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Pretty Baby

Appearance Date: 10/29/2022

The dominatrix is the id of American femininity,” writes Chris Belcher. “She says the words that we wish we could say when we find ourselves frozen. No is principal among them.”

From an early age, Belcher appeared destined for a life of conventional femininity. At all of eight months old, she took first place in an infant beauty contest, a minor glory that tends to follow you around a working-class town of 1,600 people in rural Appalachia. As a high school freshman, she goes along with what’s expected of her: joining the cheerleaders and winning over the boys. Girls who cater to male desire are admired. But admiration is fleeting, double standards are enraging, and Belcher is restless for a chance to act on her own desires. When she falls in love with another girl and shares the secret of her queerness, the conservative community that had once celebrated its prettiest baby swiftly turns on her. A decade later and two thousand miles away, 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 woman 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 side 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 who seeks revenge through blackmail. Belcher refuses to feel shame about the work she does, but fear that her doctorate program won’t approve—even in the field of gender and sexuality studies—burdens her with a double life. Pretty Baby is her second coming out.

As Lisa Taddeo’s New York Times bestseller Three Women gave us a revelatory look inside female desire, this sharp and discerning memoir dissects male desire—its harm, its greed, and its secrets—and examines how queerness could hold the answers to subverting it.

Meet the Author

Chris Belcher
Chris Belcher

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.