Remembering Margo St. James
Updated: Oct 24, 2022
BY KAYTLIN BAILEY
As an advocate for sex worker’s rights, one of the greatest honors of my career has been assisting with the memorial for Margo St. James this May Day, 5/1/2021. Unfortunately, I never got to meet Margo. I knew of the St. James Infirmary before I knew of its namesake. Although I was steeped in her legacy, I only learned the details of her life many years into this work.
Allow me the pleasure of telling you the legend of Margo St. James.
Margo wasn’t a sex worker. She was a beatnik: some- one who ran from early motherhood and farm life, in order to become an artist in 1958. She slept with who she pleased — for free. She was arrested after police observed people coming in and out of her home. Margo was a famously generous host.
At the trial, Margo said, “I never turned a trick in my life.” To which the judge responded, “Anyone who knows that language is obviously a professional.”
He convicted her.
Margo dedicated the rest of her life to sex worker rights, launching WHO (Whores, Housewives, and Others, meaning lesbians), COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), and the infamously delightful Hookers’ Masquerade Balls. She made a splash… and a difference.
Margo occasionally turned tricks to travel the world, spreading the undeniable news that arresting people for the oldest profession is madness, even if they’re guilty.
As soon as I started to learn about Margo, I was overwhelmed. Her adventures and exploits were exhilarating, exhausting, and enticing. When I started ‘The Oldest Profession Podcast in 2017’, I waited to tell Margo St. James’ story.
There were so many pieces of Margo’s legacy floating and shimmering all over the world. To gather and care for them would take a team. A team we built at Old Pro Productions, Inc.
Just as we reached out, Margo moved on. She passed away on January 11, 2021. And then, overnight, the whole world was talking about Margo St James. Margo’s friends, lovers, comrades and contemporaries started to gather for her memorial. Old Pro Productions redirected our resources for Margo’s episodes toward her virtual memo- rial, in order to tell and preserve her story.
“Margo might be the single most important sexual liberationist and feminist revolutionary who ever slapped society upside its head,” said Santa Cruz journalist and longtime friend, Susie Bright. “She was our combat soldier, field nurse, and Joan of Arc.”
Like Joan’s troops centuries ago, we must continue to fight without our fearless leader. So, raise a glass this May Day, and take the torch passed to you. We march on.
WRITTEN BY KAYTLIN BAILEY PHOTOS COURTESY OF OLD PRO PRODUCTIONS, INC.