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The Whore Hierarchy

Pretty Baby

by Chris Belcher

Simon & Schuster / Avid Reader (2022)


At one point during this exceptionally honest memoir, the author wonders exactly where you draw the line between sex and work if you are a professional dominatrix. Advertising herself as "Los Angeles´ Most Renowned Lesbian Dominatrix," Chris Belcher humiliates, scolds, spanks, and flogs her clients, using the money to help pay for her doctoral studies in queer studies. When working with men, Belcher feels that it is easier for her separate the personal from the professional; within the "whore hierarchy," what she does isn´t quite "sex," right? Even when donning a rubber glove and sticking her fingers up another man´s ass? But Belcher´s carefully curated philosophy becomes challenged when a rare female client visits her dungeon, and she begins to wonder how much of this perspective is accurate and true, and how much is just a strategy to avoid guilt and shame. If Beclher were to pick this woman up at a party, take her home, and tie her up with rope, that would be sex; but doing these exact same things with her, or anyone, for money makes the encounter work. Right?


While sexually explicit, Pretty Baby is not particularly sexually arousing. Intimately knowledgeable about the world of professional sex work, Belcher determinedly pulls the veil away from the fantasy, eloquently revealing to readers not only what it is really like to work as a Pro Domme (hint: it´s not that glamorous), but also her journey from growing up dirt-ass poor in Appalachia to charging hundreds of dollars an hour to dominate (mostly) men in the City of Angels. Not since Tyler Knight´s Burn My Shadow or Heather Berg´s Porn Work has there been such an unflinching description of not only the day to day business of sex work, but also the motivations behind why Belcher and many others go into this profession. Like those aforementioned texts, Belcher´s memoir chooses to make a decisive shift away from the sex, and emphasize what being a dominatrix is really about: money.


And not just money, but also all the things that it can buy, and especially for women. Belcher goes into substantial detail about how a significant part of the appeal of being a professional dominatrix is that it is not only a way to make a buck, but to do so as a kind of retaliation against men, against the patriarchy, which seems to be getting only more toxic and misogynistic during this era of late-stage capitalism. The first half of Pretty Baby traces Belcher´s childhood in West Virginia, a painful portrait of her trying to get out get of her circumstances, to not "get stuck", to get out and never look back. These opening chapters also articulate her coming out, in all of its awkwardness, confusion, and beauty. Even before she relocates to California, Belcher is learning the techniques of fantasy--how to build it, how to dispel it. As a teenager during the early days of the internet, she invents roles online to meet various strangers, and tries to nimbly navigate her attraction to other girls without suffering reprisals from her family or her friends at school. Cliques, social status, power: from an early age, Belcher learns these all go back to sex, and that it is not the same for boys as it is for girls. How can she (or any woman) embrace her sexual identity, particularly as a queer woman, without shame? And more, with agency and freedom?


When Belcher meets Catherine, an established dominatrix who also serves as a kind of mentor, sex work seems like a solution. Belcher is innately adept at the psychology of domination, and learns to adapt to the unique set of risks that go along with this profession. Pretty Baby doesn´t shy away from describing the dangers, stress, and financial calculations that go into working as a Pro Domme; Belcher also goes in-depth to show us the kinds of activities she performs with her clients, the way these (mostly) men treat her, as well as how this impacts her other social circles. How does she engage with other sex workers, other Dommes? How does she reconcile this "bill-paying job" from her graduate studies? What is this juggle like, and what is its price? In this memoir, Belcher has chosen to be candid, honest, and straightforward, qualities which only add power to the quality of her writing.


Pretty Baby is an exceptional memoir, describing a world which few know about firsthand, but which many are intrigued by. This author has courageously given readers the real deal, and not some bland or generalized fantasy. By going to such eloquent lengths to describe her life and not just her experience as a sex worker, Belcher has written a book which is far more than a "tell all" about the life of a dominatrix. Pretty Baby instead asks questions about the intersection of gender, sexuality, class, and identity that are important for us all to contemplate.



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