Cover Image: Pretty Baby

Pretty Baby

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Member Reviews

✨ review: ’pretty baby’ by chris belcher (out now!) ✨

happy happy monday, friends! today, i’m giving you a lil baby review of chris belcher’s new memoir “pretty baby” about her years as a queer teen rebelling against what was expected of her, and later about her work as a “lesbian dominatrix” in los angeles while she attends grad school. the book is part coming-of-age story as belcher explores her queerness in a small town and breaks away from the feminine ideals placed on her, and part story of her dominatrix work. both parts played off each other, creating a strong narrative of belcher’s life & lessons learned, about queerness & identity & sex work & power. this book was simultaneously hilarious & moving, and i like how belcher recognized her own amount of privilege as a while woman in the sex work industry. definitely pick this one up if this description sounds up your alley!
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Very interesting memoir about sex work in America, which was complicated by the politics of academics.
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THIS BOOK - I DEVOURED IT. Chris Belcher has written a searing memoir about her sexuality and experiences with sex work, sharing a trove of eye opening stories about our society's experience with sex. 

I haven't read many memoirs from this POV, but Belcher takes us through her childhood, recognizing the moments she knew she was gay, and the familial and social challenges she dealt with to be her true self. Eventually, she meets Catherine, a woman who is a powerful dom in LA, with her own studio for clients. Chris ultimately learns from Catherine, and while pursuing a PhD, does dominatrix work on the side. She highlights the addictive nature of sex work, the conversations and experiences she had with many (unnamed) clients, and how she reconciled her two very different identities.

This was well written, eye opening and and gave an unflinching look at this world many of us don't fully understand. Please give this one a read!
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It took me a while to get into this book and it’s strange because a lot of the things that I found off-putting or strange at first were actually things she doubles down on as the book goes on (for example, how graphic the sexual content is but in a way that’s a bit clinical or odd), yet I found myself way more drawn in during the second half. The description of the book - a queer memoir, covering childhood in Appalachia through balancing academia and sex work in LA - seemed like something very much up my alley but the style and content itself ended up being very different from the books I’m normally drawn to. I’m glad I read it, it definitely gave me a new perspective and a lot to think about re: power, sex, work, gender, etc. I don’t know that I’d want to read it again though?

Other thoughts:

I think that sometimes this book doesn’t know whether it wants to be a memoir or an essay collection. I know the line can be a bit blurry anyways but I actually think this would have worked better had it leaned in to being a book of essays. The more autobiographical/narrative components were a bit disjointed and I think essays would have freed me up from trying to follow the linear progression of her life as much. 

There’s an almost passivity in the way she writes, that I don’t necessarily dislike but is just a bit hard to read. She’s very vague about how she makes the decisions she does so it often feels like things are happening to her rather than her being a person with agency in her own story. And I don’t mean that in a judgy “I would never do that so I don’t understand why she would” way, I’m left equally surprised and perplexed by her decision to start domme-ing as I am about why she chose her field to pursue grad school in or what tattoos to get. 

The way she writes about sex extremely graphically yet in a way that is not at all sexy is honestly kind of brilliant. I felt like I could understand so much better her feelings of having this very intimate and sexual experience with somebody but it ultimately feeling like work. That said, it will 1000% not be for everyone. 

I couldn’t get past the fact that I was at USC with the author. We didn’t overlap in any way as far as I know and I was a baby naive undergrad when she would have started her PhD, but the fact that every time she mentions the quad or the building her department is in, I can picture if and was there when these things were happening makes it even more bizarre how vastly different our worlds were.
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Great memoir, fun to read and fast paced. This captures what (can) lead up to becoming a sex worker -surprise!! sometimes not trauma- and what sex work can look like. I loved the author's voice, dryly funny and clearly intelligent. Her story was laced with just the right amount of "elder millennial" nostalgia to make her story feel familiar but not pandering. Chris Belcher can weave me a tale any day and it very much felt like catching up with a friend over late night drinks, trading outrageous tales of sex, money, and power. Loved this book and read it quickly! I can imagine a sensitive reader might find it to have a high ick factor, it didn't bug me at all. Who am I to yuck someone else's consenting yum?

 **Thanks to Net Galley and Avid Reader Press for the ARC!**
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It can be hard to rate memoirs because I don’t want to be giving a star rating to someone’s personal experience, so I tend to rate based on the writing and storytelling of the book. That being said this memoir was very well written, engaging me at every point, and the story was very easy to follow. The author gets pretty vulnerable, sharing not only the details of her life, but also some inner thoughts and desires, which also makes for a great memoir. I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who likes memoirs.
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I couldn't finish this, nor could I give it an accurate rating, so I'll leave it at 3 stars.
I am a lesbian and male desire is the furthest thing from my interest. I recognize my privilege in that I am not a sex worker. I'm sure reading about a lesbian sex worker's interactions with men is compelling to some readers, but for me, it became uncomfortable. The author is very witty and her experiences will probably resonate with a lot of people, but this particular topic just wasn't right for me.
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A memoir by a lesbian dominatrix/assistant professor/editor of a fab essay collection that touches on gender, sexuality, desires, power, and class? Yes please! 

I was intrigued by Belcher’s memoir from the get go. Having grown up in rural Appalachia, Belcher was raised with the image of the ideal woman - straight, feminine, acquiescent. Exploring her desires and sexuality outside of the heteronormative framework of her upbringing challenged that perception. 

Struggling financially as a PhD student (Belcher focuses a lot on how jobs in academia pay abysmally), she is introduced to the world of pro-domming as an extra income source. She keeps her work as a dominatrix secret for fear of stigmatisation, knowing that for many it is one thing to engage with sex work in an academic setting but quite another to know your teacher/colleague/student engages in sex work. 

She talks about being a lesbian domme working with mostly male clients (“My clientele wanted a woman who would never want them in return and at that I excelled”), the male privilege to choose when to accept shame and violence (“Women don’t have to relinquish power. We don’t have to pay to be beaten, to be told that we’re worthless. We don’t have to pay to be scared out of our wits”), the stigmatization of sex work, & how your appearance can be both an armor and an identifier. 

She also makes a point to point out her privilege as a white cis domme, even as dommes face their own discrimination within the sex work community: “They (trans femme and gay male dommes) were expected to offer their bodies in ways the clients did not expect of me. Sometimes, we got paid the same rate. Often, I got paid more. (…) The ability to mitigate risk - criminal or physical - like the ability to refuse touch, is dependent upon racial, class, gender, and sexual privilege.” 

One to get your hands on!
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Smart, sharp writing with a wonderful sense of pacing and tension. Deeply enjoyed this read and can't recommend it enough. I love to see queer women celebrated and centered and to read work that doesn't feel like it's been watered down for cishet readers. Smooth, precise writing with an intriguing storyline--can't ask for more!
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