Chester Brown on Paying for It

Paying for it by Chester Brown

First aired on Q (4/29/11)

Chester Brown is an accomplished, award-winning and internationally renowned graphic novelist.

He also pays for sex.

And while these professional and personal issues don't normally collide, Brown made the personal professional (and in this case, also political) when it became the subject of his latest book. Paying for It: A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being a John is garnering international attention, both for its provocative subject matter, but also for the sensitive and thoughtful way it is explored.

Why did Brown decide to put this personal practice — one that's highly controversial and hotly debated — out there? Why share his most intimate acts with thousands of readers? Brown has a political mandate with this book: he feels that the only way to change minds is to create a forum for public debate. "Being a john and paying for sex, I wanted people to think a different way about this," Brown told Jian Ghomeshi in a recent interview on Q. "And the way to do that is through your own experiences."

Brown turned to prostitution in 1996, after a four-year monogamous relationship ended. (This ex-girlfriend is CBC's Sook-Yin Lee, host of Definitely Not The Opera, and she appears in Paying for It.) Prior to his first visit to a brothel, Brown was uncomfortable with the idea of being someone who paid for sex. "I probably had thought of johns the way a lot of people in our society do, that they were losers," he admitted. "There was that side of me that didn't want to become a john because I didn't want to be perceived as being a loser."

However, this perception changed when he felt his first experience was overwhelmingly positive, and he now pays for sex on a regular basis. "Now that I am a john, I just realized that johns are normal guys the way that I am a normal guy."

What also changed was Brown's view of the romantic relationship. Being a john is currently Brown's only form of sexual activity. "I was never comfortable being a boyfriend," he said. "There was always tension in the boyfriend/girlfriend relationship." By paying for sex, Brown felt freed from the constraints of a traditional relationship, and no longer feels the need to pursue one. Ever.

He has, however, found a relationship that's fulfilling, that defies traditional monogamy and embraces prostitution. And how does this relationship work, you ask?

You'll have to read the book to find out.

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