Content note: Discussion of Pickup Artist culture, BDSM, mentions of rape but no graphic details in my review. BIG trigger warnings for rape descriptions in the book itself.
I’ve recently read “Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser: Long Interviews With Hideous Men” by Clarisse Thorn. I got it on Kindle and it is also available in paperback. This book is by a straight woman about primarily straight men, but I wanted to review it for Queerview Mirror because of its connections to feminism, BDSM, and polyamory, which are all subjects we discuss here on Queereka. I also want to recognize that Thorn acknowledges her heterosexuality and the ways in which it may color her perspective a few times within the book.
One of the things I really enjoyed about this book was the way that she compares PUA culture to BDSM and Polyamory cultures. Comparing the kinds of open communication emphasized in the BDSM community with the manipulation of the PUA community is apt and works very well as a framework for examining the problems with pickup artists. Importantly, while Thorn does call kink negotiations “the most communicative, feminist framework for sex that I have ever seen” (42) she also recognizes that not everyone who does BDSM actually communicates well and that some practitioners are predatory.
As someone with very little knowledge of the tactics, language, and culture of PUAs, I found the book to be somewhat enlightening. Some things did not surprise me at all, such as the idea that many PUAs believe that women saying no to sex doesn’t actually mean they don’t want to have sex with you. This is why PUA tutorials are often (accurately) called “rape manuals.” Thorn even describes some of the “Lay reports” (ew) in which these men publicly describe their acts of rape. Yeah, trigger warning on that stuff folks.
Some parts were definitely new to me, especially in that Thorn did talk to some guys who understood at least some of the problematic parts of PUA culture. The revelation that SOME guys are using PUA education to learn how to flirt (something I’m quite bad at) but are actually pretty ethical about the other stuff was a relief. However, the fact that they are steeping themselves in a culture with so little regard for women and consent is worrying, since the messaging they’re getting is so destructive.
There were also details about the tactics and culture of PUA that I found interesting and enlightening. For those interested in better understanding this problematic world I particularly encourage you to read this book. I found it a lot easier to learn from a feminist who was willing to wade into the muck rather than having to do it myself.
There are a few issues that threw off my enjoyment of the book a bit, and most of them could have been solved by a good editor. The first one was the use of the non-word “transgendered.” While it was used in a context that was not at all negative, I wish Thorn had more familiarity with the queer world OR an editor who could have corrected her to “transgender” instead. Using “S&M” instead of “SM” or “BDSM” or “kink” was another one, but it may be that our kinky worlds really are just using different language. In my world “S&M” has not been a common term since the 1990’s. Still, these problems did not ruin my enjoyment and I do recommend reading it.