Thursday, December 17, 2009

In Which I Sort Of Go All Fangirl

The lovely and talented Belle de Jour was good enough to grant me an interview recently, in the wake of her coming out as (gasp) a intelligent, emotionally balanced woman who did sex work for a while, had nothing particularly terrible happen, moved on with her life, and has no regrets about having done it.

Apparently that's a really shocking concept for a lot of people in the media. (Or at least, they pretend it is.) And a lot of them have tried to shake her from that position. But I saw a clip of Belle on TV not long ago, and I was thrilled because she was perfectly poised and composed, and she just seemed so blessedly normal.

I mean normal in the most flattering sense. Anytime I see a sex worker on a talk-show, I pretty much expect her to come off looking like a train wreck. Because that's the kind of person talk-show producers want to have on their shows, and most of the time, that's who they get. Particularly when the topic has anything to do with sex that's the slightest bit non-traditional.

And if you aren't a train wreck when you walk onto the stage, you'll probably be one by the time you walk off. I have known sexual outlaws who were able to hold their own with aggressive media people who were clearly trying to trip them up - Allena Gabosch comes to mind, and Veronica Monet - but most of us aren't trained for that, and so we get flustered and look stupid.

But when I watched Belle, she just seemed - sane. Calm. Rational, even. Just... normal! I was immensely pleased - and absurdly proud of her, even though I didn't have a thing to do with it.

Okay, so, enough fangirling.

You can read the Stranger's version of that interview here. However, since my column space at The Stranger is strictly limited to not-quite 500 words, I never have enough space to talk about everything I really want to. Here's the questions and answers I couldn't make fit in the Stranger piece.

Thanks again, Belle!


Mistress Matisse: There’s this habit I’ve seen in a lot of women in sex work that I call thinking in “Sex Worker Units.” Whatever one earns per hour, one forms the habit of translating those dollars into time and making spending choices accordingly. A woman who thinks in Sex Worker Units will look at the price tag on, say, a dress, and think, “$900? Hmm, that would only take me 3 hours to earn.”

I find it generally skews towards being freer with money - three hours doesn't really sound like very much, really. It's easier to justify dropping cash on this or that.

The other way of saying this, that I used to hear a lot among dancers in particular, was "I'll make it back." As in, "I spent X dollars at the mall today, but it's okay, I'll make it back tonight." As if one had temporarily mislaid the money, but would soon find it again.

For good or for bad, these ways of thinking about money seems to be a hard habit for women who leave the sex industry to break. Belle, do you still catch yourself thinking of money as Sex Worker Units? (If you ever did. I suppose not everyone does.)

Belle de Jour: You know, I don't. But the main difference between you and me is that sex work was like an agreeable summer job for me, whereas it's your real vocation and talent. I tend to think in "scientist units". (As in, if I get that research grant, I can squeeze that extra conference in Rome this year...)

Mistress Matisse: What is the question that no interviewer has yet asked you, that you wish they would? (And what’s the answer?)

Belle de Jour: I wish they'd ask what I think of funding in research and academia. Not everyone in my situation would have chosen this (sex work), but plenty do. It's a crime when the slightly dim are running the banks into the ground and the truly clever are fighting over a pittance. People think once you're in science you have a job for life - I know people who sell shoes and make more than me, and I have to fight for my position every year. And we wonder why no one takes climate change science et al. seriously - it's because scientists are so little valued.


Go buy Belle's books! And DVDs of her TV show, too. UK Amazon here, US versions on Amazon here and here. Powell's online is here.

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