Interview with the Author of Belle de Jour
The best-kept secret of the sex-blogger world was revealed recently when the long-anonymous author of the blog/book-turned-TV-show Belle de Jour: Diary of a London Call Girl revealed herself as Dr. Brooke Magnanti, a research scientist in child health at Bristol University. I asked Magnanti how she feels about being out as Belle.
Sometimes people change their behavior toward me when they find out I'm "Mistress Matisse." Are your social acquaintances treating you any differently?
People in my life are treating me exactly the same. This may be because I've never made any secret of being sex-positive. If I were still working [as an escort], it might be different, but everyone seems to take it as just another one of those crazy stories about me, like the time I kept sneaking out of a friend's birthday to have sex in the loo.
I talk to women who say, "I'd like to be an escort, but no one can ever find out!" I say, "If your world would end if people found out, then don't do it." You kept your secret for a long time. Any strategies for that?
Legally, I protected my anonymity as a writer by setting up a shell corporation that took all the payments for my work. I was undone not by legalities, but because I told the wrong person—my ex. Bottom line, if you don't want anyone to find out, don't tell anyone. That's an unlikely situation for most people. I would go with the same advice: Don't do it if coming out would destroy you.
Many women who keep their sex-work careers secret find that stressful. Did you pay a price, emotionally, to keep your friends from knowing?
It would have been far easier to be out as a sex worker. As a well-known writer and sex worker? I don't know. My friends seem prepared to handle the odd twists and turns in life, but the reaction from the press has been so stereotypical, so reductive. They are always looking for the pat, easy "explanation." Their agenda seems to be writing off any woman who has sex.
Has anyone recognized you on the street?
I was paranoid that people kept looking at me, but it seems [they were only looking at] this new red hat. Not saying it won't happen, but you have to look at a face in 2-D pretty often before you recognize it. Friends of mine read the entire Times article and didn't recognize it was me.
Now that you're out, are you enjoying the freedom to make jokes or casual references to your former career?
Love the jokes. It helps defuse the tension when I'm in a group, too; people seem to be afraid to take the piss now that I'm slightly famous. Kissing of ass and preserving of ego is not to be encouraged, ever.