Control Tower

The Zipless Nymphet

When I think of archetypal characters, there's Dracula, Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes—and the Zipless Nymphet. What, you ask, is a Zipless Nymphet? That's just my name for her. It's inspired by Erica Jong's novel Fear of Flying, in which Jong coined the term "the zipless fuck" to mean casual sex between strangers. Whatever you call her, the Zipless Nymphet is a favorite of fiction writers, and she's been renamed and reimagined countless times since John Cleland wrote Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure in 1748.

A recent example of the Zipless Nymphet? The sex blogger calling herself "Alexa DiCarlo." DiCarlo claimed to be a graduate student in sexuality by day and a high-priced San Francisco escort by night. She detailed her sex life via her blog and Twitter; gave advice about bisexuality, anal sex, and gang bangs; wrote an escort's "Code of Ethics"; and styled herself a sex-work activist and educator. Readers were enthralled with her bold exploits, and there were rumors of a book deal, perhaps even a movie.

But skepticism about DiCarlo was rising. published an article by Monica Shores pointing out inconsistencies in DiCarlo's tales, discussing allegations (since substantiated) that her photos were stolen from a porn site, and noting that in spite of many invitations, DiCarlo consistently refused to meet any other sex-work activists. Doubts grew. Sex academics questioned her educational claims. And the woman calling herself Alexa DiCarlo had never, verifiably, been seen by anybody. Bitter pro/anti-DiCarlo flame wars broke out. DiCarlo defended herself at first, but then her blog and her Twitter account went silent.

Given that some people probably think I'm a Zipless Nymphet, you might think I'd be sympathetic toward DiCarlo. I was—to a point. But I'm one of the women she refused to meet. She was friendly to me online, but stopped responding when I proposed we get together for a drink. I understand a desire for privacy, but if that desire means you won't meet a colleague for a pleasant chat, then you are ill suited to influence and instruct a wide circle of people about controversial topics. One cannot simultaneously enjoy all the benefits of anonymity and all the boons of fame.

It's fine to enjoy reading—or writing in the guise of—a fantasy persona. The problem starts when people want fictional characters to be given the same respect as flesh-and-blood people. Literary hoaxes like those perpetrated by James Frey, JT Leroy, and Margaret Seltzer are sometimes defended on the grounds that if authors speak a universal truth, then their real identity is irrelevant. Here's a universal truth for you: People like reading about Zipless Nymphets. So if you have the itch to write about one, take a lesson from Cleland—call your work fiction and let your readers be tantalized by wondering which parts are true. Otherwise, expect to be called on your actions long before you reach Oprah's couch.recommended


Comments (24) RSS

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Thank you for the Fanny Hill plug! One of my very favorite classic pieces ever and sorely under appreciated. Good stuff.
Posted by bunniez on January 13, 2010 at 6:21 PM · Report this
I think this might be your best column yet, Matisse. Thank you!
Posted by Rhythm on January 14, 2010 at 1:11 AM · Report this
I like to think of myself as an ethical, modern slut but the recent faux-ho drama (Alexa and Belle) has me scared away from blogging about it. I can't imagine how horrible it would be to have cash offers for my identity bandied about.
Posted by a lusty literati on January 14, 2010 at 9:10 AM · Report this
"J.T. Leroy" was a hoax. James Frey is a fabulist.
Posted by James Early on January 14, 2010 at 9:59 AM · Report this
Once again, your words are among the wisest (perhaps better said: some of the very few wise words) surrounding this fascinating internet identity issue.

Here's the deal from my perspective: I don't think Alexa is blameless in this (she certainly appropriated photos from all over), but I fail to see why people are so convinced that anything she wrote could in any way harm sex workers. I'm also not yet sure that we've seen the last chapter on all of this, and I hold out some semblance of belief (hope? fantasy? desire?) that Alexa was basically who she claimed to be, aside from some understandable slurring of facts to throw off the identity stalkers.

I do know that her writing and yours share one important characteristic: it strikes me as wise, witty, and insightful, and I've learned a lot from both of you.
Posted by DelightAndDole on January 14, 2010 at 1:10 PM · Report this
Its harmful to teach people how to be sex workers when you're not one, but they think you are. Just talking about your own sex life is one thing but TEACHING and EDUCATING people, that's a safety thing.
She's not what she says she is. No way.
Posted by Diva on January 14, 2010 at 1:26 PM · Report this
I think privacy nowadays in underrated, Why should she have to meet you? Why not maintain her privacy and life? Why should she have to give up her identity to you, what makes you so special Matisse? If people are gullible enough to believe everything they read, without thinking for themselves, who are you to tell them not to read authors they like just because it's not "real"? A story is a story whether real or not...I don't think there's anything wrong with her keeping her identity safe, especially in this world where the minute you become famous everyone knows everything you've ever done, good or bad.
Posted by sandmangrrl on January 14, 2010 at 9:11 PM · Report this
If you want privacy, then don't publish a huge big blog about your kinky sex life with nude porn pictures that you SAY are you but aren't. Don't lie like a rug and then cry boo-hoo about your privacy when people call bullshit on your lies.
Posted by Windsor on January 14, 2010 at 11:19 PM · Report this
@7 ad hominem much? that's the kind of fox news crap that enables people like bush and cheny. since when you did have to be some body "special" to say that the emperer has no clothes? besides she didn't say don't read them, she said call it what it is, fiction.
Posted by Contraken on January 15, 2010 at 1:52 AM · Report this
@ a lusty literati - why do you say Belle was a "faux ho"? She most certainly does exist and she -was- on the game. Nothing "faux" about that.

@sandmangrrl - if you're trying to pass your work off as fact and not fiction, there is expectation that you make an effort to establish some bona fides. Otherwise, as Matisse says, call it "fiction" and be done with it.

Belle de Jour kept her identity safe for a number of years, but was still able to establish the fact she was a real individual to the satisfaction of most. So it's possible to do it.
Posted by Trix on January 15, 2010 at 3:24 AM · Report this 11
It would be a shame if she wasn't who she said she was but I thought her posts were, for the most part, interesting and diverting. We all play around with different identities, are we really ourselves even when we say we are? Maybe she has been a bit naive (she said she was 24), but let's look upon her with kind eyes.
Posted by on January 15, 2010 at 4:40 AM · Report this
@6 Can you name a single specific thing that she "taught" or "educated" that was harmful or a safety issue? She didn't make the same choices that you or I might (that's a different issue from what she supposedly "taught" others). This outrage about her teaching sex workers bad things is just a little overstated.
@8 She explicitly stated that the photos were not her.
@10 Many people doubted Belle's veracity for years, actually.
In the end, though, I do agree with Matisse's observation that it was unfortunate that Alexa chose not to meet with her. Yes, there may be reasons for that, but it doesn't look good.
Posted by DelightAndDole on January 15, 2010 at 1:09 PM · Report this
@DelightAndDole It meant a lot to me that few people in the online sex workers' community thought I was lying. The doubts of long-out-of-it working girls like Cynthia Payne and clearly envious hacks was truly irrelevant (and I notice the more vocal pre-outing critics such as Zoe Williams and Ms Payne have been mysteriously quiet since I came out).

In any case, whatever people thought before, the fact remains that I am real. So your label of me is spurious and I truly resent being called "faux" anything.
Posted by Belle de Jour on January 17, 2010 at 7:05 AM · Report this
I stand confused: Matisse thought DiCarlo was a fake because she refused to meet with her but it's entirely likely that Belle de Jour (Dr Brooke Magnanti) would have ALSO refused to meet with her (at least, if Belle met with anyone under similar circumstances, I'm unaware of it). It seems that Belle and DiCarlo had similar online relationships with Matisse. Would Matisse then have thought Belle was a fake? IF DiCarlo WAS "real" (which now seems quite doubtful) it seems that meeting with other real people that she knew only thru the web would have been a terrific way to have been outed against her will. Of course, DiCarlo could have politely explained WHY she wouldn't meet with Matisse, as I suspect Belle would have done.
Posted by olderwithmoreinsurance on January 17, 2010 at 5:04 PM · Report this
TVDinner 15
Oh lord, I hated "Fear of Flying" in a deep and special way.
Posted by TVDinner http:// on January 18, 2010 at 2:21 AM · Report this
Whoa, @Belle. I didn't label you at all, much less call you a "faux" anything. I think you didn't read the thread carefully. All I said was that there were long-standing doubts about your "realness."
@olderwithmoreinsurance: DiCarlo DID in fact politely explain why she wouldn't meet with people, and it was precisely what you said: to preserve her anonymity. Which I can understand on the one hand, but wish had been otherwise. I personally would trust Matisse to keep things to herself, but there's no way to guarantee that sort of thing when you're dealing with people you know only over the web.
Posted by DelightAndDole on January 18, 2010 at 9:11 AM · Report this
@DelightandDole Thanks for the clarification. From Matisse's column I had gotten a different impression. I actually have no dog in this hunt, just thought that Matisse was being inconsistent in her responses to DiCarlo and Belle.
Posted by olderwithmoreinsurance on January 18, 2010 at 1:25 PM · Report this
@ olderwithmoreinsurance Well, I actually don't know that DiCarlo explained it to Matisse when Matisse asked her to meet for drinks. I actually suspect she didn't, and just didn't take Matisse up on the invitation. But DiCarlo did offer up the "anonymity" explanation in her long piece (it was called "Let's Get Real") that addressed the controversy, way way back in late December. It's not online anymore, but here's what she wrote: "I do indeed refuse to meet with other sex workers and people in the sex professions (including sex educators) simply because I don’t want people to meet and get to know me as Alexa – I don’t wish to be known publicly as Alexa. Alexa is not the real me – I think each of you understands that. I have a real identity that will become a public persona to one extent or another at some point (based on the career path I’ve chosen) and I prefer to have people get to know me through her, not Alexa."

Good reason? I don't know. As I say, I wish it had been otherwise--a single public word ("I met her, she's real") from a well-respected community member such as Matisse would have gone a long way to defusing the furor before it got rolling. But I'm not Alexa, and I do respect that she and she alone is in the best position to judge the potential risk/reward of meeting people.
Posted by DelightAndDole on January 18, 2010 at 3:16 PM · Report this
is this Alexa the same Alexa from THIS blog...? (also named Alexa....)
Posted by stilettocandy on January 18, 2010 at 9:31 PM · Report this
@11 You are very wise and kind, and I agree with you.
Posted by commenter on January 18, 2010 at 11:22 PM · Report this 21
@20 Awww thank you.

FYI I had the privilege of meeting Belle some months before she came out, I didn't know her name (I still call her B) and we met in neutral territory and it was a right laugh.

So it is possible to meet people as an anonymous blogger, but B was wise, in a country where it isn't illegal, brainy and trusted me. Perhaps that wasn't the case for Alexa.

Posted by on January 19, 2010 at 4:50 AM · Report this
Belle was/is completely different from AlexaDiWhoever. Belle never tried to get all this credibility as big-time sex activist and educator, and Alexa did. She reached out to a lot of real, well-known women and tried to get them to trust her and treat her as an equal and talk about sex with her. Even though she wouldn't meet them or talk on the phone to anyone ever. It was blogged about on sexpros dot net, go read it.
Posted by Diva on January 19, 2010 at 3:32 PM · Report this
Hey, isn't "I *demand* that you meet with me!" rather stalker-ish behaviour??
How would YOU feel if you were private, were giving good advice from your own experience, and people started demanding that you meet them and prove you were real? I know *I'd* be all "Um no...bugger off, thanks."
Posted by DCD on January 20, 2010 at 6:08 PM · Report this
I've been a reader of Alexa's blog for some time. At first I was very interested and then it gradually seemed like "BS". I found out that Alexa also ran "Caitlin's Corner" and thought that for a grad student & escort that she had a lot of time on her hands. When I came across Blue Eyed Cass & Princess Blue Eyez I knew it was a load of crap. How can one woman have all this time on her hands, tumblrs, Facebook, Myspace, her Blog, Caitlins Corner, My First Professional Sex, twitter, grad student work, escorting..really? The pic that she had on her FB/Myspace pages were certainly the same woman on Blue Eyed Cass. Did we out Alexa or did she out herself? If she wanted to remain anonymous why not blog and NOT use her stage name Alexa Dicarlo? Why join every possible social networking site AND post tons of pics of yourself? If she did not want to meet anyone in person...fine. But not even over the phone? We live in the age of technology..she could have simply called from a blocked number but she refuses any contact outside of email - that's pretty shady. Alexa is a FAKE.
Posted by Lets Be Honest on January 22, 2010 at 6:48 PM · Report this

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