Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Belle de Jour: Just Why IS There Such a Furor?

I have been pondering.

Why has the revelation by the fabulous Belle de Jour that she is the equally fabulous and well-regarded research scientist Dr. Brooke Magnanti hit the literary world with such staggering force?

My buddy, BISH, also raises this question on his great blog.

Would there have been this much uproar if Belle and been a Ben? Is the real reason that Belle’s reveal became such a BIG deal because she is, in fact, an accomplished woman? I say abso-fucking-lutely!

The foundation of the literary world was shaken because an "unknown" female writer, with worldly experience and fucking-freaking talent, had the audacity to challenge the old guard. Hey fellas, that writer is STILL STANDING, and she's better and stronger than ever!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with her, Belle de Jour had been the nom de plume of a celebrated erotic author, and award-winning blogger, who was also a London call girl for two years.

On Sunday, Belle revealed her true identity through a voluntary interview with the London Sunday Times. Brooke’s specialist areas are developmental neurotoxicology and cancer epidemiology. She has a PhD in informatics, epidemiology and forensic science and is now working at the Bristol Initiative for Research of Child Health. She is currently part of a team researching the potential effects on babies of their mothers' exposure to toxic chemicals.

But, from 2003 to late 2004, Brooke worked as a prostitute via a London escort agency; she started blogging as Belle de Jour — after the Buñuel film starring Catherine Deneuve as a well-to-do housewife who has sex for money because she’s bored — shortly into her career as a call girl, after an incident she thought funny enough to write down.

She charged £300 an hour for her services, of which she got £200. The average appointment lasted two hours; she saw clients two or three times a week, “sometimes less, sometimes a great deal more,” she told the London Sunday Times.

As a US fan since her first blog post hit the internet in 2003, I had never fully understood until now how devotedly the UK media had gone to unmask Belle. Nor was I truly cognizant of the amazing number of theories about her even existing. Apparently, the most popular was that Belle was a construct, a true fake, a non-person created by a famous male writer or journalist! How utterly insulting and deeply chauvinistic.

To me, the truth is quite simple: Belle/Brooke continues to break every mold, and challenge tired and offensive stereotypes, while having a wonderfully sex-filled time of it all. And the male literary bastions can't FUCKING stand it!

As a reader, it never occurred to me that Belle was anything other than she purported to be. Her writing was real, and her literary voice completely authentic and utterly unique. I still check her blog every day. I’ve never missed a post, not because she’s famous or controversial, but because she’s a lyrical, important writer who’s had a deep impact on me and my life.

Even though I never knew her name until now, I know her. She has become a dear friend through her writing. She has written about her sexual adventures and misadventures while having worked in the sex industry, but so very much more. In truth, Belle/Brooke has always written about life.

What sets her writing apart is not merely the topics, and the point of view, but the way she writes. She has a unique style, an unforgettable voice. Equal parts humor, wit, wisdom and shining, literate brilliance, there is unflinching truth within her writing. All the time, somehow managing to be incredibly entertaining.

In addition, she is a sex-positive woman who likes men! I don’t mean just in bed, but as a species. Can you imagine? In this day and age of constant man bashing by so-called feminists, it’s refreshing to read a different approach.

If you truly read her blog, it would never occur to you that she is not real, or that she is a he, for God’s sake! I have just begun to imagine how Brooke must have felt to have had to read that dreck for years without being able to set the record straight.

In fact, it was recent criticism by the Archbishop of York that was the final straw.

“He didn’t think I was real either,” Brooke told the London Sunday Times. “He said I was fiction. I thought, when did I become fictional? That’s when I first thought, enough — I’m coming out.

“The thing is that people are complex. People lead complicated lives. I’m not the only person walking around who’s an ex-call-girl, believe me. And you can’t say I’m not real, and that my experience isn’t real, because here I am,” Brooke added.

As usual, it was Brooke’s WRITING in her Sunday blog post that best explained her decision: “What it took me years to realise is that while I've changed a lot since writing these diaries – my life has moved on so much, in part thanks to the things that happened then – Belle will always be a part of me. She doesn't belong in a little box, but as a fully acknowledged side of a real person. The non-Belle part of my life isn't the only ‘real’ bit, it’s ALL real.

Belle and the person who wrote her had been apart too long. I had to bring them back together.

So a perfect storm of feelings and circumstances drew me out of hiding. And do you know what? It feels so much better on this side. Not to have to tell lies, hide things from the people I care about. To be able to defend what my experience of sex work is like to all the sceptics and doubters.

Anonymity had a purpose then – it will always have a reason to exist, for writers whose work is too damaging or too controversial to put their names on. But for me, it became important to acknowledge that aspect of my life and my personality to the world at large.

I am a woman. I lived in London. I was a call girl.

The people, the places, the actions and feelings are as true now as they were then, and I stand behind every word with pride. Thank you for reading and following my adventures.

Love, Belle”

Asked specifically why she decided to reveal herself now, Brooke told the London Sunday Times, “It was time. I’ve felt so much guardedness and paranoia about remaining anonymous recently. It’s really been playing with my emotions. Now I just really want to be on the other side of this. I don’t mind what happens about coming out; I don’t want this massive secret over me any more. It’s changing the way I behave around people, the way I conduct my life.”

Since then, the media and bloggers have gone bonkers over her revelation, and I have worried incessantly about her, clucking about like a mother hen. A friend told me not to, that Brooke would handle the media frenzy like water off a duck’s back. He was so right!

Brooke has emerged as she ever was, calm, funny, strong, passionate, centered and continuing her more-than-quotable writing!

Part of my concern came from my own life experience. I had kept my own sexuality, I’m gay, closeted throughout my work life. When I finally released it, I did so because the weight of the unspoken truth threatened to crush me surer than the feared actions by some homophobic co-worker or boss. Nonetheless, I shook for weeks with the anxiety before and after my disclosure, and I didn’t come out to the whole fucking world!

Brooke, 34, has also told her mother, who now lives in the US, releasing this statement yesterday: “My mother is being fully supportive and says she’s ’not one to judge’,” she said. “I, for one, am happy and relieved.”

Elsewhere on the web, Brooke added, “Yes, mum has been especially good & supportive. Wish I'd told them sooner, now.”

I was thrilled by this. In addition, her co-workers, employer and publisher have all supported Brooke. Bravo to all!

And the blog that kickstarted all this? “The blog will continue for the time being, even though it doesn’t feel authentic to keep on being Belle. But I’ll keep on for a bit. I’d like her to have a happy ending.”

May the shining Belle de Jour have the best and happiest of endings, and may the equally shining Brooke Magnanti have the best and happiest of beginnings. I continue to vow to be first in line at the bookstore for anything and everything that Brooke ever writes!

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