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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Q&A: Mariko Passion, Writer, Performer of Modern Day Asian Sex Slavery: The Musical

Posted By on Tue, May 24, 2011 at 9:30 AM

Mariko Passion presents her one-woman show May 24-28.
  • Mariko Passion presents her one-woman show May 24-28.

Not all Asian sex workers are trafficked sex slaves. That's demonstrated by self-described "whore revolutionary" Mariko Passion in her one-woman show Modern Day Asian Sex Slavery: The Musical. The performance is part of the San Francisco Sex Workers Film & Arts Festival that runs through May 29. In it, Passion, a half-Japanese, half-Chinese escort based in Los Angeles, mashes stereotypical Miss Saigon/Full Metal Jacket-type depictions of Asian sex workers with the realities she has experienced in the sex industry.

What results is a song-filled indictment against racism, sexism, and criminalization; a combo that Passion argues makes sex workers vulnerable to exploitative conditions. SF Weekly spoke with the 34-year-old performance artist, activist, and sex worker of 14 years about sting operations, choice, and why she didn't vote for Kamala Harris.

What do you say to feminists who say that no one chooses to be a sex worker or prostitute?

For me, I don't know that working is a choice. My main goal has always been to be an artist and entertainer, so survival has to somehow finance and support those dreams but still keep a roof over my head. Sex work has always been a way for me to make ends meet and also live comfortably in ways that artists and activists are not supposed to. When feminists just say, 'All sex workers have been abused or neglected,' but then stop there, it's like, okay, but so many of us have been empowered by sex work.

When men would look at me or want me or desire me or took my sex without asking, that was exploitative. But commodifying it, setting boundaries around it, that was actually empowering. It was empowering to not be a starving artist. It was empowering to start the Sex Workers Outreach Project in Los Angeles, and pay for it myself because nobody was gonna pay me to help sex workers.

So I'm revolutionizing the fate that has been given to me to make the best out of things that have happened to me.

So I don't know. I hate the word choice. [Laughs]

You were arrested in a sting operation a couple of years ago. What happened after your arrest?

I fought my case for as long as I could and then I took the deal of 18 months' probation and the charge of escorting without a license and not prostitution. But it's the probation that stops you from getting jobs, and it's the probation that stops you from even renting an apartment in some places.

While I was on probation I tried to get a teaching job to teach adult school for students who have had problems in high school.

I have a masters degree in education [from UCLA], and I completed the teacher shadowing hours. I took my job offer letter to the district and that's when they told me, no, you can't work here. They told me I was banned from the district for five years.

That's not to say that had I gotten the job I would never do sex work again because I do find enjoyment in sex work at times, and it's always good to have more money. But I find that when I'm teaching, I don't have time to do sex work.

 Kamala Harris and other people have said that decriminalizing prostitution would be like giving a green light for the sexual exploitation of women and girls. What do you say to that?

Yeah, I didn't vote for her as a result of her politics regarding sex-worker rights. I didn't vote for Gavin Newsom as a result of that. Anti-trafficking feminists, they say they want to help women but they try to ignore the current needs. So you're trying to really help the workplace improve? What about labor conditions for strippers? You want to only work on the victims who are being handcuffed to the bed?

But in actual trafficking situations, the media exploits the situation.

That "Diary of a Sex Slave" [series on] was like the pop pulp fiction novel, how they describe the sex between her and the clients.

There is a huge movement of sex worker rights feminists groups both in Asia and in America. Sex worker rights groups such as the Sex Workers Outreach Project and Desiree Alliance prove every day that not all sex workers are trafficked, and that we need labor rights, and civil rights, and human rights, and to shut down the industry is not even an answer.

Allowing sex workers to operate safely and with dignity and with protection is the way that we want to go. But somehow feminists don't want that to happen. Certain feminists.

I put out a petition recently, and just the arguments of people, I mean: "You don't have to do this!" and all this stuff. But that [rhetoric] doesn't make it a choice either.

At different parts of my life, I have tried to get different jobs. These "real" jobs have never really paid the bills, and I've applied for jobs and not gotten them. What am I supposed to do in the meantime? Who's gonna pay my rent?

Modern Day Asian Sex Slavery
takes place at the Center for Sex and Culture May 24-28. Admission is $10-$50.

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section.

Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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Titania Kumeh


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