FINALIST FOR THE 2022 LAMBDA LITERARY AWARD FOR LESBIAN MEMOIR
‘A muscular, canny memoir . . . I couldn’t put it down. What a fucking gorgeous book’ CARMEN MARIA MACHADO
‘Entertaining’ New York Times
‘Absolutely not to be missed’ Vogue
‘A gripping story’ Esquire
Chris Belcher appeared destined for a life of conventional femininity after she took first place in an infant beauty contest – a minor glory that followed her around her small, working-class town 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 during a PhD program, Belcher plunges into a double life as both student and sex worker, branding herself as L.A.’s Renowned Lesbian Dominatrix. As she moves between the embodied world of the pro-domme and the abstract realm of academia, she discovers how lessons from the classroom can apply to the dungeon and vice versa.
In this searingly funny and perceptive memoir, we see through eyes of a dominatrix-turned-academic how power, shame and desire can be explored and subverted.
‘A muscular, canny memoir about labor and power and gender… I couldn’t put it down. What a fucking gorgeous book‘ – Carmen Maria Machado
‘Absolutely not to be missed‘ – Vogue
‘Chris Belcher’s entertaining debut recounts how a West Virginia adolescent who read Foucault and Derrida went on to become ‘L.A.’s renowned lesbian dominatrix.’ Her work is as much about money and financial precarity as it is about sex and sexuality. . . Juggling her careers in sex work and academia, the author lays bare the soul-crushing difference in pay’ – New York Times
‘In a lucid examination of power, sexuality, and class, Belcher tells a gripping story about the performance of identity, inside and outside of the dungeon. . . A discerning memoir‘ – Esquire
‘Count me among Chris Belcher’s forever fans. Pretty Baby is a taut and intelligent story of defining one’s selfhood and relationship ideals while toggling between the seemingly disparate worlds of sex work and academia, which are (of course) more similar than many would think. It is also an engrossing queer bildungsroman whose nervy, sympathetic protagonist had my heart from page one‘ – Melissa Febos, author of WHIP SMART and BODY WORK
‘A must read for anyone interested in seeing the cultural conversation about gender and sexuality pushed further. . . Pretty Baby asks more of the reader than many memoirs’ – Electric Literature
‘Fascinating and wonderful . . . Belcher uses her experiences as a young queer person in rural America and as a lesbian dominatrix in one of the biggest, most economically disparate cities in the country to explore the ways in which shame infiltrates and influences every corner of our society. . . . She shows how omnipresent the power of shame is and raises questions about how we can take that power back’ – Autostraddle
Chris Belcher is a writer, professor, and former sex worker. She completed a PhD in English at the University of Southern California, where she is now assistant professor of writing and gender studies. 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.