Prostitution Issues: Short Story: Thanks Ma.

The following material is an excerpt from Unrepentant Whore: Collected Works of Scarlot Harlot , formerly available on this site. Please visit the Unrepentant Whore website to purchase the book.

Thanks ma.
by Scarlot Harlot
from UNCONTROLLABLE BODIES: Testimonies of Identity and Culture (copyright Bay Press, Seattle, WA 1994)


Cheap is when you fuck them just to shut them up.
Cheap is when you do it because they are worth so much.
Cheap is when you suck them till your jaws hurt
so they won't say you're uptight.

Cheap is when you do it to keep them home at night.
Cheap is when you want less than pleasure,
a baby, or a hundred dollars.

Cheap is when you do it for security.
Cheap is what you are before you learn to say no.
Cheap is when you do it to gain
approval, friendship, love.

Excuses, Excuses...

I am Carol Leigh, also known as the Scarlot Harlot. I've been working as a prostitute for fifteen years. Although I am a self-proclaimed whore and a rebel, I have a fierce appetite for love and approval. Naturally, I developed a career as an artist. Perhaps a little information about my background will help you understand how a nice, middle class woman like me could wind up a famous slut.

My parents emigrated from Europe before the Holocaust, surviving in New York City' s garment business. My parents were both outcasts. This shared status, and an admiration for Trotsky, formed the basis for their partnership.

Disenchanted with social activism, they abandoned the Socialist Workers party and turned to child rearing. The discussion in my house was intellectual and political, mostly centering around a critique of capitalism from a socialist perspective and a critique of socialism from a capitalist point of view. Most of all, my parents indoctrinated me with the notion that nonconformity was the loftiest state. They regarded me as a magnificent experiment and raised me in strict adherence to the progressive principles of Dr. Spock.

"Think for yourself and marry a doctor," was my mom's advice.

I was perfect. smart, and well-behaved... until puberty. I fell from my pedestal at the age of fifteen, when I wanted to date (not fuck) a boy who wasn't Jewish. My parents said no, and I became an outlaw. My sudden fall from grace was unjust, exposing the tenuousness of my good reputation. I abandoned my role as an obedient child. It was 1966 or '67. I would find love, make love, and be free. I was a flower child and I would give it away.


The dark romantic forests,
Beaches of pure white sand,
They make me feel lonely,
Needing someone to hold my hand.
I walk alone in the moonlight.
There' s no one else in the world,
No one to share my feelings,
To realize that I'm a girl.
Someday when I get older,
My walks won't be alone.
A man will be there to guide me.
I'll make my world his home.

Carol Leigh, age 15

In the front lines in the battle of the sexes, prostitutes are "the only street fighters we've got," quoth Ti-Grace Atkinson in her Amazon Odyssey.

Prostitution came to me at the intersection of my needs and proclivities-my radical political bent, my feminism, my sexual curiosity, and a response to the stigma I already felt for engaging in premarital sex. Prostitution holds a potent combination of survivalism and victimization, a perfect recipe for my anarchist' s cookbook. One press of the cookie cutter and one more intellectual trollop. It was my fate. I was destined to become a sexy monster-thrust onto the battlefield of sexual politics-cast now as a victim, a survivor, and a traitor to my gender.

These are torrid times for a postmodern-another way of saying nostalgic-sex warrior. Feminists and moralists, communists and christians, are pitching adjacent camps itemizing munitions: genitals, guilt, sex, pleasure, rape, free speech, lust, love, christ, god, goddess, anarchy, imperialism, racism, classism, tantra, Tao, dharma, AIDS, oppression, Playboy, MacKinnon. Ideologies writhe in contortions. Competing women are like angels wrestling on pinheads. Feminist arguments about free will and predestination would make a Calvinist blush.

New England is for Masochists

I tried to find my righteous niche. I went to graduate school at Boston University to study with Anne Sexton. She committed suicide the semester I arrived. John Cheever taught fiction but he was drunk all the time. I never graduated. Anyway, what would I have done with a degree in poetry?

Feminism Circa the 70's

I decided to devote myself to less esoteric goals, like feminism (which provided a very useful map to my psyche).

In l976 I organized a women's writers' group, dedicated to improving women's images. The 'great artists' were mostly men. History was told from a man's point of view. Women were silenced and anonymous, but we would change all that. Together we would tell our secret stories! And I would find a place for my wierd self.

Feminism was almost perfect for me... except for the fact that I was bisexual and couldn't stop fucking men. Of course, women had to attack me for that. I understood. Women had been so oppressed. And maybe I should stop fucking men? My comrade, anti-porn heroine Macha Womongold (Pornography: A License to Kill), introduced me to some strategies to fight the patriarchy. Macha taught me about the goddess and about how proud I could be of everything female. Macha was even arrested for some obstreperous anti-porn activism. I admired her, but my feminist angst manifested itself in different ways.

For example, occasionally I'd don a few little lacy black things and jill off to my whore image in the mirror. And once, compelled by a passionate curiosity, I dressed up in my sexiest lingerie to dance on amateur night at the Golden Banana in Peabody, Massachusetts. Get over it or get into it. I advised myself. I never told my friends. They might not like it, but I didn't care. Cavorting publicly in lace and garters seemed bad (in the context of the patriarchy), but couldn't I explore that role and write poetry about my findings!?

Maybe not. How was I to fit my talents and interests into the scheme of society? My college career had been a bust. My political beliefs conflicted with my masturbatory practices. I was a good girl in a bad girl's psyche.

Or vice versa. Anyway, the blizzard of '78 was the last straw. I moved to San Francisco to find my fate.

Sex! Massage! Girls!

September 1978-San Francisco, was like a different country, I thought.

Everything was wonderful, except for the fact that my boyfriend broke up with me. I didn't know anyone and my friends were all back home. I had no job, and the bills were due on my credit cards. In fact, I felt desperate and low and confused and horrible about myself. I look back in wonder at this crossroads, but it was certainly the lowest point in my quasi-torrid life. It's odd, how the most desperate circumstances can lead to one's salvation.

Besides, San Francisco had fabulous shops and I needed furniture and a new vintage wardrobe.

I had heard that once you agreed to sell it, there was no turning back. I couldn't resist. I took the dare.

A Woman's Last Resort

I took a job at a very seedy massage parlor. I figured they must be selling sex, because they certainly weren't selling ambiance. I was immediately enamored of my friendly, beautiful co-workers, and my first trick was handsome and sweet. After work, I rushed home to look in the mirror.

Now there's a prostitute, I told myself. I hadn't changed. I looked back across that line that had separated me from the old me, the good girl. The line had disappeared.

Prostitutes' issues and images became the center of my life. I'm not saying I loved the tricks or the work. It can be fun, especially if you like things like skydiving or hang gliding. But what I liked was getting this insider's view, this secret story to tell. The silence of prostitutes became overbearingly loud. Suddenly, I was surrounded by mute and righteous women. and brazen, sexual women and poor women, and junkies and addicted women, and young women who couldn't fight back against rape, and women of other races, and mothers, and women who used to be men, and women who used to be secretaries, and wild, curious women who needed money, just like me.

My new discoveries gave me excuses and revelations:

Other women still wear high heels, bras and lipstick. They walk around in fetish gear for free, sexualizing themselves at every opportunity, and I'm supposed to not get paid to play this role. It' s all whoring just the same.

All my Life I'd been trading sex for approval and for relationships with boyfriends. A lot of women trade sex for some advantage, or for basic survival. This is part of life and I have a right to look square into it.

Jeffrey Masson may be able to brag about having sex with thousands of women. His conquests are not stigmatized. But I'm supposedly promiscuous. I hate that word.
First the patriarchy socializes me to be a sex object, then it sics its flunky cops and rapists on me. I won't be terrorized by these envoys.

Now, I Know What Some of You Are Thinking ...

Why doesn't she just get into therapy and get reprogrammed!" Great idea. Why didn't I think of that! Everyone should! Every whore on this planet needs therapy and a better job and government subsidies. This way we could end prostitution! Oh. gosh. I can't believe I went to all this trouble, when it all could have been so simple. Anyway...

Bad Luck at Lucky' s, or Caught between the Rapists and the Police

In 1978 I began to work at Lucky's massage parlor. I knew there was some danger, but I suppressed my fear so that I could survive. Measuring danger is a complicated science. As a woman, I live in constant fear of rape. If I were really careful, I'd never leave my house. You gotta take risks.

I'll fuck for money if I want, I told myself. My co-workers and the management assured me that arrest could be avoided and violence was very rare. Women taught me how to screen customers when it was my turn to open the door.

Trust your gut feeling, they told me, then went on to describe factors ranging from wardrobe and facial expression to race. As a novice, I was confused. Women claimed to get by with a sixth sense. The idea that women were advising me to weed out cops and rapists based on a subtle intuition was shocking in itself. I resented the notion.

I never felt safe. Some of the women were skilled in self-defense-like Kim, who could chew up and spit glass, I heard-but I wasn't good at that.

The management should have hired a security guard. There was enough money around, though not the huge sums people suppose. Women earned upwards of a hundred a day. The management kept seventeen of the twenty-dollar massage fee which added up to nearly a thousand a day.

Security guards might eat up a sizable chunk, but perhaps the women could chip in.

I asked the boss. Connie insisted that posting a guard was just not done in this city, as it would not be in keeping with the 'low profile' that prostitution businesses are forced to keep. As a prostitute, I had no recourse for challenging her. She was a gentle woman with a laissez-faire approach to business. The other workers were not at all inspired about instituting any kind of change. It' s hard to explain, but the whole situation is kind of paralyzing.

I had been working eight months when I opened the door for the wrong person. It was 10:30 a.m. I guess 1 was off my guard. I should have known better. It was my fault. He was clearly disqualified, according to the criteria espoused. He pushed his way in and another man followed. One put a knife to my throat and they raped me. For around twenty minutes I was afraid of being tortured or killed. Susie was there with me.

"Who do you think you are, bothering girls like this. You leave! Go now! Leave us alone!," she shrieked. They didn't rape her.

I don't understand why people always assume that when a prostitute talks about being raped, she' s describing a situation in which she has sex and then she doesn't get paid. The threat of murder and torture was the traumatic element of this rape.

Later that week I learned from some of the other women that these men had been doing the same thing to women at other parlors in town. No one passed the information around, I guess, from a feeling of hopelessness, from some idea that ideally we should all be able to protect ourselves by using our intuition.

Of course, I didn't call the police after I was raped. Connie begged me not to, as it might focus attention on our parlor, which could result in my co-workers getting busted, the parlor getting closed down, and my friends being forced out on the street..

We don't protect ourselves against rape because we almost seem to believe that we should expect to be raped, robbed, or beaten because prostitution is inherently dangerous.

We don't protect ourselves because we are prohibited and inhibited. We can't share information about dangerous tricks. We are discouraged from any kind of organizing or self-protection by laws that prohibit 'communicating for the purposes' or collective organizing (charged as pimping). It' s hard to protect yourself from the rapists while you' re busy protecting yourself from the police.

(This continues in Scarlot's Book. See below for more info)

Please visit the Unrepentant Whore website to purchase the book, or email Scarlot Harlot at

You can also interview Carol Leigh AKA Scarlot Harlot for your school project at the interview page-

©˛copyright Leigh 1987