May 28th, 2009

In writing about prostitution over the last few years, I’ve often found myself walking a fine line between sex positivity and the occasional grittiness of reality. When speaking with Peridot Ash for example, a local San Francisco escort and pro domme whom I interviewed for my piece on how the recession was affecting the Bay Area sex industry, I found myself at a loss. Never would I assume a prostitute has entered the sex industry out of desperation; never would I assume that (in this case) she disdains her work or feels degraded by it. Yet this is sometime how Ash herself feels — because, like any other job, prostitution is a complicated business, and sugar coating it with a glaze of well-intentioned support is just as condescending as tossing its legitimacy aside in a huff of moral derision.

I’m still coming to terms with my own self-conscious tight rope walk, though I recently found company up on the high wire. Having watched Secret Diary of a Call Girl, the British TV drama chided for its glossy look at the life of a high-end London escort (turns out it’s somewhat realistic), I decided to read Belle de Jour: Diary of an Unlikely Call Girl. The book, on which the series was based, was originally a blog — both published by an anonymous young author-ess. I hadn’t expected to get much out of the book, which turns out to be quite different from the show, aside from some juicy tidbits. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find not so much a narrative as that same ongoing tight rope walk. Some days Belle loves her job. Some days she wants out. Every day it’s complicated.

Truth be told, I finished the book nearly a month ago now (my reading vs. blogging schedule is, to say the least, a little behind), and what has really stuck with me are the moments of casual tenderness and equally casual awkwardness between Belle and her clients. Sure, she stole her name from one of my all-time favorite movies, but I can’t help but enjoy her literary company when she breaks out a file to fix a client’s hang nail, or when she waits on her hands and knees for a come shot that never, well, comes. This, it seems from my admittedly second-hand perspective, is closer to the real experience of sex work: neither good nor bad, just real — well, as real as any major book deal can get.

Tags: blogging, books, reviews, sex workers

7 Responses to “‘Belle de Jour’ joins me on the sex work tight rope”

  1. Woodstock Says:

    I haven’t read the book, but I followed Belle’s blog for a long time before she published (she basically shut down when the book deal was signed).

    It was a really fascinating look at the industry. It seemed quite realistic to me, but it still had less underlying depression than Peridot’s blog.

  2. Bonnie Ruberg Says:

    Again though, it’s hard to criticize Peridot. Is she being depressing or just realistic to her particular situation? Any job can be looked at from a variety of angles, and it seems important that she’s adding her voice to the mix.

  3. halfassured Says:

    There are no easy answers to old questions. The more I think about serious issues the more I feel that they’re deeply ambiguous. A lot of theories follow the pattern, “if only everyone did X, things would be great,” but that’s a kind of smug utopianism — the best we can hope for in situations like this is the /least bad/ option.

  4. Woodstock Says:

    It is important, and she’s obviously correct in how she feels, and her experiences in the industry – working any job is a very personal thing, and each person will have their own reactions to it. Especially when it’s got all the additional social complexities of sex work.

    And I’m glad that she’s out there – it’s a more nuanced view than either the cheerfully sex-positive Belle or the horrors of women coerced into sex work or the prudish disapproval of the mainstream.

    I think, were I a woman contemplating a career as a prostitute, I would want to think about the information and views she presents carefully before deciding to follow the same path.

    But that doesn’t mean I enjoy reading her blog ;-P

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