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. CarnalNation.com 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.