A queer teen rebel escapes small-town Appalachia and becomes Los Angeles’s Renowned Lesbian Dominatrix in this searing and darkly funny memoir that upends our ideas about desire, class, and power.
“Pretty Baby is a muscular, canny memoir about labor and power and gender; it shimmers with rage and insight and I couldn’t put it down. What a fucking gorgeous book.” –Carmen Maria Machado, author of In the Dream House
“Chris Belcher’s Pretty Baby reminds me why I fell in love with memoirs in the first place.”–Saeed Jones, author of How We Fight for Our Lives
The dominatrix is the id of American femininity. She says the words that we all wish we could say when we find ourselves frozen in the presence of men. No is principal among them.
So writes Chris Belcher, who appeared destined for a life of conventional femininity after she took first place in an infant beauty contest–a minor glory that can follow you around a working-class town of 1,600 people in rural West Virginia. But when she came out as queer, the conservative community that had once celebrated its prettiest baby turned on her.
A decade later, living in Los Angeles and trying to stay afloat in the early years of a PhD program, Belcher plunges into the work of a pro domme. Branding herself as LA’s Renowned Lesbian Dominatrix, she specializes in male clients who want a domme to make them feel worthless, shameful, and weak–all the abuse regularly heaped upon women for free. A queer woman whom men can trust with the unorthodox sides of their sexualities, Belcher is paid to be the keeper of the fantasies that they can’t enact in their everyday relationships. But moonlighting as a sex worker also carries risks, like the not-so-submissive who tries to turn the tables and the jealous client out for revenge.
As Belcher moves between the embodied world of the pro domme and the abstract realm of academia, she discovers how lessons from the classroom apply to the dungeon, and vice versa. Still, fear that her doctoral program won’t approve burdens her with a double life. Pretty Baby is her second coming out.
In this sharp and discerning memoir, we see through Belcher’s eyes how power and desire can be renegotiated–or reinforced.