July 24, 2008
The Case Of The Anonymous Escort Blogger

SUBMITTED BY $PREAD MAGAZINE: Alright, self-righteous media, I know a lot of bad feelings have been dredged up for you recently with the premiere of Showtime’s “Secret Diary Of A Callgirl”, feelings of frustration, and confusion over the reality that someone who claims to have been a prostitute maintained a long-running blog, published two books, spawned a television show, and yet still retains her anonymity. I was trying to ignore it, but those feelings won’t just go away on their own, especially not when it looks like we’re in storefor at least two more seasons of the show, so let’s talk it out.

Belle de Jour sucked. I mean it really sucked. It was astoundingly boring, devoid of any style, and I forced myself to finish it only because I wanted to be able to talk about it in the future, and god forbid I complain about how boring the first 200 pages were only to find out that in the last 100 she gets a sex change. So, I understand that some journalists are suffering from the mix of anger and jealousy that occurs when a writer gets a (two) book deal in spite of the fact that their writing isn’t all that great. It’s OK to feel that way, but it’s not OK to be dishonest about the source of that feeling and direct all your self-pity into venomous barbs against prostitutes. Prostitutes aren’t the point. Readers with bad taste are.

Speaking of readers, ignoring bad writing because of titillating subject matter is certainly not a phenomenon that’s unique to sex worker memoirs. The experience of reading Belle de Jourwas, for me, identical to the experience of reading Diary Of A Sex Fiend, which was deathly boring as well. It would seem that people want to read about women having lots of sex, they just don’t actually want to read about any of complexities that go along with that sex. In other words, they don’t want to read anything that’s actually sexy. They want to think about the idea of sex more than they want to be reminded of the experience, to read a list of the mechanics rather than an evocation of the thoughts and sensations that accompany those mechanics. Or maybe readers want good sex writing, they’re just not offered it by these particular bloggers.

Let’s look at a sex scene from Belle du Jour, which, by the way, is a scene from her personal life and doesn’t involve a client:

J took me to her bedroom, which held a big white bed and a pillowcases that spelled “La Nuit” in a serif font.

We kissed and touched. […] She dragged a soft, multistranded whip across me. “Do you know what this is?” “Yes.” “Do you want it?” She saved the hardest lashes for my breasts and fucked me with a double-headed dildo.

I don’t know, Belle, do you know what this is? A “soft, multistranded whip”? Do you mean a flogger? Do you not call them floggers in England? I thought you guys invented all those tools in the first place. And what is up with specifying the “serif font”? I mean, wow, I’m glad J didn’t go for those same pillowcases in comic sans font. She’s a lady who really knows how to set the mood. Love the part about the double-headed dildo. It’s so vivid, I can practically smell the cheap Doc Johnson’s plastic.

So I’ve pretty much laid my cards on the table: I’m a total hater when it comes to Belle de Jour. I’m irritated, as an advocate of sex writing and of good writing in general, because the book’s content is so mediocre. I think women (and men) have every right to write about sex, and if they don’t have the ability to make their sex nuanced and believable, well, fine. They can give us the pencil sketch and move on with their memoir, but, please, don’t market it as “scorching” and “sizzling.”

But what makes me even more irate is the way Belle is treated in the media. This article, for example, argues that Belle is actually a middle-aged man, yet they preface this with praise that Belle has “the erudition of a college professor.” (Because, you know, only middle-aged men can come across convincingly as college professors.) Honestly, though, why would you ever say that about Belle? Because she references Martin Amis? Because in one entry she includes the etymology of the work “shark”? (It’s called “looking shit up” and you don’t even have to have a college degree to do it, let alone a tenured position at Harvard.) This article points out that it was only after Belle won a blog award for best writing that media attempts to out the real, presumed non-prostitute author began in earnest.

All these claims that Belle’s not “real” are founded in the assertion that she’s simply too intelligent or too capable to be a prostitute, a ludicrous idea that’s made all the more insulting by the fact Belle does not come across as being all that brilliant. I know brilliant prostitutes. Several brilliant prostitutes are good friends of mine. And journalists, Belle is no brilliant prostitute. (Or rather, if she is, it’s not evident in her writing.) She’s an individual who can write clear, if not particularly engaging, prose. Let’s not tout her as Pulitzer Prize worthy.

For whatever it’s worth, I don’t really believe Belle is/was an escort, although her validity as such is ultimately not as interesting as the media’s and the public’s response around her success. Her depictions of work sessions just struck me as those of someone imagining that life, not really living it, but maybe that’s because her descriptions—all of her descriptions—are too superficial to create any sense of authenticity, even in non-work matters.

I recently came across this blog entry, which is one of the more interesting takes on the debate that I’ve read:

It’s not that a call-girl can’t be literate and write well. Rather, look at it this way - between a real prostitute imagining being a journalist, and a real journalist imagining being a prostitute, which sounds more likely? Which profession is better equipped to exploit the other?

Many call-girls don’t just have the capacity to be well-spoken and intelligent, they already are intelligent and well-spoken. Some are well-traveled, speak other languages, have college degrees, and make valuable observations about sex. And this fact deserves a better spokesperson than Belle de Jour so, ladies, get writing!

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Monica Shores