Monday, January 18, 2021


It may seem otherwise (if you've been reading my blogs of late), but I don't only read the obituaries when I pick up the newspaper.

Since the election my first stop in the newspaper is to read the political stories.  In the last few days, these have amounted to obituaries, it is true, for the current president.  My sense is that Trump's stock will plummet like a boulder in a bathtub after Wednesday, and it is already near the bottom of the tub.   

After I read the political news, I tend to go to the sports pages.  Only then do I turn my attention to the obituaries. Today that was an easy thing to do since the obits in today's Globe followed the sports pages, an appropriate juxtaposition for those who were cheering yesterday for the Cleveland Browns and New Orleans Saints.

The obit that caught my attention was for a woman named Margo St. James.  She, a former prostitute, had been the founder of COYOTE (Call OFF Your Old Tired Ethics).  The organization was a union for sex workers--what St. James called a loose union of women when she was serious, or a union of loose women when she was kidding around.  

St. James was born in 1937 so a decade at least before the sexual revolution got a foothold.  Her career as a prostitute began in a curious way.  She had been arrested for prostitution when she insisted she was not engaged.  According to the obit, she told the judge that she never had turned a trick in her life. The judge opined that since she knew the language, she must have been a professional.  Well, St. James showed that judge.  She went to law school, got the conviction overturned, and then became a professional in order to pay for tuition.  She never finished law school, but became active on behalf of sex workers. She even ran for public office. During the campaign for a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, she claimed to "have the support of the bohemians, the old hippies, the gays.....and the longshoremen, the veterans, and the politicians."  Not sure how many of the longshoremen, veterans, and politicians were eager to support her claim.

I found this story of St. James very interesting. To buck the status quo in this regard, particularly when she did, was to display more courage than to fight against her.  She wanted better health benefits, legal rights, and financial security for sex workers.  She argued that sex workers provided a service demanded by society--like someone doing your nails or your hair.

When I came home for holiday breaks in college, my aunt would ask me at family gatherings if I was a hippie.  "You're not a hippie, are you?" She would say.  My standard response was, "What's a hippie?"  I'm not an iconoclast for sport, but I do admire people who poke holes in conventions. Why should a sex worker become a pariah, while a professional liar can be lauded for business acumen.  I am reminded of a ribald limerick.  "There was a young lady from Reno//Who lost all of her dough playing Keeno//But she developed a knack//while she lay on her back//And now the lass owns the casino."  From what I read in the obituary for Margo St. James, the founder of COYOTE would have approved the rhyme. Perhaps she wrote it.  Prostitution is an entrepreneurial endeavor.  Like selling liquor, cheesecake, Victoria's Secret underwear, hats, stationery, smart phones, laundry detergent, or viagra.

We have a president now who has lied to the American public for four years, tried to overturn an election, has supported white supremacist organizations, and incited crazies to storm the capital.  Seventy four million people voted for him.  A little love for St. James is in order.

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