How does Chester Brown show that sex work is not shady or degrading in his graphic novel Paying for it?

The dialogue in Paying For It helps normalize prostitution and prove that it is just like any other job. For instance, Carla explains that she just moved and Brown’s money will help her pay for moving expenses. This scene shows how people working in prostitution are doing it to support themselves the same way people do any job. Brown’s realistic illustrations of normal and sometimes awkward relations also show that prostitution is not degrading or shady.

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Several elements of Chester Brown’s autobiographical graphic novel Paying For It suggest that prostitution is not shady and is just like any other occupation. For instance, one element that plays a big role in humanizing this profession is dialogue. Recall how nervous Brown is before his first time with a woman working in prostitution. He, like so many other people, has been socialized to assume prostitution is a sketchy profession full of people who are trying to steal from people like him. He even checks under the bed in the room to make sure no one is hiding under there. Despite his fears, his first interaction with Carla goes smoothly and they interact politely with one another. She expresses interest in what he does for a living and makes him feel comfortable. Then when he tips her she says, “You’re an angel—thanks so much. I just moved and that eats up money, so this will really come in handy.” By including this line, Brown shows how people working in prostitution are just like everybody else, working to pay to support their normal needs.

Brown also draws realistic illustrations to normalize the occupation. For instance, he depicts his own nude form and awkward moments of intercourse to suggest that what is happening is natural. This underscores that prostitution is just like any other sexual interaction. Brown’s depiction of prostitution opposes traditional representations of the occupation in literature and pop culture, which tend to criminalize, criticize, or fetishize sex work.

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