A Form of Dating

by Dan H

Dan did not have his mind blown or his preconceptions challenged by Paying for It
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First off, this article is going to contain a certain amount of talk about rape, so if you find that sort of thing triggering it might be best to steer clear.

Scenario:

You see an attractive woman. You proposition her for sex. She seems nervous and shows no signs of wanting to have sex with you. She agrees to go with you but only because a third party intervenes and instructs her to.

Now, some questions.

Question one, based purely on this information: has this woman consented to have sex with you?

Question two, based purely on this information, and your answer to question one: will you have sex with her anyway?

Question three: Do your answers to questions one and two change if the woman in question is a prostitute?

Paying For It is a graphic novel by Chester Brown about his his experiences “being a John”. The book is not without its merits, the art style is simple but evocative, the central character is effectively drawn, and the text is, if nothing else, painfully honest.

But the book has a rather significant flaw, which is that depending on the precise details of some events, the author might actually have raped somebody.

Now that's a pretty big accusation to put at the start of an article in a webzine, particularly since, as we all know, being accused of rape is the worst thing that can possibly happen to a person (and is certainly far, far worse than being raped) so the first thing I should do is make it very clear that I am not saying that Chester Brown is evil, or that he is a bad person. The definition of “rape” I am using for the purposes of this article is the (surprisingly controversial) definition of “sex with a person who does not want you to have sex with them” rather than the more common definition of “sex in which you penetrate somebody by force, with the express intent of raping them”. I do not believe that Chester Brown enjoys the latter variety of rape, and I do not believe he considers rape qua rape to be a good thing. I do not believe that he considers himself to be a rapist, or that he self defines as one, and I do not doubt that has also had, and will continue to have, consensual sex with women (one of the other peculiar notions people seem to have about rape is that rapists are somehow incapable of having consensual sex at all).

When I say that Chester Brown might be a rapist, I mean only that on the evidence presented in his autobiographical graphic novel Paying For It he seems to have had sex with at least one person who did not appear to consent, and he appears not to have noticed.

Paying For It tells the story of how, after being dumped by his last girlfriend, Chester Brown decides that he doesn't want to be in another relationship, but that he still wants to have sex. After a long period of prevarication, he decides to try visiting a prostitute. His friends all mock him about this, but he does it anyway (and the scene where he first attempts to pick up a streetwalker, which ends up with his cycling round and round Toronto for hours and finding nothing is both touching and amusing). He finally meets up with his first prostitute and begins his new life as a guy who pays for sex.

The pattern of the book is now as follows: Chester visits a prostitute. Chester has a conversation with his friends in which they present stupid, straw-man arguments about why what he's doing is wrong, Chester visits another prostitute, Chester has another stupid, straw-man argument. Repeat. And repeat. And repeat. With more and more text every time. At the end of the book he meets a prostitute with whom he develops a monogamous relationship (she becomes the only prostitute he sleeps with, he becomes her only client) and ends with the line “paying for sex isn't an empty experience if you're paying the right person for sex” (which I almost like, it has a witty self irony so much of the text lacks).

After that there is a brief epilogue in which, having spent the entire book arguing that prostitution is okay, that there should be no shame in visiting prostitutes, or in being a prostitute, and that prostitution should be decriminalized (but not legalized – more on this later) he makes the hilarious protestation that his monogamous-paying-for-sex partner is not a prostitute, because she doesn't have any other clients. I'm sorry but you can't have it both ways: either there's nothing wrong with paying for sex, and nothing wrong with being paid for sex, in which case there's also nothing wrong with accepting that the woman who you pay to have sex with you is a prostitute and will always be a prostitute no matter how long your relationship lasts, or else the entire book is a gigantic waste of time.

After the epilogue of Paying for it there is I-shit-you-not twenty pages of appendices in which the author lays out his beliefs about prostitution (those he has not already crowbarred into the increasingly didactic, increasingly wall-of-texty conversations with his friends in the rest of the book). This section of the book opens with the assertion that “prostitution is a form of dating”.

Let me be very clear about this. I have no moral objections to prostitution by itself, I have no particular qualms about it at all. Indeed one of the few things I agree with Chester about is that it is stupid and offensive to object to people visiting prostitutes on the grounds that you “shouldn't have to pay for it”. Men shouldn't feel that their self-worth is bound up in their number of sexual partners. Were I feeling glib, I might point out that for somebody who has rejected the idea that sexual conquests should be the source of a man's self-worth, Chester seems remarkably keen to tell the world about how hot all the prostitutes he's banging are, and makes sure to drop hints that at least one of them would have totally done him for free.

If Chester's conclusion had been “prostitution is a service industry” I would have applauded him for it – the sex industry is all kinds of fucked up, but that's what happens when you mix money, sex and crime. The answer isn't to try to abolish it, that just pushes things further underground. I naively thought the solution was to regulate it, but apparently that's completely wrong (and the only arguments in favour of regulation Chester's moron friends can come up with boil down to “we should be able to force those dirty whores to get their pussies cleaned”). Chester helpfully tells us that it would be wrong to regulate prostitution because, you see, we don't regulate any other industries – who knew! And anyway, prostitution is a form of dating, and we can't regulate people's private lives.

Oh yes, let's get back to “prostitution is a kind of dating”.

This observation (this observation, I should add, which I do not consider remotely refreshing, unusual, or original) is based on the tired old idea that all sexual relationships are about men getting sex, and women getting something else in exchange for that sex. It is rooted in the entirely tedious, extraordinarily pedestrian notion that women are all whores, and that sex is something women only do to gratify men. This assumption is both tedious and false. It is so tedious and false that I cannot really be bothered to refute it.

Of course you could argue that Chester's conclusion does not necessarily derive from this line of misogynistic bullshit. Perhaps when he says “prostitution is a form of dating” he is using “dating” to mean “relationship in which two people meet up and engage in some activity which both hope to find mutually beneficial.” In this case all human interaction is a form of dating, and I have without realising it been dating a number of underaged Russian boys for the last year.

Leaving aside how offensive its core assumptions are, the idea that prostitution is a type of dating is just abysmally stupid. The reasoning that runs “people you date sometimes have sex with you, prostitutes have sex with you, therefore prostitution is dating” is some of the worst logic I have ever seen. One may as well argue that since my girlfriend sometimes cleans the kitchen, and a maid also cleans the kitchen, that having a maid is the same as having a girlfriend. For that matter, it's like arguing that since dogs and llamas both have four legs, that a llama is therefore a species of dog.

If this book was just the sad bleating of a lonely man whose asshole friends diss him for visiting prostitutes (and let's be clear, his friends are assholes) it would be bearable. Annoying and full of smug, not-as-shocking-as-it-thinks-it-is self-justification, but bearable, maybe even enjoyable. What I can't get over, however, is the combination of the “prostitution is dating” thing and the one or two scenes where the girls he was with seemed like they really, really, really didn't want to be having sex with him.

I used the phrase “his friends are assholes” about five times in the last paragraph, but I wanted to make the point. Chester's friends are horrible, small-minded dickheads and I can see why he wrote his book with the assumption that everybody else in the world is a horrible, small-minded dickhead. As somebody who tries not to be a horrible, small-minded dickhead, I like to think that my first reaction to the revelation that a friend had started seeing a prostitute would not be “hey that's not fair, now you're having more sex than me” or “eww that's gross because I think prostitutes are all dirty”. I like to think that my first reaction would be: “Just to check, you have made extra special double sure that this girl isn't being coerced into anything haven't you? Because there's a lot, like a lot of forced prostitution out there and just to make this very clear, if you have sex with a prostitute who doesn't actively want to be a prostitute, you're actually raping somebody.”

In the second brothel Chester visits, he responds to an advertisement placed by a woman named Tina, who turns out not to be hot enough for him (Chester, who by the end of the book is over forty, also at one point turns down a twenty-eight year old for being “too old”). He is ushered outside to where a number of other prostitutes are sitting, and is told he can pick another. He picks a woman (later identified as “Angelina”) who he immediately recognises does not want to be chosen. He does, to give him his due, make a token attempt to let her back out and she does tell him that “it's okay”, but the madam has already clearly told her to do it, and the woman – it is later revealed – speaks virtually no English.

Now the whole thing is presented as deeply sordid and uncomfortable, and not at all exciting or romantic. If it was a work of fiction, I would be almost ready to praise it for engaging with difficult issues. But it isn't a work of fiction, it's an autobiography, and Angelina is a real woman. She is a real woman who, based on the evidence presented in his autobiographical graphic novel Paying For It Chester Brown had sex with despite having good reason to believe that she did not want to.

Again, if this was fiction, it might be interesting, because it might highlight how disgusting the sex trade can be. Chester doesn't hesitate to turn down girls who are too old or too fat or too ugly, but the girl he thinks doesn't want it? He does her, twice. The one he thinks might be underage? Does her too, repeatedly. The one he is pretty damned certain he is causing actual pain? Keeps going anyway.

Just like dating, apparently.

Again, I feel the need to stress that I am not opposed to prostitution. I do not think there is anything wrong with selling sex or buying sex. But there is something wrong with rape. If you have sex with a person who does not want to have sex with you, you are raping them. You are raping them even if they have told you it's okay. You are raping them even if you have paid them. Now to be very clear, I am not saying that all prostitution is rape, it is perfectly reasonable for somebody to want to do something and charge for it anyway, it is even possible for somebody to want to do for money something they would not want to do for free. But it is vitally important to understand that the mere acceptance of payment is not the same as consent.

This is the bit where you can all get your bingo cards out, because at this point I should probably say something like “to be fair to Chester, we can't expect people to be mind-readers.” Ultimately there does come a point where we have to take people's words and actions at face value, where we have to assume that people are being sincere, and are making choices of their own free will. I should also add that it is, to an extent, presumptuous of me to make any kind of statement about what Angelina or the others really wanted. But there comes a point when you have to make a judgement call, and if I had felt the way that Chester describes himself as feeling in the scene where he first meets Angelina I could not, in good conscience have gone through with it, because even if I was ninety percent certain that she was genuinely okay with it, I wouldn't want to take a ten percent chance of being a rapist.

On the back of the book, Neil Gaiman says that: “Paying for It is the kind of book that will engage your mind and force you to think about things in ways you may never have done before.”

This might be true. Certainly I have never thought about prostitution as just another form of dating, but that's because I don't buy into the idea that sex is always something men trade from women, which is the idea at the heart of the book. The idea that paying for sex might be an adequate substitute for a relationship is extraordinarily common – a google search for “prostitute vs girlfriend” reveals page after page of the old “is a prostitute more expensive than a girlfriend” debate. It's not a new idea, guys. Hell, you could see Paying for It as a more direct (and to give Chester his due slightly more honest) version of The Game - indeed they arguably have similar arcs, starting off as an Average Frustrated Chump, the hero finds a way to get all the no-strings sex he wants, and comes out the other end in a nice stable relationship having done a whole bunch of hot babes.

For all its potential Paying for It is a fundamentally self-serving book. Chester completely fails to take any responsibility for his actions. He does, for example, presumably admit that there are underage prostitutes out there, but he does not take this as meaning he should not have sex with a prostitute he suspects of being underage (“she said she was eighteen” is apparently all that is morally required). He presumably also knows that some women are, in fact, coerced into prostitution but does not take this as meaning that he should avoid having sex with women who he might have good reason to suspect were coerced. I might point out here that he mentions in the appendices that he did not, during the events described in the book, know about (the extremely prominent six billion dollar industry of) the international trafficking in sex slaves, and he spends some time pontificating about whether Angelina was actually a sex slave or not. This descends very quickly into a level of self-justification that would be laughable if it wasn't so scary (he argues that they probably weren't sex traffickers, because they had an ugly woman open the door, and that would be bad business) and it seems that his discovery that some of the women he had sex with may have been illegally trafficked immigrants who – let us be clear about this – he raped seems to have had no impact on his beliefs about the sex trade, or to have caused him to question his actions in any way.

Whatever Gaiman might think, this is all blisteringly conventional. Chester Brown, his publishers and presumably Neil Gaiman seem to subscribe to the (extremely common, widely accepted and utterly wrong) belief that “consent” means “anything but a firm, clear no”. By this low standard, Chester's actions are morally unimpeachable. The fact that some of those girls who came to his house might have been doing it under threat of violence is simply not his problem: he paid his money and they took it, and that's all you need to think about. This is a very, very common way of thinking about prostitution, even about forced prostitution (even I – self-consciously right-on as I am – am extremely hesitant to use the word “rape” to describe the act of having sex with somebody who was forced into prostitution, it is a hesitation I am not entirely comfortable with).

Again, I should stress that I might be wrong. I should stress that I do not know all the facts, and am basing this article only off of the portrayal of events in Chester Brown's autobiographical graphic novel Paying for It. It is possible that every single sexual encounter he had was entirely consensual. Hell it's possible the entire book is a work of fiction. But it doesn't read that way to me, and if there is even a ten percent chance that one or more of the women he writes about did not fully consent to the activities he describes in the book, then this is not a book I am comfortable reading.

If there had been so much as one sentence in the book which acknowledged that maybe, just maybe Chester had some responsibility towards the women he was having sex with, some tiny, tiny hint of self-awareness it might have been very different. Instead we see him berating his friend for characterising Johns as “creeps” when his own behaviour is extraordinarily creepy (again I remind you: girl might be underage, give it a go. Girl might be over twenty-eight, get the hell out). We see him arguing against a lot of “myths” about prostitution (that the girls are subjected to violence, that some of them are forced into it by pimps), but we see him carry on fucking a girl he thinks he's hurting, and we can never know if any of the girls he was with were coerced into prostitution because Chester seems not to care. If this was a searing analysis of abuse and hypocrisy, about how an ordinary man can talk himself into doing reprehensible things, it would be remarkable. But is isn't. Chester never presents himself as part of the problem, not least because he refuses to acknowledge that there might be a problem.

Even in the appendices, where he finally admits that he discovered that – gosh, some women really are forced into prostitution does not seem to have made him rethink his decision to write a book in which he didactically and with great authority declares that they aren't. He also does not seem to consider his ignorance of the possibility that some of the women he had sex with might have been sex slaves to be in any way his problem – he seems to believe that the fact that he didn't bother to find out means it wasn't his fault. And remember that the appendices are part of the book, not something that was added on later – so whatever happened at the time, he wrote the actual scenes in which he has sex with these possibly-non-consenting women in the knowledge that they may, in fact, not have been consenting, but he seems not to have considered it important (except insofar as he used the appendices to explain to us why it was all okay).

Let me make myself clear one final time. Paying for It did not blow my mind. It did not “force me to think about things in ways I had never done before”. The reason I was bothered by Chester's story was not because I think it is wrong to visit prostitutes, it isn't. It was not because I believe that all prostitutes have been forced into it by the threat of violence, I am sure the majority have not (although many are, and Chester found that out, years after the fact, and seems not to have cared). I was bothered by Chester's story because he seemed to feel no responsibility whatsoever to make sure that the prostitutes who he visited were there voluntarily, and because in the final analysis, his arguments boil down to “all women are whores”.
Themes: Comics
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Comments (go to latest)
Arthur B at 11:08 on 2011-08-03
Yeah... if you find yourself looking back at a situation and telling yourself "Well, that probably wasn't rape", I kind of think that that isn't much better than having to say to yourself "Well, no doubt about it, that certainly was rape." If you need to give a non-trivial amount of consideration to before you make a judgement call then you've fucked up badly whichever way it goes - either you're actually a rapist, or at the very least you didn't do your due diligence to assure yourself that consent really did exist, in which case you're innocent only through dumb luck, not because you behaved blamelessly.
Jamie Johnston at 14:34 on 2011-08-03
It's sad that anyone should at any point have thought a suitable person to write a mind-blowing make-you-think-again book about the sex industry would be a client (especially a male one) rather than a worker. Because actually what your discussion of consent brings up is the need to hear from sex-workers about what consent is for them and how potential clients should recognize it. Most of us here are probably on board with the 'enthusiastic consent' / 'yes means yes' approach that's become popular in sex-positive social justice discussion, but those discussions tend to be very much about recreational sex based on mutual attraction and desire. That may well not be applicable to sex-work. How do we move beyond 'no means no' without excluding the possibility that positive, active consent can be motivated by profit rather than by fun? Does someone 'want' to have sex if they actually don't especially wish for the sensations of the sex but do want the money (and we could equally ask whether someone really 'wants' sex if they're doing it for a bet or because they just don't want to be a virgin any more)? How high a level of analysis do we go to: if someone didn't want to get into the industry in the first place and would like to get out of it as soon as possible, but does at this particular moment want this particular money that's on offer, where do we look for consent? Where are the frontiers between meaningful consent and consent that's vitiated by duress: where the alternative to going with a client is physical injury by a third party, or not being allowed to see their children, or not being allowed to go outside, or not being able to afford the next meal, or not being able to keep paying tuition for a part-time course? When do we go so far in one direction that we're excusing rape, and when do we go so far the other way that we're denying sex-workers' agency and using arguments equivalent to 'do you really want to be monogamous or has society just brainwashed you into thinking that's what you want?'? (Apologies for awkward punctuation there.) Seems pretty clear that this comic is on the wrong side of a lot of these questions. Like, if you think the other person is in pain and you haven't agreed that pain is something you're going to explore with the protection of a safe-word &c, then at the very very least you stop and ask and make sure. And I agree that if you think someone might not be consenting you err on the side of doing nothing. But there's quite a lot of scope for being not sure, it seems to me: so much that I personally wouldn't feel comfortable going to a sex-worker *at all* without doing further research, because although I have no doubt that a large amount of commercial sex is consensual, I just don't know what consent looks like in that context. And, as is probably evident from this comment, I haven't done much to find out. There are probably sex-workers on the internet answering these questions, and maybe they're even writing comics. But evidently not ones endorsed by Neil Gaiman. :(
Jamie Johnston at 14:58 on 2011-08-03
Ugh, sorry for wall of text. Hard to see where paragraph breaks should go on a phone screen.
Arthur B at 18:10 on 2011-08-03
Poking about on the wikipedia page for the book, I find this delicious tidbit:

Conversations and debates with Dave Sim were also dropped, as their friendship fell through over Brown's refusal to sign an online petition asserting Sim was not a misogynist, and Brown felt awkward asking Sim for permission to include those scenes.

Meanwhile it turns out that Brown is a libertarian activist and has written multiple comic series that focus on how he feels he has trouble interacting with women.

Dan, I'm getting a psychic intuition over here. Does he ever describe himself as a "nice guy"?
The fact that Robert Crumb put his Ps and Qs in a foreword would give me pause about this book.

What surprised me is that you wrote that Neil Gaiman managed to put in his cents as well. That makes me rethink Gaiman.

Prostitution Trafficking is big business. The majority of it is run by mafia organizations, especially Eastern Europeans. And yes, these women are being raped. I'm not sure how to fight these kind of crime rings. They use decriminalized prostitution areas as safe havens.

You can read more about this in Misha Glenny's McMafia.
Sister Magpie at 02:33 on 2011-08-04
It's really scary how unsurprising it is that he has the attitude he does. I've seen plenty of jokes etc. about prostitution and his attitude just fits right along with it, that the idea of a prostitute who's old (28) or ugly would make the guy feel like a sleazy loser, but the idea that the girl might be coerced doesn't really mean anything because she's said yes to him, whatever the reason.

I am amazed that this leads him to not wanting it regulated because wow, he just couldn't be more clear that this is about him and the women just doesn't matter to anyone.
Michal at 05:47 on 2011-08-04
Meanwhile it turns out that Brown is a libertarian activist and has written multiple comic series that focus on how he feels he has trouble interacting with women.

Up 'til now, the only thing I knew about the guy was that he did the Louis Riel comic book, which got fairly wide distribution in Canadian schools because it was the only Canadian history comic book of any note. It was rather nicely drawn. As for this...I really would like to see those rejected pages with Dave Sim. I'm sure Sim had, erm, interesting things to say. (Insert bile fascination here)
Guy at 07:57 on 2011-08-04
This sounds like a comic that I would find fascinating in a grotesque kind of way, but which unfortunately I don't think I would feel ethically comfortable paying money for, unless it was 2nd hand. I think there's something worth thinking about in the question of how the sexuality of men who are uncomfortable communicating with women can manifest itself in ways that are not grotesque... this story might help illuminate that question, if only in relief... hmm.

Jamie's comment highlights for me that I think I would want to revise your definition of rape from "sex with someone who doesn't want it" to "sex with someone who hasn't meaningfully consented". That seems to help with edge cases such as, eg, someone who actively wants sex but is underage and therefore can't meaningfully consent, or partners in a relationship who've negotiated a balance between differing sex drives that involves sometimes having sex when one partner is less interested, which may mean not fully wanting sex as such but does involve meaningful consent. I don't think this argument with the definition affects any of the ethical problems you've identified in Brown's book, though.

I've seen his name before because he illustrated some issues of American Splendour, other than that I know nothing about him. "Libertarian activist" is a bit of a red flag, though.
Wardog at 09:11 on 2011-08-04
This sounds like a comic that I would find fascinating in a grotesque kind of way, but which unfortunately I don't think I would feel ethically comfortable paying money for, unless it was 2nd hand


I shall happily post you mine; I don't feel ethically comfortable owning it.
Dan H at 10:00 on 2011-08-04
It's sad that anyone should at any point have thought a suitable person to write a mind-blowing make-you-think-again book about the sex industry would be a client (especially a male one) rather than a worker.


At the risk of sounding like a men's rights activist, I think it's important to remember that the fact that Chester Brown is a man doesn't invalidate his experiences - and as I think I mention above, the bits which just focus on his feelings and experiences are actually quite interesting.

It's when he starts trying to speak on behalf of prostitutes, or tell us how the sex industry works (despite the fact that he isn't even aware that sex trafficking *exists* until after the end of the book) that he loses me. It's sort of as if I decided to write a book about pay and conditions for coffee farmers in Kenya, based purely on my experience of drinking coffee.

Where are the frontiers between meaningful consent and consent that's vitiated by duress: where the alternative to going with a client is physical injury by a third party, or not being allowed to see their children, or not being allowed to go outside, or not being able to afford the next meal, or not being able to keep paying tuition for a part-time course?


I think this is one of those things where it's easy to get distracted by "where you draw the line" when what's more important is realizing that some things clearly *are* on one side or the other (points 1-3 on your list, for example) and it is, I suspect, *relatively* easy to modify your personal behaviour so that you stay clearly on one side of the line (when in doubt - don't).

The comic, however, really does seem to think that "the line" is drawn only at the point where there's a firm, clear, no. There's an awful bit in the appendices where he insists that the prostitutes are the ones who *really* have the power, and cites as evidence for this the fact that there have been occasions on which prostitutes have asked him to do relatively minor things (change position, that sort of thing) and he has acquiesced. He ignores the times (actually recorded in the book) when he clearly makes the girls do things they *don't want to do* (there's a particularly creepy bit where one of the girls asks to keep her bra on because she's self-conscious about her breasts, but he insists she take it off anyway, and then he's all "oh your body is beautiful" and this is clearly supposed to prove how awesome and sensitive he is, instead of proving that he has no respect for these women's wishes *at all*).
Dan H at 10:04 on 2011-08-04
Jamie's comment highlights for me that I think I would want to revise your definition of rape from "sex with someone who doesn't want it" to "sex with someone who hasn't meaningfully consented".


That's probably true, but "consent" is such a wooly, unhelpful term (as Jamie mentions above, a lot of people these days far prefer the concept of "enthusiastic participation") that I didn't think it was the right one to use in context (particularly since I'm sure Brown would argue that all the girls *had* meaningfully consented). It's also, I think, important to use victim-focused language in this case. The problem with "consent" is that it implies negotiation and interpretation, whereas what a person *wants* is entirely their own affair.
Guy at 10:44 on 2011-08-04
@Kyra Wow, that bad, huh? Maybe I'll discover I don't want to own it either, but thanks for giving me the opportunity to find out.
Arthur B at 11:01 on 2011-08-04
it is, I suspect, *relatively* easy to modify your personal behaviour so that you stay clearly on one side of the line (when in doubt - don't).

^^^ This I strongly agree with. Again, if you actually have to start uming and ahing and pondering whether you're getting close to the line, that's a pretty clear sign that the sensible thing to do is just back the fuck off. I'd also say that we can't just sit around and abstractly decide where the line goes through discussion because, funnily enough, different people will consent to/enthusiastically participate in different things, and if you really want to allow sex workers to have agency then you really need to let them decide where the line is for themselves on a case-by-case basis.

Of course, this is where Brown's anti-regulation stance breaks down. I'd say that if you were going to legalise sex work, then you'd have to regulate it, at least to the point where duress is kicked out the door and there can be a reasonable level of confidence that the people working in the industry actively want to be there, and aren't obligated to go with a client when they don't want to. The fact that Brown seems to think he can make that sort of judgement call himself, based on a few cursory interactions with the individual in question, whilst glossing over all sorts of red flags of the sort that have already been outlined, kind of says it all really.
Claire E Fitzgerald at 01:03 on 2011-08-05
I'm not going to comment on the content of this comic right now, because I haven't read it yet. But I will soon, because I'm in the process of illegally downloading it without the author's consent. Which is a form of book buying, surely?
Jamie Johnston at 17:42 on 2011-08-05
Zing! :)
valse de la lune at 09:40 on 2011-08-06
But I will soon, because I'm in the process of illegally downloading it without the author's consent. Which is a form of book buying, surely?

I like the way you think.
Janne Kirjasniemi at 19:34 on 2011-08-06
And anyway, prostitution is a form of dating, and we can't regulate people's private lives.


This as a sentiment is one of the saddest things I've read in a while. And not sad in the sort of sick puppy way, but sad in how seemingly articulate people will, it seems, deliberately hold so very ignorant and glib views on how people work and what happens in society. A sort of mental acrobetics which are meant to deflect any insight or shame just for the sake of pretending that there is nothing wrong with how one thinks and does things. And sad in that it's sad that people think in this way and also sad that someone actually thinks dating or by extension romance is just buying something or is a form of business transaction. Well nothing surprising there, I guess.

Is this obversation or his anti-regulation, pro-freedom stance on prostitution based on anything other than speculation on how things are supposed to work? I consider myself a liberal, but I have dificulty seeing how the problems inherent in prostitution could be helped without some sort of good regulatory laws made in the interest of the participants in this trade. Also it is very hard to credit his claims of ignorance as it comes to the trafficking of people. Even if he for some reason has not read any general information articles on international crime in the last 20 years(and missed all the references in popular culture) one would still assume he knows of the whole idiotic pimp culture which is hardly an invisible part of popular culture. So questions of coercion by violence or drugs should be common knowledge for any adult who can read.

it is, I suspect, *relatively* easy to modify your personal behaviour so that you stay clearly on one side of the line (when in doubt - don't).


I agree with this. It is a general principle that always when you have to ask the question of whether something is a right thing to do, or whether something is weird, extra caution is a good thing.
Arthur B at 20:43 on 2011-08-06
But I will soon, because I'm in the process of illegally downloading it without the author's consent. Which is a form of book buying, surely?

Well, I'm sure the author would have a thing or two to say about it. But given his firm anti-regulation stance, surely it would be against his principles to object?
http://jackbishop.livejournal.com/ at 13:33 on 2011-08-10
If he claims in the appendix that he didn't know about sex trafficking at the time, then he's either lying, extremely stupid, or has built an astonishing capacity for willful ignorance. I've neither taken part in nor done more than the most cursory study of the sex trade, and even I know that many prostitutes in the US -- and pretty much all prostitutes organized under an organization (e.g. a brothel system) outside of regulatory oversight (e.g. outside of those parts of Nevada where it's legal) -- are coerced.

Also, his asshole friends' constant attempts to harsh his buzz never _mentioned_ this key bit of information? They can't all be as ignorant as he is.
Wardog at 14:34 on 2011-08-10
As it so happens I have Paying For It right here, as I am in the process of posting it to Guy. Let me quote you his notes direct and wholesale:

Was "Angelina" a sex slave? She worked in an in-call brothel - this is the preferred working venue for sex slavers because it gives them the most control over the sex slaves (Perrin, pp.45, 46). "Angelina's" hesitation about getting up when I chose her (73:7 - 74:7) is suggestive - she was acting the way one would expect a sex-slave to act: reluctantly. On the other hand, it's possible she wasn't reluctant but just confused since she didn't speak English. And many prostitutes who choose the work also choose to work in brothels since they're seen as being safer than working on the streets, or out of one's home, or doing outcalls.

There are two factors to consider: "Tina" and the "monster in a mini-skirt" from Chapter 5, who I'm going to call "Angelina II". Imagine you're a sex-slaver who's running a brothel and you have some unattractive women working for you and some beautiful women (As I mention in panel 73:6 there were two good-looking ladies in the place the first time I visited. The second time, I saw yet a third beauty there. Sex-slavers presumably care about making money, not about the feelings of the sex-slaves. If you wanted to maximize your profits, who would you use to greet johns at the door: unattractive sex-slaves or beautiful ones? If you use the unattractive ones, there's a good chance the guys will leave without even walking in, so obviously you'd use the attractive women to lure the men inside. Yet, that wasn't what happened. The first time I was there, plain and dumpy "Tina" answered the door, and the second time it was "Angelina II", who was flat-out ugly. It's hard to be sure based on only two experiences, but it looks like the place was being run with an egalitarian bent - they were letting unattractive women have an equal shot at getting clients. Actually, forget the who-got-to-answer-the-door issue - I can't imagine that sex-slavers would have bothered to kidnap "Angelina II". She wasn't someone who might have been attractive at one point - she had clearly always been difficult-to-look-at. None of this proves that the place was not run by sex-slavers but it seems unlikely that it was, since whoever-ran-the-brothel doesn't seem to have thought of money as their only consideration.


Would anyone else like to join me in a massive round of WTF now?
Arthur B at 14:42 on 2011-08-10
I'm now insanely curious as to what advice Dave Sim offered which was cut from the book.

I mean, it's probably a variant of NOOOOO CHESTER DON'T DO IT YOUR MALE LIGHT WILL BE EXTINGUISHED IN THE FEMALE VOID, but I'm just fascinated by the fact that Chester thought that Sim, of all people, would be a good guy to discuss his sex life and his interactions with women with.
Arthur B at 14:45 on 2011-08-10
Scratch that, just read that quote from the book. I am completely unsurprised that someone that clueless thinks Dave Sim has anything useful to say about sex, women, and the world outside of Dave Sim's head.
https://profiles.google.com/Iaculoid at 18:53 on 2011-08-10
On the other hand, it's possible she wasn't reluctant but just confused since she didn't speak English.

Fortunately, though, Brown was sufficiently versed in her own language to clearly ask for and receive consent, given his natural reluctance to continue in such a shady situation.

Also, I was crowned the first male Queen of England yesterday, with Halle Berry as my Prince Consort. I hope you were all watching the ceremony.
Guy at 08:53 on 2011-08-11
Would anyone else like to join me in a massive round of WTF now?


WTF? WTFF? FW? Some of the women were ugly, therefore, it's all cool. They even had them answering the door! Sex slavers would never have done something like that, because they care about money. Obviously. I mean, OK, weak arguments sounds a lot better when they're telling you what you want to hear, but Chester, you actually wrote those words down on paper and looked at them and thought, yes, this expresses what I want to say, and then sent them out for publication. Didn't you have at least a brief twinge, a transitory moment, of thinking, "My god, is this all that's left of my faculties of reason, my basic human decency, my ability to detect bullshit? Is this what I've become?"

I guess you didn't.
Wardog at 09:36 on 2011-08-11
Also, for Arthur's benefit, since he seems obsessed with the Dave Sim angle:

"Fellow cartoonist Dave Sim stopped regarding me as a friend in 2008 becuase I refused to sign an internet petition that he set up that reads "Dave Sim is not a misogynist." I don't agree with his opinion that women are intellectually inferior to men but my affection and respect for him remain unchanged."


Call me crazy, but I have to admit that holding those sort of views would make me rapidly lose affection and respect for someone...
Arthur B at 10:29 on 2011-08-11
Yeah, it sounds like Brown's admiration for Sim is a one-way street which isn't really reciprocated.

Then again, I guess Brown is used to one-sided, unequal relationships in which the other party wants nothing to do with him.
Wardog at 10:56 on 2011-08-11
He could pay Sim to hang out with him - after all, it's just a form of friendship, right?
Arthur B at 11:08 on 2011-08-11
Ah, but you have to fill out paperwork to hang out with Sim, and we all know how Brown hates regulation.
Wardog at 11:36 on 2011-08-11
I suppose what's really worrying is that Dave Sim could have been smuggled illegally onto the Internet and is now being forced to put out weird blog post / petitions against his will. But we can probably assume this is not the case because, last time I checked, he was not very attractive.
Arthur B at 11:51 on 2011-08-11
If only Dave Sim didn't speak English, then Brown could assume that he still wanted to be friends.
Alasdair Czyrnyj at 23:08 on 2011-10-27
Paying For It tells the story of how, after being dumped by his last girlfriend, Chester Brown decides that he doesn't want to be in another relationship, but that he still wants to have sex.

For the purpose of this post, I am going to assume that this is as an accurate paraphrase of the rationale Chester Brown gives for his actions.

In which case, I have one question: "What, a box of Kleenex and a broadband connection isn't good enough for His Majesty anymore?"

Just from reading this review, I got the impression that Mr. Brown seems to consider sex an essentially masturbatory exercise. Sure, his form of masturbation is expensive and requires the participation of another human being, but it's masturbation nonetheless. It's not a meeting of equals; the women are there to pleasure HIM, to indulge HIS fantasies. The rape episode is a pretty clear example of this pathology in action, as are his choosy buying habits. There's a pretty clear sense that the identities and histories of the women he rents don't matter that much to him, other than in the most perfunctory sense.

Your description of the book as "self-serving" is spot-on. I can't even take the arguments he advances to defend his behavior seriously, simply because they seem like a smokescreen to me. From what you've written, it seems like Mr. Brown caught himself in a paradox: he realized that he likes to go out and fuck women, even pay them for the privilege of doing so, but he could not reconcile that with his self-conception of himself as a "good person." He clearly didn't want to stop fucking women (otherwise he would have done so), but at the same time he is unwilling to say to himself "I'm a self-indulgent pig and I don't care" and happily wallow in his vice, moral principles be damned. Instead, we got this comic, a mountain of glib justifications and shaky rationalizations that lets him have his cake and eat it too; he doesn't have to judge himself too harshly for his previous actions, and he gets to keep his self-image intact. The prefect narcissistic defense.

(Fuck, I need to stop reading The Last Psychiatrist...he's starting to eat into my brain.)
Orion at 19:46 on 2011-10-28
The trouble with bad press is that it so often has the opposite effect. The first time this article came around I was intrigued by the discussion, and when it popped up again the recent comments I caved in and downloaded it. I hope that Chester, who is happy to write about his illegal activities on the grounds that they are justified by his libertarian principles, won't object to my illegal behavior which is justified by my own communist principles. It was an extraordinarily frustrating experience. I kept feeling like there was an interesting book here which Chester carefully buried under enormous layers of unappealing nonsense. He couldn't have made himself look worse if he tried. Having finished it I have three major reactions:

First, if his foreword is to be believed, he actually IS trying to make himself look bad. He wants us to know that he had deep and affectionate relationships with all of these women which he chooses not to portray out of concern for their privacy? I just don't see how anyone would have been harmed by including a fragment of a sentence about visiting home, or by depicting the actual ethnicities and home countries of the prostitutes, or giving them the chance to express those "idiosyncratic views" on the page. That he instead chose to leave all those human elements and personalities out of the book in favor of a litany of body types and sex acts is just bizarre. It suggests either that he doesn't respect these women as much he claims, is entirely oblivious to how he comes across, or has something seriously unpleasant to hide.

Second: I'm disappointed that nobody else called out my "favorite" part of the pseudo-libertarian tract: his utterly bizarre argument that decriminalized prostitution ought not to be taxed. He seems to be waffling on whether prostitution ought to regarded as a profession or not, invoking the idea that "gifts" ought not to be taxed. The fact is that in his decriminalized utopia, the majority of prostitution would be de facto untaxed. His hypothetical woman who works retail and occasionally makes $50 or $100 picking up some guy at a bar is probably not going to bother reporting that income, nor do I imagine anyone tries very hard to tax the proceeds of such minor informal side-businesses. On the other hand, it seems obvious to me that someone who supports themselves entirely by prostitution ought to be taxed on the earnings with which they pay the rent just like anyone else.

He seems to realize that too, because he then busts out the even weirder argument that prostitutes should be untaxed like churches. First of all, I find it weird that an apparently secular libertarian would cite the tax breaks for religious establishments as a positive thing, but secondly, the implied justification here is staggeringly entitled. Churches are subsidized because they are perceived to be of cultural value and of importance to the health of the greater community, and to promote moral and civic virtue. I happen to think that's hogwash, but it's not nearly as ridiculous as applying the same claim to prostitution. By calling for a tax exemption by "sacredness" he's saying that 40 year old men paying to fuck 20 year old women is not just morally neutral and legally permissable, but actually a cultural virtue the state has a vested interest in subsidizing. Sorry, but no thanks. He can hire prostitutes if he wants to, but not on my dime.

It should go without saying that the complete disregard displayed in the text for consent and legal age is disgusting.
Orion at 20:03 on 2011-10-28
Okay, so let me apologize in advance for double-posting as I know many communities frown on that. I also realize the number of pixels I've spilled on the subject is large enough that perhaps I really ought to have made it a blog post and linked it. What follows is what I actually really wanted to say about this article. I prefaced it with the preceding wall of text because I hoped to establish some cred as having my heart in the right place:

I think Dan is unfairly dismissing the idea that "prostitution is a form of dating" and missing at least one reasonable construction of "dating" which prostitution would fall under. I think you could defend a definition of "dating" that went something like: "Dating is two people meeting up to evaluate each other as potential partners for an ongoing romantic or sexual relationship." This would exclude some types of prostitution just as it would exclude one-night stands, on the grounds that there was no expectation of continued contact. But Chester makes it clear that he approaches each new prostitute hoping to establish a connection with someone with whom he is sufficiently compatible to have on ongoing, even monogamous relationship, so I would argue that for him, it is a kind of dating.

Now just because I've outlined a possible self-consistent definition of dating which would justify Chester's statement doesn't mean that anyone is obligated to accept that definition as true or useful. All I can say is that as a sex worker myself, I've found that it really does subjectively feel like "dating."
Dan H at 21:35 on 2011-10-31
Sorry, meant to reply to this days ago.

I kept feeling like there was an interesting book here which Chester carefully buried under enormous layers of unappealing nonsense. He couldn't have made himself look worse if he tried.


Yeah, that was pretty much my reaction.

Second: I'm disappointed that nobody else called out my "favorite" part of the pseudo-libertarian tract: his utterly bizarre argument that decriminalized prostitution ought not to be taxed.


I think the clue is in "pseudo-libertarian". I suspect that he doesn't think *anything* should be taxed. Because blah blah is a man not entitled to the sweat of his own brow blah blah.

I think the fact that he makes so many torturous, ludicrous analogies ("it's like a gift! it's like a church!") highlights why I have such a problem with *his* desire to characterise prostitution as "a form of dating" - he seems to be trying to recast his behaviour as something not merely acceptable (which it would be, were it not for his horrible but unsurprising disregard for consent) but actively *laudable*. It's like he wants us to congratulate him for helping these poor, disadvantaged women with no thought for himself, because he really *respects* them as *people*.

I think Dan is unfairly dismissing the idea that "prostitution is a form of dating" and missing at least one reasonable construction of "dating" which prostitution would fall under. I think you could defend a definition of "dating" that went something like: "Dating is two people meeting up to evaluate each other as potential partners for an ongoing romantic or sexual relationship."


I think that's a very fair point, and I think that were that the definition Chester was using, it would not be in any way objectionable (it would also not be incompatible with prostitution *also* being a business which could be regulated and taxed, something which Chester seems to think would take the magic out of the whole thing).

The reason Chester's attitude skeeves me out is that he seems to want prostitution to be treated not just as a form of dating but as *indistinguishable* from the form of dating that does *not* also constitute a business transaction. To put it another way, it seems a lot like Chester is defining "dating" as "an activity in which a man spends money in order to get a woman to have sex with him".

There are plenty of non-offensive ways to arrive at conclusions very *similar* to those Chester arrives at, but it honestly feels like he's sold himself this narrative where he's just had sex with loads of good looking women who he has then given money out of the goodness of his heart. This isn't an attitude that improves acceptance of sex workers or destigmatises prostitution, it's just self-aggrandizing and creepy.
Dan H at 21:59 on 2011-10-31
Also, to reply even *more* belatedly to a comment from Janne some time in August:

Even if he for some reason has not read any general information articles on international crime in the last 20 years(and missed all the references in popular culture) one would still assume he knows of the whole idiotic pimp culture which is hardly an invisible part of popular culture. So questions of coercion by violence or drugs should be common knowledge for any adult who can read.


He does engage with this - he declares (without evidence or reference) that the idea that prostitutes are sometimes coerced is "a myth".
Arthur B at 22:00 on 2011-10-31
To put it another way, it seems a lot like Chester is defining "dating" as "an activity in which a man spends money in order to get a woman to have sex with him".

Which puts him in the company of not just the swathes of men who believe this without ever enunciating the thought, but the utter tossers online (Men's Rights Activists and losers like that) who openly declare that this is the case and consider it an example of women exploiting men.

I mean, clearly Chester isn't an MRA and isn't an overt and proud misogynist, but it certainly sounds like he's adopted the logic of misogyny very thoroughly.
Janne Kirjasniemi at 10:09 on 2011-11-01
He does engage with this - he declares (without evidence or reference) that the idea that prostitutes are sometimes coerced is "a myth".

Well, I think he would have to think that it is a myth. Otherwise he would be faced with a moral dilemma which would lead to the trecherous swamps of cognitive dissonance after he realizes that his thinking on this subject is not very sensible or fair at all.

I think Dan is unfairly dismissing the idea that "prostitution is a form of dating" and missing at least one reasonable construction of "dating" which prostitution would fall under. I think you could defend a definition of "dating" that went something like: "Dating is two people meeting up to evaluate each other as potential partners for an ongoing romantic or sexual relationship."

That definition could be workable, but of course there is the issue, that even if the customer has this intention, isn't it a sort of a silent premise that it is a business transaction, a trade of money for sex? With this as the base line, it is hard to think of the situation as being in any way equal, if we suppose that the prostitute's main requirement for a relationship is not just the ability to pay for sex. And that of course is the crux of the matter, as Chester seems to be unwilling or unable to see beyond economical transactions or that women might have other requirements in potential dating material. Of course this doesn't mean it couldn't be, just that it is not perhaps an ideal starting point for that sort of thing. This of course raises the question of what this implies about Chester's relationship with his mother or possible sisters. But that would be unfounded speculation. I'm thinking though, that it would have to be something pretty messed up.
Orion at 21:55 on 2011-11-02
I think a lot of this hinges on whether you look at it as a polemical tract with anecdotal evidence included or as a literary narrative with explanatory notes attached. If the book is an argument, then "prostitution is a form of dating" is a bad argument. Since he doesn't define either term or justify the assertion in any way, it seems clear that the statement can only be an attempt to slip slip something past the reader by equivocation. Furthermore, when reading an argument I expect the writer's actual opinions to be highly relevant and I agree with your characterization of his perspective.

Paying For It fails completely as an argument, but in my opinion it's a partial success as artwork, largely because reading it as art allows us to draw our own conclusions about the meaning of what's portrayed rather than accept his word for it. I think the artistic value in the book comes from its ability to show us something other than tired, cliche images of prostitution as something necessarily grim, sleazy, dangerous and adversarial. Instead, it shows how prostitution can often be awkward, funny, banal, or even affectionate. (Except when you're raping trafficked foreigners, obviously)

I don't remember whether the offend metaphor appeared in dialog or in the turgid end notes, but if you look at them as part of a literary rather than an argumentative artifact, I think they're an effect summation of the book's themes. It's not a logical argument but an attempt to call on the feelings and images we associate with dating. And I think that's fair; my experience in sex work has enough in common with my experiences dating-- trying to dress your best, anxiety about being liked, fear of awkwardness, hope to meet a compatible personality, sexual tension, meeting up in strange locations--that I think "a form of dating" would be a useful shorthand to explain it to someone unfamiliar.
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