Margo St. James was arguably San Francisco, California’s most outspoken hooker. We shared an office space in downtown San Francisco when graphic designer David Wills and I were hatching up the magazine, Music Works: a Manual for Musicians. Margo was a licensed private investigator and the license gave her access to women imprisoned for sex crimes. She wanted these women to be given equal treatment under the law to their men counterparts, including access to therapists, medicines and doctors. She was a strong advocate for decriminalizing prostitution.
Margo invited me out to her ‘digs’ near Muir Woods to take a hot tub under the Eucalyptus tress and go hunting for golden chanterelle mushrooms. I hoped I would meet the legendary Zen philosopher Alan Watts who lived out there. I thought chanterelles might be a psychedelic mushrooms.
Nude was the how you went mushroom hunting with Margo. She was all angles and bones, and a face that was not beautiful in the common modes but interesting for its vitality and openness. First time I ever had a friend who was a hooker. First time out naked in the woods. First time I ever ate those delicious golden chanterelles. I never did meet Alan Watts, though I did read his books.
Soon after that adventure, Margo hired me to be the producer of the first Coyote Hooker’s Masquerade Ball in San Francisco at Longshoreman’s Hall in 1974, just around Halloween. My job was to hire the bands, the sound and light crew, write the press releases, and on the night of the dance, hold a street parade, and make sure no one got out of hand. No big deal, I figured.
Margo thought I could do this because I had just quit working as an artist’s manager for legendary rock ‘n roll concert producer Bill Graham. I struck out of my own to teach musicians business and was called a revolutionary by a well-known Bay Area rag. Who would have though that empowerment for musicians was revolutionary?
But empowerment for hookers and for women jailed for sex crimes—that was much more revolutionary. I had great respect for Margo’s cause, as I did (and still do) for anyone that stuck out their neck for disenfranchised people.
COYOTE was the acronym for “Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics.”
That ball was one wild rockin’ San Francisco event, in a city known for them. It began with me watching the Marin County firemen that Margo talked in to helping rig Longshoreman’s Hall, while I helped a bevy of gorgeous hookers assemble mailings and lick stamps. Just before the ball, there was a pre ‘get-it-up’ fund-raising party with the same bevy of women serving canapés to many of San Francisco’s politicos, rumored to be clients of that same bevy. Sally Stanford was there, who ran one of the city’s most notorious brothels, and so was Linda Lovelace, the famous porn star.
The dance itself was a huge costume party of San Francisco’s gay men and women, bisexuals, transgenders, queens, and cross dressers. The mayor and police chief came, and the only incident was a lavishly dressed clown with a cane who had climbed on top of one of the speaker stacks and was trying to ‘hook’ the chandelier. I don’t remember how one of my crew talked him safely down.
I went on to produce the next four ‘balls,’ which became among the largest of Bay Area’s fundraisers—and the wildest. The one I loved the most was the fourth, which took place at what is now called the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. In the entry hall were tables laden with marijuana (still illegal). Inside the ceiling was hung with balloons made of condoms. Margo rode into the hall on an elephant to announce her candidacy of Presidency of the U.S. I wish I had a copy of the press release I wrote.
My least favorite ball was the last one, held at the Cow Palace, where there as many drunk gawkers, as the costumed alternative sexual community, and I remember walking into the middle of ‘almost’ fights and trying to cool attendees down. I think they were so astonished to see a petite, short woman, not lavishly dressed, telling them to ‘chill,’ that they just did. The only good thing about that ‘ball’ was the incredible amount of money raised.
I once asked Margo about her views about prostitution. “Perhaps 99% of our customers are married men who want to let off some energy without having any emotional involvement. They told us that by taking care of them and listening to their problems, we helped them be better husbands.” True enough until the wives found out: There was usually a big media blitz if the men were famous and only short shrift for the women who had to endure through all of it.
What is really sad is that more 40 years later we still live in a country where discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace is common, where men still want to control abortion rights, and LGBT rights are at risk.
Women are still speaking out for women’s empowerment. Here are five stories published within the last week that I thought encapsulates that fight:
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/13/business/media/gretchen-carlson-fox-news-interview.html?_r=0 Gretchen Carlson, former Fox news anchor, speaks about her sexual harrassment lawsuit against Roger Ailes, Fox News chairman.
http://www.adultererswife.com/killing-french-infidels-for-72-virgins/ Sobering and caustically witty commentary on the Bastille Day slaughter in Nice by C. J. Grace, author of Adulterer’s Wife: How to Thrive Whether YOu Stay or Not.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/for-the-record_us_57855586e4b03fc3ee4e626f Jennifer Anniston speaks out.
http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/how-to-succeed-as-a-female-writer-in-tv-film Discrimination against women film writers.
http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/16/asia/pakistan-qandeel-baloch-murder/ Baloch, 25, murdered by her brother, was famous for her brazenly sassy, and increasingly political and pointedly feminist videos that gained her more than 750,000 Facebook followers.
My point of view? Zero tolerance for intolerance.
Copyright 2016 by Diane Sward Rapaport