Starchild, star of the San Francisco Libertarian Party
It’s just about a week before the big election, and a small group of Libertarians have gathered on a corner in the Castro to canvas for presidential candidate Gary Johnson. Starchild is leading the group, banging a drum.
He’s an out and proud bisexual sex worker who is also the unofficial spokesman for the San Francisco Libertarian Party. He’s made a name for himself on the city’s political scene, running multiple times for local office over the past 15 years.
“There was just like, you know 'we don’t have anybody running for state assembly seat'. I’m in that district, I’ll do it, sure,” he says. “Overall I’m really not a single issue person, across the board I just want more freedom, less government.”
You can’t miss him, topless or dressed in flashy booty shorts with a cowboy hat. He was originally born Chris Fox, and grew up in a Republican household in the East Bay. After a stint in the military, which he actually credits to making him more liberal, he moved to San Francisco. He says he became Starchild “back in the ‘90s,” after initially using it as an online screen name, and then as a raver.
After a failed attempt at running for city supervisor in 2002, he ran and lost elections for local school board in 2004, supervisor again in 2006 and school board a second time in 2010.
“A lot of people think I ran for mayor, I actually never did,” he says with a laugh.
Even though he’s never won an election, Starchild says that’s not why he runs.
“Not being obsessed with winning gives you the freedom to speak truth to power,” he says. “Basically, running for office, I see it as a soap box, what’s important is hearts and minds. I want to spread the idea of the non-aggression principle and freedom.”
He often runs on the slogan “Make San Francisco more like Black Rock City,” a reference to the Libertarian values celebrated during the Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. He wants to cut spending in city hall, decriminalize prostitution and turn school hierarchies upside down by giving teachers more money and control.
As a group, Libertarians advocate for greater personal rights and less government intervention. And Starchild says it’s because of these values that being a Libertarian actually meshes well with his work in the sex industry.
“I think there’s more sex workers who are Libertarians than there are proportionally in the general population,” he says. “Being a Libertarian gives you a very different perspective on the law. I realized more than I had before, these are just a bunch of arbitrary restrictions and I shouldn’t worry about letting them dictate my choices.”
Of course this doesn’t mean that he doesn’t sometimes turn heads within the party.
“Most Libertarians are totally cool with it, they get it,” he says. “The only usual concerns that I’ll sometimes get is not that people have any problem with me being a prostitute, they’re concerned about the party’s image. 'Oh, we have to worry about what the public thinks and so forth, and not be seen as a bunch of kooks and fringe people.'”
Mike Denny, another member of the San Francisco Libertarian Party who's known Starchild for 20 years agrees that Starchild’s individuality can sometimes cause him to get second glances or not be taken seriously.
“First of all, you don’t know what to expect when you meet somebody whose name is Starchild, but I found him refreshingly intelligent and thoroughly knowledgeable around the issues around libertarian thinking,” Denny reflected about the first time he met Starchild.
He also says that he respects Starchild for his strong sense of self.
“Starchild has a very personal way of presenting himself to the world, and I think sometimes that helps him and sometimes it doesn’t. But he’s not about to compromise himself for the sake of public opinion.”
And Starchild himself says that if he was more traditional, he maybe could have won in the past.
“If I were to remake myself as a conventional politician, kind of disavow the more radical edges of my past...yeah, I think I could get elected,” he said.
There are definitely Libertarians who wish Starchild was more traditional in his appearance, but Denny says that’s the wrong attitude.
“I think it’s silly for a lot of people to try to out-conservative the conservatives,” he says. “We’re not out there to convince people who are mainstream that we can be more mainstream than they are, we’re trying to make change, trying to get people to think outside the box.”
Other sex workers know Starchild mostly in his role as an activist. He’s been a long-time campaigner for the decriminalization of prostitution.
Maxine Doogan, a fellow activist and sex worker who’s known Starchild for many years says Starchild is able to be so prolific as both a sex worker and politician because of his position.
“Starchild’s in a unique situation in that he’s in San Francisco. So he gets the benefit of that kind of political capital. And also he’s a guy, so he’s had the benefit of not being harassed.”
And though Starchild certainly has plans to run for office again in the future, he hasn’t quite reconciled what would happen if he actually wins one day.
“I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. There would probably be people who would want me to give up sex work and I think that would be a really interesting conversation to have,” he said. “Because I actually wouldn’t want to give it up, though I might not have as much time for it.”
As he sees it, his two primary interests aren’t really all that different.
“People talk in politics all the time about politicians acting like prostitutes, it’s kind of funny. I’ll often say, prostitutes are honest about it,” he said.