Paying for It

Writer(s): Chester Brown
Artist(s): Chester Brown
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
ISBN: 978-1770460485
Price: $24.95
Page count: 292
Year Released: 2011
Status: in print
Original Source: n/a
Other Collected Edition(s): n/a
Genres: autobiography; foreign lit; journalism/reportage; romance/relationships; slice of life
Recommended for Fans Of:
Possibly Objectionable Material: prostitution; explicit sexual situations; nudity
If You Like This Book, Try:
Also in This Series: n/a

Plot Summary
In 1996, Chet Brown broke up with his last girlfriend and, over the course of the next three years, began to reconsider his stance on romantic love (or what he later calls "possessive monogamy"). As a result of refining his newfound objections to romantic love during debates with his friends--as well as a near-encounter with a Playboy Playmate at a comic book convention and reading Dan Savage's Savage Love--Brown decided to explore the possibility of hiring a prostitute to fulfill his sexual needs without resorting to a romantic relationship. When he finally goes through with it, his anxieties (is it a scam? will he be robbed? arrested?) dissipate when the experience turns out to be a positive one. And with that, Brown became a regular john, forgoing life with a girlfriend and instead exclusively paying for sex.

Paying for It is a chronicle of Brown's encounters with a variety of prostitutes, as well as an argument for the decriminalization of prostitution.

My Own 2 Cents
Chester Brown is a cartoonist whose work has always been controversial. To cite just one example, in Ed the Happy Clown he included a character who literally couldn't stop defecating, and the protagonist was unfortunate enough to end up with the head of Ronald Reagan attached to a particular part of his anatomy.

In Paying for It the controversial material is of a different type. Brown, a Canadian Libertarian, argues that prostitution should be decriminalized (as opposed to legalized, which in his interpretation would mean prostitution would then be regulated by the government). At the end of the book Brown includes a 30-page appendix in which he lays out his arguments for decriminalization and attempts to refute the standard objections to decriminalization (e.g., prostitution results in the exploitation of women, sexual aggression or outright violence against prostitutes, sexual objectification, degradation, human trafficking, etc.). And here's where Brown loses me. Although me does make some good points, many of his arguments are based on a naive assumption that his experiences with prostitutes represent the majority of encounters between prostitutes and johns. And since all of his encounters have been generally positive, surely there are no prostitutes anywhere who suffer from any kind of mistreatment or abuse, right?

His appendix on human trafficking is particularly naive, despite his seeming to have made an effort to cite evidence to support his arguments. But in this section, for example, he claims that "Most people who are trafficked want to be trafficked" and "In the cases where prostitution is involved, many of the women choose to be trafficked knowing they'll be working as prostitutes in the country they'll be taken to," as if these two statements, even if they're true, make the exploitation of human beings (whether as prostitutes or some other kind of laborer) okay. But this, I suppose, is where I differ from the Libertarian party's idea that people should be allowed to do whatever they want to do, where "want" is defined a bit too broadly for my tastes (which is to say that even if a woman agreed to become a prostitute as a way of escaping a desperate situation in her home country, it's not so much that she wants to be a prostitute but that she's reached the point where she feels she has no other choice).

However, the book is still a fascinating exploration of prostitution in Canada, as well as an interesting look into the mind of one of the comic book industry's most talented--and controversial--cartoonists. For a more in-depth look at the book, I recommend "A Chester Brown Notebook" by Jeet Heer (at the Comics Journal).