Chris Belcher on Blurring the Lines Between Sex Work and Academia
In Conversation with Mitzi Rapkin on the First Draft Podcast
First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.
In this episode, Mitzi talks to Chris Belcher about her new memoir, Pretty Baby.
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From the episode:
Mitzi Rapkin: There are parts in your books that I want to ask you about, especially feminist theory and writing and storytelling, and how that intersected with or influenced the dominatrix work that you did.
Chris Belcher: The book is very much not academic, although I do hope that it reads like feminist praxis in some ways. It definitely is not feminist theory, but there are a few moments in the book where I bring in Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s work a couple of times. She writes on affect and shame. And there’s this moment in the beginning of the book where I’m in a graduate seminar, and we’re discussing her work and the idea that we’re discussing is how to distinguish shame from guilt.
Shame, she writes, attaches to who one is, whereas guilt is just something that one does. In terms of sex work, people often think that there’s a certain kind of person who could do it, right? And that’s the contradiction with sex work and academia; there’s a kind of person who does academia, and that’s not the kind of person who does sex work, and vice versa.
And so, I’m sitting in this room and I’m learning these things, but I already know them. I learned that lesson in the dungeon. I learned that lesson because I was in the closet. And just from that situation, I already knew it. I didn’t need to read it in a book. What I hope my book does, especially for people who are interested in feminist theory, or who are interested in queer theory, is that the ideas that I’m working through as a dominatrix were to me just as applicable as the things that I was learning in my studies. And so I do hope that the boundaries or the lines between those two kinds of work get blurred.
Chris Belcher is a writer, professor, and former sex worker. She completed a PhD in English at the University of Southern California, where she now teaches Gender and Sexuality Studies and in the Writing Program. Under her working name, Natalie West, she edited the acclaimed anthology We Too: Essays on Sex Work and Survival. Born and raised in West Virginia, she now lives in Los Angeles with her partner and two orange cats. Her memoir is called Pretty Baby.