Could there be anyone left in the Western World that doesn’t know what Dr Brooke Magnanti used to do for a living – or doubt that she did it?
Apparently, there is – Owen Morris, her ex-boyfriend through the Belle years no less, who now plans to sue her. He claims that she fabricated her escort exploits, defamed him and breached his privacy by effectively outing him too, and by reattributing details of their conversations and sex lives to the clients described in her Belle de Jour blog and books. Her poetic licence, Morris claims, has cost him his career.
Who knows what is motivating Morris. Self-loathing, genuine heartache, or a combination of the two? Alas, if only he’d known that when you sign up to romantic involvement with a writer, you kiss goodbye to privacy. But as a former dominatrix and erotic memoirist myself, I can tell you that the fear of men ‘tainted by association’ with you is an all-too familiar trope when it comes to telling your story.
In the face of continued media ‘outings’, sex workers and adult entertainers chronicle their lives in a bid for empowerment, a chance to create a ‘whore-story’ previously banished to Sexual Moralism’s Pandora’s Box.
When word got out that I was writing a BDSM sex memoir, detailing my descent from professional dominatrix to personal submissive, the reaction of those I’d once carnally known was hilarious and bizarre. Some offered to have sex with me again so that the descriptions would be ‘fresh’ while others begged me not to mention them at all. One former colleague who’d always been a little too interested in my private life said, "Well, there’ll definitely be men that won’t marry you now." "Thank god", I replied tartly. Oh, and let’s not forget the narcissist-unworthy-of-a-footnote who bragged to his friends that, though he hadn’t read Bound To You, he was certain that it was about him. Given that the plot hinges around the male protagonist’s penectomy fetish, you’d think he’d have bothered to do his research.
There’s nothing like the potency of sexual revelation for making a subject dread his or her cameo. Especially when they were unscrupulous in the first place, like my lecherous former boss who allegedly become apoplectic when he heard of my commission. Presumably he panicked that I’d reveal incriminating details about how he (married conservative, religious) had sexually harassed me (single, liberal, slutty fair game). I have a litany of email evidence against him, but at the point I worked for him, I was still not ‘out’ as a former sex worker. As such, I didn’t sue because I was scared that, with his privilege and connections, he’d hire a lawyer that would frame me as a whore-on-the-make who invited every untoward attention I received.
That’s the thing about sex work. Disclosure, especially by someone else, can seriously undermine your livelihood. American PhD student and occasional porn actress Christina Parreira currently fears for the future of her academic career after her ‘sexting affair’ with a Pasadena porn professor Hugo Schwyzer was exposed by a vindictive ex who syndicated the story across the US media. Schwyzer had affairs with several women, but was never physical with Parriera. Yet she was the one exposed. After all, with her antics, she has no reputation to lose, right?
But back to Magnanti, who must now defend the fact she was an escort as a matter of authorial integrity. It brings a progressive twist to the notion of the ‘honest whore’. Magnanti is the architectural mistress of her own sexual and literary reputation. But it’s a reputation Morris tried to reconfigure in the Mail on Sunday account by describing Magnanti as a PhD student “in cute second-hand sweaters”, recasting her as angel in their shared house, rather than paid whore in a luxury hotel room.
Why doesn’t Morris just come out and say it? He is uncomfortable with the fact he dated a sex worker. That would actually be less galling than what he’s doing now - undermining Magnanti’s narrative by painting himself as her victim.