area: Art, Activism
time periodNovember 2013 - November 2013
Maggie Mayhem is an international social justice activist who applies her background as an HIV/STI prevention specialist into multimedia art, criticism, and performance.
Her focus is on gender and sexuality.
HIV/STI Test Administration, Client Counseling, Result Disclosure, Overdose Prevention, Harm Reduction Methodology 7+ Years intensive training and experience
• HIV Senior Specialist, Larkin Street Youth Services 2008 – 2010
• HIV Test Counseling Coordinator, University of California Santa Cruz 2006 – 2007
• Chancellor's Intern, Student Health Outreach and Promotion 2006-2007
B.A. Literature – 2007
University Of California Santa Cruz
Focus on modern literary theory
San Francisco Sex Information 60 Hour Human Sexuality Training – 2008
Naxolene Administration – 2010
Awards and Honors
Feminist Porn Awards – 2012
UC Berkeley “V-Day”- 2011
Travelocity “Ambassador of Change” - 2010
Disaster Relief - Leogane, Haiti 2011
HIV/AIDS Care Bagamoyo, Tanzania - 2010
San Francisco Sex Information Hotline,
Sex Worker Outreach - 2011-2013
Narcotics Overdose Responder 2009-2011
Arse Elektronika – 2011, 2012, 2013
South By Southwest - 2013
Yale University – 2012
Princeton University (with Gail Dines) - 2012
BIL Conference – 2012
UC Berkeley – 2012
Open SF – 2012
Farmhouse Conference – 2012
Catalyst Conference (Keynote) – 2012
Good Vibrations Sex Summit – 2012
Center For Sex and Culture – 2011, 2012
Femina Potens Gallery – 2011, 2012
Harvey Milk Democratic Society – 2011
Momentum Conference – 2011
Western Regional UC LGBTQIA – 2011
Mills College – 2011
Bawdy Storytelling – 2011-2013
Femina Potens Gallery - 2011-2013
East Bay Lit Crawl -2013
Kiss, Kill, Consume - 2013
Whorecast - 2012
Bedpost Confessions - 2012
Literary Death Match- 2012
Dark Odyssey - 2012
National Queer Arts Festival - 2012
Mission Control San Francisco – 2010-2012
San Francisco Citadel - 2011-2012
Vagabond Ballroom - 2011
Art and activism have always been inseparable to me, though this might be an inevitable consequence of working with the taboos of gender, sex, and disease. When I was in clinical practice for HIV testing, counseling, and education I learned quickly that you cannot affect change if you do not move people emotionally. I could not be an activist without making art. Then, I began making controversial art and took on a marginalized identity as a sex worker and this called for formal activism in and of itself. One is always informing the other and vice versa.
My residency in November, 2013 came at a time when sex work was under hot debate. As a sex worker, I favor a model of decriminalization for those in the sex trade because no one benefits from incarceration. Those that choose to enter the industry deserve to be treated respectfully as workers. Those who did not should be offered support and resources to report the crimes committed against them. For many, the sex trade is a matter of survival and a last resort but it is important to note that their lives aren't improved if an option of last resort is removed.
The "Nordic Model" has been considered a great compromise between those who oppose all forms of sex work as inherently dehumanizing and those who argue against the criminalization of sex workers themselves. The Nordic Model means that the sale of sex does not have a criminal status but the purchase does. Sex workers oppose this model because it has not taken the voices of sexworkers into account in policy making and because it makes sex work more dangerous. It limits the ways that sex workers screen and help keep one another safe. At the time of my residency, the Nordic Model was being considered for the European Union. I gave a lecture on why this model has risen to prominence, why sex workers oppose it, and why it was very likely to pass. In February of 2014, the European Parliament voted to criminalize the purchase of sex. This decision is an affront to the sex workers whose lives are on the line and whose voices have been ignored by those who claim to know what is best for the men and women in the sex industry.
December 17 marks the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. As I gave lectures about sex worker rights and activism throughout my residency, I wanted to make an installation that honored the many lives that have been lost because of bad policy and stigma. I reflected on other paradigms of sex work that regarded prostitutes as sacred and valuable people and turned my bed into a temple and an altar to all sex workers past and present. The names of 500 prostitutes made up the 'walls' of the temple. Some were listed in historic records, some came from religion and mythology, but the bulk came from a memorial list maintained by sex worker rights activist.
The act of writing names and speaking them aloud was a reminder that I come from a tradition of performance, healing, and courage that dates back to the dawn of humanity. As a sex worker, my life is treated as less than human by the policies and legislation where I live. Sex workers are aware that when they are raped, robbed, assaulted, or murdered it is unlikely that there will ever be justice in their name. Our daily lives are influenced by the tremendous stigma placed on the ways we make our living an it is easy to internalize that judgement. This memorial is made to honor and to grieve the rich tapestry of people who have been sex workers and to continue to persevere in the struggle for justice.
My time in Vienna was wonderful. One of the difficult parts was initiating a divorce in the middle of my residency. Being away from friends and family during a challenging personal transition was difficult but the friendships I developed during my residency with other artists and activists was very meaningful. I was grateful for the opportunity to walk through galleries to contemplate lives and stories other than my own and I consumed endless coffees in wonderful cafes with my strange esoteric ancient bibles full of ancient sacred goddesses who were just as sacred in their role as prostitutes as they were as mothers, warriors, and leaders. I'm already excited for a return!