes later I finished covering a page in small drawings, and I allowed him to shudder in a pain/pleasure heap on his bathroom floor.

“Thank you,” he whispered. “Thank you, Eva. Good night.”

A decade later, I still benefit from all I learned about what it is to be human from the conversations I had, from the comfort I provided, from the raw emotion I bore witness to. I learned about trauma and how it affects every part of a person. I learned how some hide terrifying predatory fantasies behind the familiar masks of those meant to protect us. I’d seen what happens when one is anonymous and unmasked. I grew acquainted with ritual — the steps one takes to carve space for a release, both physically and emotionally. I witnessed the yearning for acceptance that bleeds from one’s daily life into one’s fantasies, the need for small fantastical sexual celebrations to interrupt what can otherwise be a very daunting, stressful, trauma-filled reality. I was a part of the moment you found brief salvation. I was Eva #450, and I used my words to get you there.

***

Lead image: flickr/Pete Prodoehl

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