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from Reading, Writing & Rewriting
by Shannon Bell; Copyright, Indiana University Press, 1994

Chapter 6

Prostitute Performances: Sacred Carnival Theorists of the Female Body

Scarlot Harlot: Carol Leigh

Scarlot Harlot, Carol Leigh's alter ego, personifies/embodies the postmodern prostitute performance artist. She is a clown,a burlesque drag queen whore turned out in southern belle American flag attire, and she is a sexual healer and feminist activist.Leigh refers to herself as a life artist, an "autobiographicaljournalist... using myself and my life as an example, employingthe image of whore in order to reclaim female sexual symbolism."73

Carol Leigh is a writer, performer (stage and street), filmmaker,and television host. Her work spans five areas which stand individually and also come together in multimedia ensemble. These five areas include (1) her early one-woman show, The Adventures of Scarlot Harlot: (2) public acts of civil disobedience presented as guerrilla street perform-ins; (3) performance art/theater (4) guerrilla cinematography; and (5) feminist activism and education.

Leigh's early show The Adventures of Scarlot Harlot had its inception in 1980 75 a time when prostitute performance art was beginning as a postmodern art genre. The Adventures of Scarlot Harlot is a personal narrative of what a woman experiences when she announces she is a prostitute; it is a coming-out story presented as stream of consciousness in which Leigh articulates her reflections onthe pride and shame of being a whore and tells jokes.

The political aim barely below the surface in The Adventures of Scarlot Harlot is twofold: "to show the audience that most of the discomfort prostitutes suffer is a result of the stigma, rather than the sex or the sex-for-money" 76 and to enable "people to examine their prejudices about prostitutes."77 Scarlot aims to get the audience to realize that prostitutes are just like them: "the person sitting next to you could be a prostitute. People think we're either rich or desperate ..."78 Leigh discloses that in her prostitute support group most of the women are college-educated: "a lawyer, elementary teacher andfilm historian are among the group."79

Deploying nudity as what will become a recurrent consciousnessraising technique, Scarlot undresses and dons pants and a T-shirtwhich reads "We're all prostitutes."80 She then directly involves the audience with this human condition by questioning individual members about what they do for a living. The audience begins to participate as the other character in the play and themonologue becomes a dialogue about how they make their money and their assumptions about prostitutes.

Scarlot is known for protest performances and acts of civil disobedience;she takes her political messages onto the street, presenting short,spontaneous guerrilla pieces relating to prostitution, AIDS, andother feminist issues. Leigh's first action as Scarlot Harlotwas to attend a NOW (National Organization of Women) meeting witha paper bag over her head, inscribed "This PAPER BAG symbolizesthe ANONYMITY of PROSTITUTES." Leigh said in an interview,"I went around town with my paper bag"81 - publicizing in one visual moment the shame and degradation that society visitsupon the prostitute.

Scarlot has held public solicitations in busy downtown areas at peak pedestrian hours, most famously her 1990 public solicitation on Wall Street at lunch time. Leigh uses this tactic of guerrilla street theater to protest the soliciting laws and call for thedecriminalization of prostitution. Dressed in her American flag gown, Scarlot informs the crowd: "I provide safe sex for sale and I am offering intercourse with a condom for $200.. ..I have ultimate jurisdiction over my body. .. . I am protesting State Penal Code 230 and I am defiantly offering sexual services."82 Scarlot carries this street act of solicitation into artspace, soliciting the audience as part of her performances:

I would like to engage you in a little civil disobedience.
You all know that it is against the law, it is a crime to solicitfor the act of prostitution.
I don't know if you know this but a few years ago they made alaw that it is illegal to agree to engage in prostitution.
First of all are there any cops in the audience? You have to tell me, otherwise it is entrapment. I am going to offer my sexual services, you just say
$200 for intercourse, of course with a condom. Now who agreesto engage in prostitution with me! Great.
Thank-you so much far engaging in this act of civil disobedience."83

Scarlot has also staged a number of AIDS demonstration perform-ins protesting the lack of services and funding. For example, as part of a week of protests by AIDS Action Pledge, in full Scarlot dress-her American flag gown, red elbow-length gloves, red boots and tights, political buttons on each breast: "Just Say No toMandatory Testing," "Sin Condom No Hay Amor"- Scarlot tied up a fellow protester in red tape to publicize and protest the red tape involved in getting public assistance for peoplewith AIDS. At the Sixth International Conference on AIDS (1990)in San Francisco, Scarlot was taken into custody for protesting the exclusion of women from AIDS research.84

Responding to a papal fundraiser for the 1987 visit of Pope JohnPaul II, Scarlot organized a small group of protesters who, calling themselves the Whores of Babylon, sang a take-off on Madonna's "Papa Don't Preach":

Pope don't preach, you're in trouble deep.
Pope don't preach, I hope you are losing sleep.
But I made up my mind, I'm terminating my pregnancy.
I'm gonna terminate my pregnancy.85

Pope. Don't Preach. I'm Terminating My Pregnancy developed intoa political music video.

What has evolved as Scarlot's uniquely postmodern approach is to stage a street perform-in/demonstration and to film the event, producing a guerrilla documentary film which she then uses as part of a new piece involving live performance, video, and discussion. In her recent two-part All Purpose Bad Girl events, Scarlot in Part I did a live performance piece of Sunreich. Sunsetup and Pope, Don't Preach. I'm Terminating My Pregnancy, showed her video G.H.O.S.T:: Spiritual Warfare, and engaged the audience in a discussion of the political implications the three pieces raise. Sunreich, Sunsetup is a short musical commentary on the war in the Persian Gulf, which is a part of Scarlot's series Whore in the Gulf. Wearing her famous flag attire Scarlot sings the following to the tune of "Fiddler on the Roof":

Is this the little war I hoped for?
Is this the GI Joes at play?
I don't remember bombing Basra,
When did they?

Why won't she grow to be a woman?
Why won't he grow to be a man?
Arabs were sacrificed in this war, by Bush and Saddam.

Sunrise, Sunset, Sunrise, Sunset
Swiftly fall the bombs
People turn overnight to corpses.
Didn't this happen back in Nam?

Sunrise, Sunset, Sunrise, Sunset.
Swiftly flows the cash.
Chaos turns overnight to contracts.
Sucking the profit from the ash.86

Scarlot from her position as a prostitute critiqued the war; Leighwould go to the antiwar demonstrations every day and interviewher fellow activists. She would interject their comments withCNN cut-ups: shots of people suffering juxtaposed to officialstate commentary. G.H.O.S.T.: Spiritual Warfare (1990) containsa documentation of a street performance Scarlot did as a protest against the three-day prayer fest organized by the televangelist Larry Lea and his Prayer Army. "G.H.O.S.T." is an acronym for Grand Homosexual Outrage at Sickening Televangelists. The video documents the confrontation between Larry Lea's prayer warriors and thousands of the San Francisco gay and alternative communityon Halloween. Scarlot begins this twenty-minute video with footage from the protest: protesters in drag presenting high-camp images are juxtaposed to husbands and wives and religious lower-middle Americans going into the prayer meeting gay men are holding a kiss-in in response to Lea's explicit homophobia. The film shiftsto pre-demonstration footage of Leigh interviewing lesbian and gay activists, in various stages of getting dressed for Halloween,recording their messages to Larry Lea's people. One respondentsays:

We are your sons and daughters who came out to San Francisco becauseit was kind of hard to be this way in Texas... We are capable of loving each other just like you are capable of loving each other. We want your tolerance and acceptance. We want you to seeus for what we are: happy, healthy people who know how to have fun.87

The remainder of the footage documents various verbal clashes between the protesters and the prayer warriors. Scarlot, Pink Jesus, and Sadie, Sadie, The Rabbi Lady lead the protesters in the recurrent chants of "Be gone Bigots, Be gone!" and "Larry Lea, Go Away, Racist, Sexist, Anti-Gay." Scarlot'sperform-in commences with her shouting "Grab your makeup,fix your hair. Prostitutes are everywhere... whores, whores, whores!" informing fellow protesters and prayer warriors "I am Scarlot Harlot. I represent the Great Whore Goddess," and exclaiming "here, I'll show you!" Scarlot tears off all her clothes except for a turquoise feather boa draped around her neck. She then declares: "I have been channeling the goddess. I had a vision, and in my vision Larry Lea comes out of the ministry and prostrates himself at my feet. He seeks the divine light of the Whore Goddess." Within seconds a fellow activist impersonating Lea does just that, declaring: "I believe in the goddess, take me into the folds of your love, take me into your church,I am your disciple. Take Me. I am yours, I take you as my savior."Scarlot, playing on the commercialization of the great whore goddess,replies "Yes. Yes. But will it be Visa or MasterCard?"

At her second All Purpose Bad Girl show held the following week Scarlot focused on violence against women from the prostitute point of view: "To me, the laws against prostitution represent institutionalized rape and sexual abuse, that is, if the police are sent to our bedrooms to arrest us, that sounds like sexual abuse to me."88 She performs an excerpt from her musical satire Bad Laws, which trashes the California State Legislature for passing mandatory HIV testing laws for prostitutes. With changing slides of vintage Scarlot protest footage and in the presence of two exotic dancers carrying placards which read "KeepYour Laws off My Body," "Whore Power," "No Mandatory Testing," "Support Prostitutes' Rights, ""Decriminalize Prostitution," and "Prostitutes Use Condoms, Do You!" Scarlot sing/shouts:

I'm talking about really, really bad laws,
Bad Laws.
I'm talking about horrible legislation,
See them doing it in broad daylight,
Hoping they don't catch the latest blight,
They don't get laid,
Cause their butts are too tight.
You ask yourself, just who do they think they are?
And while you are wondering, they make laws that are
putting prostitutes in jail until they die.

They make really bad laws.
I am against any law that curtails my freedom of sexpression, And my freedom to do whatever I want with my body.
They make really, really bad laws,
Sad laws, bad laws, they make me mad laws, Bad laws.
All they do is add laws.

I tell you what I'm gonna do
I'm gonna get myself a new tattoo
Says "Let your government die for you"
Cause they make Bad Laws. 89

At the end of her performance Scarlot provides the audience witha handout of her article "No Mandatory Testing! A Feminist Prostitute Speaks Out," which analyzes the political and social consequences mandatory testing.

This live performance is followed by a showing of two of Scarlot's feminist films: Sex Workers Take Back the Night (1991) and Yes Means Yes, No Means No (1992). In Sex Workers Take Back the Night Scarlot documents the diverse attitudes among pro-porn and antipornfeminists who are attending the 1990 Take Back the Night march. She focuses on what the women consider violence, their opinions on pornography and on the women who take part in it. The film opens and is contextualized by a marcher's identification of the Montreal massacre as one of the most dramatic instances of misogyny; she lists countless other misogynistic practices, from spousal battering, to discrimination against women in the legal system, to women earning sixty cents on the dollar, to denial of reproductiverights. This statement unites antiporn and pro-porn feministsin the face of the larger patriarchal acts of violence againstwomen. Leigh carefully contains the division among women which she is documenting inside a concept of coalition politics. Scarlot asks her interviewees what issues are most important to them as they Take Back the Night. A young sex worker attending the march with her a group of her sex worker friends says: We don't believe that violence against women is perpetuated by pornography. Censorship in the name of protecting women isn't protection at all; a lot gets cut out, including women's sexual voices. There is a ground swellof female-produced and feminist-produced pornography that is also getting silenced by censorship."90 Another sex worker says: "We came down here to say we are sex-positive sex workers,we are not coerced into it, we are not manipulated." A woman who identifies herself as a stripper says: "I don't believe that being naked in front of people is degrading. You have toallow yourself to be degraded in order to be degraded." At this point Scarlot, who is videotaping the interview, interjects:"I feel degraded constantly being a very big woman and I'mforty. Life is one big degradation, prostitution sometimes is degrading." Here Scarlot is consciously linking prostitution with other feminist issues like size and age and linking it to general degradation in our society. At one point Scarlot pulls her top down, displaying her breasts and holding a sign which reads WHOREPOWER, she tells those around her that "Take Bac kthe Night has had a history of not doing outreach to prostitutes": she proudly announces "I was invited especially."

Scarlot questions another woman who has identified herself as a sex worker: "What about Taking Back the Night! Do you feel whores ought to be able to take back the night" The woman responds that she has been dancing for two years and that it is one of best things she has ever done. She adds, "The hardest thing about dancing is when people say to me that it is degrading to women." Antiporn feminists are shown with a huge mobile installation entitled "Erotomisogynist speech incites femicide";the installation is covered with pictures of nude women, batteredwomen, and women in mainstream pornographic poses. An antipornfeminist at the installation tells Scarlot, "This stuff is hate literature." Scarlot asks her what she thinks should be done with it. She responds: "I think we should expose it wherever we go, like we are doing here." Scarlot then questions her as to what she thinks about the women who posed for the pictures. The woman says: "I think they are traitors to their sex." Scarlot doesn't confront her.

In another mini perform-in Scarlot, topless, is yelling, "I am exercising my right to freedom of speech." Later, as themarch is underway, she connects her freedom of speech action to that of a woman who is ripping up a porn magazine. Scarlot asksher, "Are you exercising your freedom of speech on Haight Street!" The woman answers:

"We oppose erotomisogynist literature." Scarlot is presenting both sides of the pornography debate and positions in between,such as that of a woman stating "Pornography is something to be talked about between us and among us, not to be fought about. It is to be fought with men about." As the march is winding up, a protester states: "I think it was a mistake for the feminist movement to take on an antiporn stance. What we needto do is reform or transform those images, not try to eliminatethem in society."

Sex Workers Take Back the Night has been used as a consciousness-raisingtool to initiate a dialogue between sex workers/pro-porn feministsand antipornography activists. In addition, Scarlot has organizedand facilitated a four-part discussion and work group entitledTaking Back the Night/Challenging Divisions through Open Forum-A School of Collective Learning. The Open Forum flyer states:

This is a woman's discussion group to bridge the gap between sex workers and anti-pornography activists....
A facilitated discussion will create a safe space for women to express a variety of attitudes towards sexuality, and personalexploration will enhance our understanding of stigma and socialcontrol. Participants will consider strategies to resist divisionsbased on our sexual experiences and preferences.91

Among the items on the agenda were "What do we want from other women in regard to issues of sexual representation, sexual expression, sexual communication?" "What are our various definitions of pornography, erotica, sexually explicit material,erotomisogyny?" "What stigmas have hurt you?""How have you been oppressed by women?" "What are your sexual rights? (Do they include the right to receive payment for sexual services? The right to engage in safe sex if we are HIV positive?The right to sell sexual services if we are HIV positive? etc.).""What sort of abuse did you experience as a young person?"92These and other issues were explored in accordance with both consciousness-raising style (each woman speaking without interruption) and discussion style. Scarlot, in an interview, says:

The workshops were a big learning experience for everyone. I learned a lot about how to deal with and talk to anti-porn women. I...see them as warriors. I have always admired them. I myself need tohave room to be who they are: the one who says no. I want to be that too, and I want to be this. There just has to be room for both.93

Leigh has made essential contributions to the construction ofa new postmodern role of performance educator; she has producedfilms an prostitution, AIDS, and date rape as educational toolsthat promote discussion among the groups that view them. OutlawPoverty. Not Prostitution records the 1989 World Whores' Summitin San Francisco. Through a series of interviews and newspaper,television, and film montages, Leigh documents the discussionof prostitutes' conditions by prostitute activists from Thailand,Amsterdam, Brazil, and the United States. Her 1990 video Whoresand Healers: Women Respond to AIDS documents the role of prostitutesand ex-prostitutes as healers and teachers. It includes footageof CAL-PEP- the HIV prevention and education program designedand implemented by prostitutes and ex-prostitutes for prostitutesand IV drug users and their partners. Leigh says, "We aretrying to teach people in general about sex. We are sex experts."She contends: "We want people to know that we are very involvedin safe sex education; we really care about our health, we careabout other people's health." "Sex workers are healingpeople."94

Leigh and performance artist Dee Russell recently produced Yes Means Yes, No Means No, a date drama which begins with flowers and candy and ends in rape; the only soundtrack is the continuous singing of "That Old Black Magic" by Frank Sinatra.Yes Means Yes, No Means No is used as a training tape for serviceproviders by the San Francisco Rape Crisis Center. It is also shown at performance events such as Scarlot's All Purpose Bad Girl show. All of her films are featured on her weekly television show The Collected Works of Scarlot Harlot on Channel 29 in SanFrancisco.
Scarlot Harlot is a performance/protest artist, and a teacher/activistwho narrows the boundaries between entertainment and educationand performing and teaching.

73 Janet Ghent, "Festival should be red-letter event for'the Scarlot Harlot,'" Tribune, Oakland, California, Nov.2, 1989.
74 Carol Leigh published ten chapters of Scarlot's adventuresin Sex Work: Writings by Women in the Sex Industry, ed. FrederiqueDelacoste and Priscilla Alexander. The Adventures of Scarlot Harlotis on video.
75. As well as playing around San Francisco, The Adventures ofScarlot Harlot was featured at the National Festival of Women'sTheatre in Santa Cruz in 1983
76. Murry Frymer, "Leigh calls her act 'The Scarlot Harlot,'" San Jose Mercury News, May 1983.
77. Ibid.
78. Thea lohnson, "First National Festival of Women's Theater,"Plexus: San Francisco Bay Area Women's Newspaper, May 1983.
79. Hunter Drohojowska, "A Happy Hooker goes on stage: Practicing prostitute performs comedy as Scarlot Harlot," Los Angeles Herald Examiner, March 7, I984
80. Carol Leigh, The Adventures of Scarlot Harlot, video.
81. Interview with Carol Leigh, San Francisco, July I992.
82. "Art, Prostitution, Free Speech Form a Bizarre Brew at a Rally," New York City Tribune, May 25, 1990.
83. Performance which I attended at the Freedom of SexpressionForum, sponsored by the National Writers Union, San Francisco,July 7, 1992.
84. She presented her music video Safe Sex Slut as part of a seminaron performance and social change at the Fifth Intentional Conferenceon Aids (I989) in Montreal. She sings in the video:

I won't become disease infected
Me, I'll be so well protected
I always pay my income tax
I eat granola for my snacks
Safe sex, safe sex.

At the movies, in a car,
In a bathroom at a bar
Safe sex, safe sex.

Scarlot Harlot, Safe Sex Slut, video, 1987.

85. Charles Linebarger, "Papal Protesters Picket Dianne'sFundraiser," San Francisco Sentinel, July 3I, 1987. 86. TheScarlot Letter, March 1990.
87 Carol Leigh, G.H.O.S.T: Spiritual Warfare, 1990. The following quotations are from the video.
88. Carol Leigh, Personal Statement of Purpose, Taking Back theNight/Challenging Divisions, November 1991.
89. I saw Scarlot perform this piece at the Freedom of Sexpression Forum, sponsored by the National Writers Union, San Francisco,July 7, I992.
90. This and following quotes are from Carol Leigh, Sex WorkersTake Back the Night, 1991.
91. Open Forum- A School of Collective Learning (Spring I992),flyer.
92. Carol Leigh, Taking Back the Night / Challenging Divisions,discussion group agenda.
93. Interview with Carol Leigh, San Francisco, July 1992.
94. Scarlot Harlot, Whores and Healers, 1990.

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