Interview with Mariko Passion
Mariko Passion, educated whore and urban geisha is a performance artist | activist | educator | singer |whore revolutionary. She sings and rhymes her experiences and reality over beats and produces auto-documentary videos. she educates the community and fights for social justice issues related to sex workers rights in LA, across the US and the world.
This community includes current and potential clients, current, former and previous workers; the queer community (proudly and loudly repping the B in LGBT), college classes, feminists, women of color, people of color, revolutionaries who think they know about us but don’t ask and more. She panels at conferences in the U.S and internationally and has been published in $pread, SF Examiner, interviewed on KPFA’s Hard Knock Radio, Shake Clear Channel’s LGBT Radio, and was featured in an Associated Press video spotlighting the Prop K campaign in San Francisco. She has performed at the International AIDS conference Global Village stage in Mexico City, a conference that drew 20,000. She tries to feature or open mic perform somewhere in her hometown of Los Angeles a few times a month.
She is available to create a workshop, presentation, or performance for groups. Her songs “Decriminalize Me” personifies prostitution in an electronic influenced song that speaks of the common threads that she has with everyone else. “Keep On” speaks on the intense drive and passion of certain born to be hustlers living in a sexist world.
Ms. Passion has 13 years of experience in various fields in sex work. She has worked as a stripclub stripper, private dancer, agency escort, independent escort, brothel prostitute, web model, Mistress/Dominant, and sensual masseuse. She is currently working as mostly an escort in LA. She founded the LA chapter of Sex Workers Outreach Project Los Angeles (SWOP-LA) which works on HIV prevention, harm reduction and advocacy projects on a shoestring budget. She worked on San Francisco’s historic Prop K to decriminalize prostitution which yielded 41.3% of the yes vote in 2009. Since 2009, Ms Passion has made the commitment to make her artistic career her primary focus over leadership in non profit work, education or activism for the movement. In 2011, she wrote and produced her first one woman solo show at Cal State Long Beach in January as well as creating a burlesque cabaret which hosted a variety of other sex worker artists and a live band which accompanied her repetoire of originals and jazz standards.
Where were you born and what is your nationality? Where did you grow up?
I was born in San Francisco and grew up in South San Francisco near Daly City.
What was your childhood like? Were your parents the typically strict Asian parents?
I was the child of divorced parents, so my father was around and strict until I was 12. When my mother became a single mother with three kids all discipline and respect went out the window and our family became 4 autonomous females living under one roof. My mother did the best that she could raising us, but she didn’t restrict our behavior too well. She simply couldn’t keep tabs on it. Luckily for the most part, we were good students and not into drugs or much rebellion growing up.
Did you take up any private singing lessons or play any instruments when you were younger?
I was always in band, marching band, concert band and singing in talent shows from early ages but this didn’t teach me too much except how to read music. I was first on stage singing a solo at age 12.
How long have you had your band, and what style of music do you sing?
I don’t have a set band right now, but I put together bands for specific shows that I feel are worth investing in the hiring of musicians to form a band. For me, a band costs a lot to put together. I sing jazz and soul music. I sing a lot of jazz standards and covers and have my own hip hop influenced tracks. I have gotten tracks or beat from electronic music producers and I am trying to write vocals over their beats as well. Each instrumental musician will do a show for $150-200 minimum with rehearsals so hiring a 3 or 4 piece band is something i can only do once a year. Working with producer tracks can also get costly. Some of those guys like to charge $500 a track to use their beats and studio.
You recently had a campaign on IndieGoGo. While it was not fully funded you managed to get some great comments (one from Annie Sprinkle herself!) and raise a little money. What was the campaign for and will you still be able to do a little of what you wanted to do?
The campaign was for my trip to DC, my cabaret show in Santa Monica and my trip to Burningman. I did actually do all of the things I set out to do, but the fundraiser only helped with the DC trip. Although I didn’t raise all the money I needed, it was a great experience and the funding that did come through was much needed. Like I said, any amount helps because to do the things I do on my own is impossible even as a sex worker since while I am deep in production or rehearsals I can’t even do sex work effectively.
Your career as a sex worker is largely, in part, a means to an end. You use the money to pay expensis and to pursue your art. Is this a common reason for women to enter the sex worker business as opposed to the perception that women are forced or abused to the point they have no other choice?
Economic Coercion is a term that I’ve heard used. Everyone does what they need to do to survive and to thrive. I hated the word choice for a long time because I felt that I didn’t choose my gender or race oppressions in this life, I was born in to them. I didn’t choose to be a survivor of multiple incidents of gendered violence so I didn’t believe that I “chose” to use sex work as an outlet necessarily, I was drawn to its power to express my frustration at the gender inequality. Every profession that I am skilled in seems to be severely underpaid and underfunded except for sex work. This is not my design or choice. I do however now, embrace the idea of choice more lately. I choose to look at sex work as a wonderful part of my life journey. There is a continuum model in every situation, even forced prostitution situations. Media and rescue agencies will highlight the worst end of the spectrum because the middle is too hard for them to maximize their donations.
You started the Sex Workers Outreach Project in Los Angeles pretty much on your own and with your own money. Can you tell us about the program and what was your motivation for starting it?
Robyn Few, who just passed away on September 13, 2012 founded Swop USA. Her fierce determination to make a change for sex workers in the U.S inspired a crop of leaders who spread her mission across the U.S. at the same time. I really thought I could be the Robyn Few of LA but it was actually a lot harder than the SF Bay Area cities that Robyn tackled so I wasn’t as impactful as her here in LA but I did have success making a difference for many sex workers and non profit workers.
You are quite an activist in legalizing the worlds oldest profession and at one point you were actually anti-prostitution. What changed your mind?
Meeting Scarlot Harlot or Carol Leigh changed my anti-prostitution attitude. I had just ended a 3 yr stripping career where I was burnt out of that type of sex work and devoid of truly healthy and positive sex worker role models. I met Carol and Robyn Few at the same time and they helped shape the activist that I am today. I have become much closer to Scarlot Harlot, “my whore mother” because we are both performing artists. Robyn Few was always more into electoral politics which has never been my thing.
The fight for sex workers’ rights also benefits those receiving services. Do you find that people, especially clients, are supportive and come out to support you and your cause?
Different activists work with clients in different ways. Robyn Few was great at organizing clients. Some cities in the U.S have separate client activist meetings and client/worker mixed meetings. In NYC they do this with two clubs call SWANK (worker only) and SWOP-NYC (all welcome) meetings. SWOP-LA was mostly workers and community members from the HIV and harm reduction fields.
What are the changes you’d like to see in this country regarding how people perceive prostitutes?
Prostitutes are still used as media scape goats and violence against us in all classes, on many levels still goes unchecked and is allowed to fester to unnecessary extremes.
Before entering the world of escorting, you tried out being a dominatrix for awhile. What did you think ot it?
I still dom occasionally but it’s not my full time thing. I like doing energy work and chakra balancing in my sensual body rubs. I draw in some of my most ideal clients who are generous, grateful and have good energy to exchange with. Being a domme has often not been worth it for me in the long run and I have been manipulated too often by so called submissives.
How did you gain entry into the world of escorting?
I started in LA as an outcall agency escort. The culture of this work is to NOT have sex and charge the guy a pretty big sum to jack himself off. Many women in LA and other cities make lots of money doing this. I was always asked to do more and slowly… one hand job at a time the requests were honored and I was still alive and not disgusted with myself after each date. Prostitution is now and it was then often a sexual or romantic adventure with a man who you are attracted to offering to pay you for sex that you would have for free. Sometimes you are being paid to try things you have never tried (like cocaine or other drugs or a sexual position or kink).
Do you have an agency that represents you as a professional escort? If not, how do you advertise?
I used to work for agencies, but I have been agency free for over a year now. I advertise on Backpage.com and in the LA Weekly. Both of these sources are my bread and butter ad sources, there are a few other experiments, but if back page.com were to fold like craigslist it would be detrimental to my business.
What do you normally wear on paid dates?
I wear cork bottomed 3-4″ platform heels so I can be comfortable, I wear make up and contact lenses (not usually glasses), I wear nice summer dresses over tight jeans, I wear sexy underwear and sometimes a nice push up bra. I wear a furry jacket when it gets cold! I wear outfits that I can hang out waiting for the phone to ring while out dancing or at an art gallery. I look nicer than casual with my own artistic Hello Kitty sexy flair.
Is there certain accessories and clothing styles that are “must haves” that men are more pleased with?
I don’t really ever dress for men. LOL. I do this shit for ME and always have, even in my stripper days. This is the package, take me as I am and if you make requests, I get annoyed. The fetish and non fetish guys who start trying to request on the phone are usually fakes anyway from my ad outlets.
You have a book out, what is it called and can you tell us a little about it?
I have a collection of my visual artifacts in a coffee table book that I sell. It contains many images from 2010 that portray Asian Sex Slaves and images from our live action in Las Vegas entitled “What Happens in Vegas…is still illegal.” It has pictures of some of my influences as well as some images from earlier photo media series taken from as early as 2007. I am ready to take new photos, I have lost over 15 lbs and have been working hard on my diet and fitness, ready for a new book to sell and new images to market!
Can you tell us about your asianprincess artifacts series and your transformation into Mariko Passion?
asianprincess was the character I was when I was in San Francisco working as a stripper and doing art as a singing burlesque cowgirl on a rocking horse mainly. asianprincess was the begin of my visual artifacts series where I collaborated with talented photographers to produce original artifacts that portray or recreate an era in Asian sex work or Asian female sexuality.
Do you any upcoming have art gallery presentations and what was your most memorable art gallery showing?
I have held off on submitting to art galleries at the moment simply because I am sick of the 2010 series and am really trying to work on new images for a new series. It is overdue. I was recently brought to be part of a group show in New Jersey, curated by Edwin Ramoran called “Me Love You Long Time.” I was part of a great roster of queer people of color artists whose work I admire and my image was printed as the centerfold of Hycide magazine for the catalog for the show. It was my first centerfold of a magazine, so it was a great accomplishment. I enjoyed the group show that I curated in San Francisco called “We, Asian Sex Workers” which had the work of Tracy Quan and Regan Louie as well as the performance of myself and Surgeon Scofflaw where we installed ourselves in a red light lit window facing Folsom Street to entice passerby’s to come inside and buy a piece of art in exchange for a unique erotic experience in a private room.
You have a masters degree in education from UCLA, is teaching an area you still would like to pursue?
I have a Masters in Social Justice education and I have absolutely used my degree and I continue to use it. I was the director and founder of Sex Workers Outreach Project-LA and I used what I learned about at risk populations as a high school teacher in low income neighborhoods to run this organization and deal with homeless/transient sex workers from Skid Row. I have mentored queer youth in filmmaking projects about sex ed for 2 consecutive summers. I facilitated lectures and mentoring for this program and that took place on the USC campus. I would like to teach in a university, but i’m not willing to get more academic classes as in a phD to pursue this (yet?). If I go back to school, it will be to gain more art or creative media skills.
Are there any upcoming events or recent ones you can tell us about?
I am currently working with my vocal coach Melissa Charsette again and trying to get my voice to get stronger and better. I am going to do another Indie Gogo campaign to get my solo show “Modern Day Asian Sex Slavery” into a fringe festival with a new director. That show has not been performed in a year and I need a director to help me dust it off and revamp it. It is designed to be a work in progress solo show that I can mold and change through the years. I have learned more about different perspectives on Asian sex work and I am excited to integrate them into the show. I am hoping to enter the Fringe festival in Maui next year and to return back to Brooklyn, New York to do a visual art show. I am hoping to do new photoshoots for a new asian princess artifacts series very soon. My last visual art series is dated 2010. I have a coffee table book and print collection from that series that I exhibit and shop around when I tour. It’s long overdue for new pieces! I’m sick of seeing them.
Out of all you have accomplished, what are you most proud of?
I am proud of having done sex work for over 13 years. I am proud of having used it to travel all around the world and do what I love. I am proud of how I used the profits from prostitution to run a non profit organization that served sex workers. I am proud that I learned how to run a successful business after being burnt out and abused by the strip club industry.
Tell us about your tattoos! Are there any that have a particular meaning to you?
My most recent tattoo was a miraculous gift from a client who tatted me first the words PASSION with Mariko in hiragana, an elementary Japanese script (equal to all lower case letters). Another guy promised to give me a bartered tattoo for my birthday but ended up promising and faking and spinning a story of frustrating lies. This tattoo artist ended up doing his part of the barter FIRST as a gesture of good faith. When I followed up to make an escort appointment with him, he told me he was going to faithful to his new girlfriend and I didn’t have to worry about my end of the deal. So basically the Mariko passion tattoo on my left arm I got was a total miracle and it did not cost me a dime! It was one of many miracles that started to happen in my life after I started to consciously meditate on good clients that nurtured me, kept me safe and respected me.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years from now.
There is a memoir and book tour in my future. I also want to produce a documentary on my life. I have footage of my performances and self reflections from the entire 13 years of my sex work and activism. I will be doing exactly what I am doing now, but on a bigger more profitable level. I will still be the CEO of Mariko Passion media working all angles and mediums. Living life to the fullest, educating and mentoring other sex workers and allies so that we don’t have to be so isolated, depressed, traumatized and persecuted.
What websites can we find your work as a performance artist, art and activism?
www.facebook.com/marikopassionsongs is my music and video site
www.facebook.com/asianprincessartifacts is for visual art
my twitter is www.twitter.com/msmarikopassion
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