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When I was a child I wanted to be an actress on TV -- part of a larger, simpler world where everything was electronic. My parents didn't help. They could have. We knew Betty Boop, personally. At least her voice. She lived in Jackson Heights, around the corner from us. My dad used to fix her TV.

I became bitter, despising all the skinny, pretty or ordinary people on TV with their precise, classical characters. Where was there room for my weird self? Mass media stole variety and individuality from the cultural vision, and left me out of the picture.

Then I noticed injustice, classism and the patriarchy. I realized that I should become more than just an actress. I dedicated myself to a mission as a political artist. I knew I had to have access to the media to shape the planetary consciousness. I should be a movie mogul, I thought, but I didn't want to major in broadcasting or film. I became a feminist poet and went to graduate school to study with Anne Sexton. She killed herself the semester I arrived.

A few years later, I accidentally became a prostitute. I spent all my money on acting lessons. I performed a critically acclaimed one-woman play about stigma and coming out as a prostitute. I spoke at press conferences, protested at N.O.W. meetings and joined C.O.Y.O.T.E., and worked with Margo St. James. I published a journal, The Harlot Herald. I made up the term "sex work."1 I proceeded with fervor as an autobiographical journalist. I enjoyed working with media, using myself and my life as an example, employing the image of the whore in order to reclaim female sexual symbolism. I had always yearned for a bohemian underground akin to the dadaist art scene, which I realized was populated by libertines. I collaborated with other prostitutes, and many other prostitute artists developing a cultural/political strategy for the destigmatization of prostitution.

Then the AIDS crisis hit. I was traumatized. The press called for statements. I lied: I said I'd always use condoms for everything. Even kissing. I resolved to flee the city (San Francisco), hoping to find a context in which AIDS was not dominating everyone's thoughts. I'd head for Texas. I'd sing about safe sex and educate people who weren't thinking enough about AIDS. I'd speak out against mandatory HIV testing. I thought I would form an organization -- T.W.A.T. ("Texas Whores And Tricks"). I would cast my fate with the wind, deconstruct my own life, perhaps eventually realize one of my long range goals: to take my political art to the mainstream, to have a great influence on American culture, like Norman Lear.

I said goodbye to my friends and tricks. I left for Texas, but my car broke down in Tucson. That seemed fortunate, as I drove directly from the highway to the "Adult Sex Strip." "Live Girls," the signs said -- "as opposed to dead ones," I thought. This town could use a visit from Scarlot Harlot. I picked up the personals, hoping to meet a nice man and have a passionate affair, since I was stuck there anyway. I answered an ad by a local media-life-artist (Dennis Williams). I handed him my thick packet of Scarlot Harlot publicity, and he immediately took me down to T.W.I.T. ("Tucson Western International Television").

Synchronicity and a virus thrust me into this futurist TV ensemble in the middle of the desert on public access television in Tucson. Tucson Community Cable Corporation is very well funded. There isn't much else to do in Tucson. The summer heat fries your brain and everyone seems spiritual and profound. Dave Bukunus, head T.W.I.T., became my mentor.

On The T.W.I.T. Show, Dave's two-hour, weekly , live comedy show, I created and developed several characters -- ranging from prostitutes to funny old ladies. I wrote and learned to improvise on the character generator as part of the ensemble, most of whom were also performer-technicians. With Dave's guidance I produced, wrote, starred in and edited, War and Pizza (in the Global Village), and much more. 2

It all started to come back. Television had been a big part of my life. My father fixed televisions. I recalled being suckled by my mother in a room full of television carcasses. Occasionally, I accompanied my father on TV emergency housecalls. I wasn't too intimidated by technology. I was always the one who could hook up a stereo system. Instantly, the visual, electronic media became the center of my life. I was "Queen of the Edit Vultures," waiting to claim all cancellations for that precious free editing time.

I appreciated public access because of the cultural diversity which is part of its mandate. For the first time in my artistic career I was collaborating with a vast array of other local artists, black artists, older women, homeless activists, Christian women, teenagers and others.

After two solid years in this community, I felt an urge to work in a more sophisticated and bohemian setting in order to bring out my individuality. Although I was "out" about working as a prostitute in Tucson, the political aspects of prostitutes rights didn't fit with the consciousness in that milieu. I headed back to the city (SF) to live and document urban life.

I joined a small group of AIDS activists, Citizens For Medical Justice, to fight legislation for mandatory HIV testing of prostitutes. I organized, videotaped and distributed documentation of rallies and educational events. This was particularly necessary in regard to prostitutes' rights, as most activists are not educated about the issues, problems for prostitutes, and solutions we have proposed though our national and international charters.

For several years I had organized demos and press conferences, often frustrated with the coverage offered by the news departments. My media skill, broadcast TV experience and political direction merged. I was creating a context in order to be understood.

As an AIDS activist, my collaborators were gay men with whom I had a great deal in common. I wanted to influence the activist community (ACT UP) and establish a precedent for prioritizing issues that effect prostitutes. I was extremely inspired by these brave men. I learned about nonviolence and concensus. I regularly collaborate with The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Unincorporated, who create challenging, intellectual, satiric street theater/civil disobedience addressing local issues as well as the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope.

I worked with nonviolent, anarchist-identified groups. Although I had diverse political contacts within the gay community and in prostitutes' communities, I had rarely crossed racial or generational barriers, and I wanted a multicultural community. I had previously been concerned about the lack of activist support for other disenfranchised groups, particularly prisoners in the AIDS movement. The crimes committed against me, as a prostitute, by the government were much more extreme in the case of black women who are targeted for arrest and sentenced to jail in vastly disproportionate numbers. I've always felt hypocritical in regard to political righteousness unless I was also addressing the needs of those with less rights than myself. I had been frustrated and compromised in the white male dominated arts scene, and even in the white female scene. When I mulled over the issues I noticed the extremely impoverished, cruel conditions of the the ghettos. I felt that these issues were most urgent, but I didn't know how to become involved.

I am very fortunate to be collaborating with Dee Russell, a black performance artist and videomaker. We performed together in Jesse Helms’ Nasty Ass Nieces and in Dee's Anti-Fashion Shows. We created Yes Means Yes. No Means No. 3 This interracial date-rape drama won awards at various festivals and is being used by the San Francisco Rape Crisis Center as a training tape for service providers. In regard to framing cross-over representation, integrating my personal life was essential and a constant goal. I also work with a community of black moviemakers in Oakland including Dwaine Terry and Mario Babino.

As a bisexual, I have always had a relationship with the gay/bisexual community. I document a variety of communities, including the Bay Area's multicultural and sexually diverse political and artistic subcultures. I also document friends and their families. Through extensive video work with diverse media oriented communities, I have learned about concepts and production, the potential of video as a communications tool, and creative way to use video to explore and educate ourselves.

The Collected Works of Scarlot Harlot, the series, plays Friday nights all over the Bay Area. 4 The series includes documentaries Die Yuppie Scum, G.H.O.S.T.* Grand Homosexual Outrage At Sickening Televangelists, Sex Workers Take Back The Night, and Outlaw Poverty, Not Prostitutes.

Other projects include documentation of the new prostitutes' rights movement; Annie Sprinkle for High School Students; Sunreich, Sunsetup from the weekly anti-war protest series, Whore In The Gulf created at Atomic Media Groups' studios. Recently, Scarlot Harlot was employed as a high school interdisciplinary arts teacher. I am currently writing a feature length screenplay, Feminists On The Rampage.

Carol Leigh aka Scarlot Harlot

Box 6724

Oakland, Ca 94603




1) Ten of my columns from "The Collected Works of Scarlot Harlot" were published in Sex Work, by Cleis Press.

2)With a $3,000 grant from the Tucson Community Cable Corporation, Dave produced Elaines, a six-episode situation comedy based on different political issues, which I wrote, starred in and edited.

3)Yes Means Yes. No Means No won first prize for fiction in Sony's "Visions of U.S." contest, administered by The American Film Institute.

4)The Collected Works of Scarlot Harlot: Hometown finalist for "Best Innovative Series;" "Most Outstanding Tapes" award from Videowitnesses Festival of New Journalism; Lynn Blumenthal's "Memorial Fund For Independent Video."