Sex Worker Voices
'Nothing About Us, Without Us'
Annie’s note: California Lawyer magazine invited me to write an article for them. I was delighted to reach a new audience, and to get to tell war stories of my legal battles, in both my sex work and my performance art work. Also, I was dating a lawyer at the time and I wanted to impress her. I wrote this piece during the heat of the O.J. Simpson trial.
"Annie Sprinkle was a NYC prostitute and porn star for twenty years, then morphed into an artist and sexologist. She has passionately explored sexuality for over forty years, sharing her experiences through making her own unique brand of feminist sex films, writing books and articles, visual art making, creating theater performances, and teaching. Annie has consistently championed sex worker rights and health care and was one of the pivotal players of the Sex Positive Movement of the 1980's. She got her BFA at School of Visual Arts in NYC was the first porn star to earn a Ph.D.. She’s a popular lecturer whose work is studied in many colleges and Universities. For the past 12 years she has been collaborating on art projects with her partner, an artist and UCSC professor, Elizabeth Stephens. They are movers and shakers in the new “ecosex movement,” committed to making environmentalism more sexy, fun and diverse. In 2013, Sprinkle proudly received the Artist/Activist/Scholar Award from Performance Studies International at Stanford, and was awarded the Acker Award for Excellence in the Avant Garde. Click here for Annie Sprinkle's more detailed CV." (http://anniesprinkle.org/mini-biography/)
My first brush with the law, was when I was an eighteen-year-old hippie in Tucson, Arizona. I got a job selling popcorn at a theater that was showing a new movie called Deep Throat. The XXX-rated movie was immensely popular; college students, married couples, and all kinds of folk lined up along side the raincoat brigade to buy their tickets. After several prosperous months, the theater where I worked was shut down and the film confiscated by police. An obscenity trial ensued. I was subpoenaed as a witness for the prosecution and was ordered to hang out in the witness room for two weeks with Linda Lovelace and the film’s director Gerard Damiano (a handsome and charming 46 year old Italian gentleman). Waiting around to be called to the stand was a bit dull so to pass the time, Damiano gave me ‘deep throat lessons’. I had to take the stand briefly, which I consider my first public performance. Fortunately, lawyer Louis Nizer won this important case for freedom of expression, and Damiano and I won each other’s hearts.
I moved to New York City to be Gerard’s mistress and got a job as an apprentice in film making at Kirt Films, a company which created dozens of 16-mm porn films. The apprenticeship didn’t pay anything, so I worked weekends at Spartacus Spa, which in the late 70’s was Manhattan’s fanciest ‘massage parlor’ (legal jargon for whorehouse). I entertained and had sex with all kinds of men, from the rich and famous, to Hasidic Jewish businessmen, from Mafia gangsters, to police officers. Naturally I had quite a few clients who worked as judges and lawyers. The men of the legal profession were generally respectful, good tippers (often we made about the same hourly wage), and always in a hurry to get back to work. They came to me racked with stress and tension, and left feeling relaxed and blissful. I could take pride in my work. I’m convinced that without prostitution, the legal system could not function.
Being that prostitution was/is illegal, it was reassuring to know I always had a lawyer to defend me if need be. Often there were busts and arrests, but lucky for me they always came down on my days off. I continued to do prostitution for twenty years. I’ve always been involved in the grass roots movement to decriminalize prostitution–the political cause which is most near and dear to my heart. We’ve made some baby steps. It’s really about time that someone, somehow, challenge the prostitution laws and get them thrown in the garbage where they belong. It is absurd and mean spirited to make consensual sex a crime.
After several months of working behind the cameras at Kirt films, I decided it looked like more fun to be in front, so someone wrote me a two page script called Teenage Deviate. After the eighteen hours it took to complete the shooting of this not-so-major motion picture, a porn star was born. I went on to make 150 features and 50 8mm loops, and have my name in lights on Broadway. Sometimes my films got into legal conflicts. Mostly the film’s distributors and producers dealt with these problems, which was great, but I did pay a price. My biggest hit was Deep Inside Annie Sprinkle (the number two biggest selling video in 1982), which I not only starred in, but wrote and directed. The producers and distributors decided to self-censor the film because theaters where the film was shown (mostly the Pussycat chain in California) were taking a lot of heat (no pun intended). I was disappointed with the final censored version of my movie which became known as ‘the California version’.
For a couple years I did a stint as a stripper. Traveling the bumpy burlesque trail I got to see just how ridiculous laws could be, and how clever the lawyers could be in helping us get around those laws. For example, in one city the law demanded ‘no full nudity ‘. So we simply kept our g- strings on when we took our bras off, and put our bras back on before we took off our g-strings. It was full nudity, but not all at once. In another city, the law said ‘no nudity and liquor allowed at the same address’, so a glass wall was built between the bar and the stage, and each side of the glass was given a different address. In yet another city, the law insisted that ‘dancer’s nipples had to be covered’. So dancers had to paint them over with clear liquid latex which kept us legal, but made our nipples painfully irritated. Doesn’t anyone see how silly this all is? Why do ‘citizens have to be protected’ from dancing nude women?
Miraculously the only time I was ever actually arrested was in Jamestown, Rhode Island. I was at the home of my friends, erotic entrepreneurs Mickey and Susan Leblovic and Dutch artist Willem DeRidder. We were putting together a little, avant-guardish, one shot sex magazine, with my diary excerpts and various photos. It was a labor of love, as we had no hopes of making much money from it, if any. We needed a typesetter, so we placed a help wanted ad in the local newspaper. Little did we know, we’d hired an undercover police woman who cheerfully worked side by side with us for a month. To create something extra special for the climax of my zine, my friend, amputee centerfold, Long Jean Silver came up from New York and we did a playful photo shoot, thoroughly enjoying each others bodies, including her penetrating me with her sexy 16″ stump leg. I was delighted by our efforts. The moment our masterpiece was completed, twenty five state police (one third of their entire department) along with our ‘typesetter’, entered the house, guns drawn and pointed, wielding search and arrest warrants. Seems we had been under surveillance for a month, wire taps and all. We were charged with over a hundred felony counts combined; ‘conspiracy to make and distribute obscene material’, ‘sodomy’, and my personal favorite, ‘conspiracy to commit sodomy.’ In Rhode Island, sodomy is defined as ‘an abominable, detestable act against nature, which is apparently what some folks consider sex with amputees. My experience with Jean felt loving and liberating, and I assure you, nature was not offended at all.
We were thrown into freezing cold jail cells with no blankets or toothbrushes for 48 hours, treated like murderers by police officers and portrayed that way by the press. We gained comfort by planning a massive demonstration with hundreds of amputees and people in wheel chairs on the steps of the courthouse and by making up our own lyrics to famous protest songs like We Shall Over Cum.
Finally we were released on bail. Our friends in New York threw a benefit for us to raise funds to pay our lawyers, William Kunstler and Paul DeMaio. It was of course a sex party, held at Plato’s Retreat (Manhattan’s infamous sex club). The who’s who of the sex world was there. Mickey even invited several vice officers from the Rhode Island police department and they came (no pun intended) and even paid for their tickets. (A week later internal affairs held an investigation and some were suspended from their jobs!) Paul DeMaio, who was also a judge at the time, came, and almost got thrown off his bench after his photo appeared on the front page of the Providence Journal surrounded by a bevy of unauthorized women.
Eventually all our charges were dropped except for poor Mickey Leblovic’s who was found guilty of two counts of conspiracy to publish and distribute obscene material, and was sentenced to four years in prison (he served eighteen months). Now that’s truly obscene! It was totally unjust. I was never able to recover my seized belongings–all my favorite sex toys, my bras and panties, the dog’s leash, my tooth brush, a box of Tampax, my douche bag, or my personal nude snapshots of a lover who happened to be a New York City police officer. (He got in big trouble at his job. Oops.)
The arrest only fueled the flames of my desire to help make the world a more sexually mature and compassionate place. I continued to explore the vast frontiers of sexuality and to share and document my experiences and findings with explicit films, photography, writing and performance. However being in jail did scare the shit out of me (although in actual fact, I got horribly constipated), so I took refuge in the art world where surprisingly I was made to feel quite welcome and found that I could be more myself and have a more eclectic aesthetic. There was much more creative freedom, less censorship, and more legal protection. For example, in various prestigious art theaters, I did a performance art piece where I inserted a speculum and invited the audience members to line up and each individually have a look at my cervix with the aid of a flashlight. Then I followed it up with a beautiful ‘sacred sex magic, masturbation ritual’. If I had done the same thing at 42nd street’s Show World Center, not only would the audience not have liked or appreciated it, but I would have quickly been arrested, found guilty of breaking some silly law, and could possibly have gone to jail.
Of course artists do have their legal battles as well. There was never any problem anywhere in Europe, but in the U.S., every theater where I performed my controversial one woman show Annie Sprinkle–Post Porn Modernist had its lawyers standing by ready to bail me out of jail and fight the good fight. Although I came close many times, I was never arrested. Guess I had ‘socially redeeming value’ on my side. My name did get dragged through the mud on the US senate floor, by that adorable Senator Jesse Helms, in the debate over government funding for the arts. (All of the theaters where I had performed received some of the government’s measly stipends.) For me, dealing with censorship and anti-sex laws is a way of life, something I deal with on a daily basis. I, and my peers, have experienced enormous amounts of harassment and abuse from bigoted, ignorant, sex-phobic people with their archaic, classist, misogynist laws.
There is a bright side. At a Chicago conference on Censorship in the Arts I fell madly in love with one of the lawyers who fought, and won, the “NEA 4 case” against the National Endowment for the Arts. She was absolutely brilliant, charismatic, charming, and had a passion for women and their rights. We were lovers for almost a year.
Thus began my uncontrollable romantic obsession and intense sexual fetish for female lawyers. I absolutely melt next to someone wearing a gray pin striped suit, with big hard law books, carrying a soft, leather case overflowing with important briefs. I adore a lover who speaks Latin, can litigate, draft petitions, has the power to sue, and get someone out of a death sentence. Give me a stuffy, conservative office to make love in after hours. Give me a person who works out on the stairmaster of their mind, deconstructing and reconstructing contracts. Give me a lawyer whose job creates lots of stress and tension which I can lovingly and passionately relieve. Give me love letters on legal pads. Give me lesbian lawyer love.
My present girlfriend, Candace, is the best darned public defender on the east coast, if not the sexiest. We are indeed an odd couple– ‘the book worm and the porn star’. Her only real competition is Marcia Clark, whom I have a mad crush on, but whom unfortunately is not a lesbian… yet. (Marcia, I hope you’re reading this. You’re a Goddess.) I do hope that all my future brushes with the law, of which there will no doubt be many more, are primarily of a romantic, sensual nature. Lawyers do make the best motions.