Gender, Race, and Dildos

TRIGGER WARNING – penises. lots of penises.

Really, there are cocks everywhere.

Plastic, silicone, circumcised (or not), white, brown, black, pink, green. Some of them are smooth and soft, some hard and textured, some long, short, fat, skinny. The displays are decorated with an assortment of other toys – cunt-shaped (not flavored) candies, edible handcuffs, vegan lubricants, condoms – but I stay focused. I am here to look at penises.

A few minutes ago my lady friend and I stood in a tiny and crowded sex shop just around the corner, filled with gorey sex tapes, fleshlights, and men. In comparison, Good Vibrations, a self-proclaimed sex/woman-positive sex shop, is spacious and tastefully arranged; its visitors seem to be mostly women and other femme-of-center queer folks and, unlike the former’s patrons, they aren’t staring at us.

But what I anticipate might be a quick pitstop to pick up a new vibrator turns into an agonizing internal struggle as I stare at the rows of racialized and stylized cocks with more or less aggressive names and more or less exorbitant price tags. Each feature seems to represent a political choice. Do I want a dildo that looks like the toy that it is, or one that is trying to visually replicate male-assigned genitalia? I worry that using one of these with women or other people with cunts may feel like striving for hetero-normativity, rather than embracing our anatomies, but ultimately I opt for a realistic looking penis, a preference of one of my cisgendered male partners who has asked to suck my cock.

Then which color flesh do I choose? If I pick a white dildo, it feels like I’m reinforcing narratives of white sexual dominance and celebrating white penises in a way that makes me more than a little uneasy. But strapping on a black cock feels appropriative, and to some extent like a way to fetishize black masculinity without actually engaging in interracial closeness and intimacy.*

I opt for the white, fleshy vibrator, but still feel uncomfortable as I approach the counter to pay $60 for a sex toy called “Cadet”, a name that makes my new cock seem like a weapon, rather than a conduit of love and tenderness. This shop, though it definitely seems to be the best of my options, is out of the price range of many of the people who live in its neighborhood, the quickly gentrifying Mission in San Francisco. And though it boasts a sex-posi feminist aesthetic, its hey-day as a female-run worker cooperative are gone. It is now another corporation in a capitalist economy, bent on turning profit by marketing progressive sexual politics (and of course, cocks).

I finger and then set aside the contradictions, as I do when I step onto BART, open a beer, turn on my radio. There is no one right way to navigate this world of forced choices and consumerism, but after spending years feeling shamed by homophobia, patriarchy and slut-shaming, I won’t let my new politics swing me back around to that feeling of stagnation and fear that so deeply permeates the dimensions of normality. But the politics are there, and I can’t not listen to the voices of caution in my mind.

I’m excited to play with my new toy, but tonight it lies abandoned in its box by the bed as I explore the contours of her soft body with fingers plied by conversation, bourbon, and our whispered “yes”.

*After scathing the internet for other reflections on the racialization of sex toys, I haven’t found much. If anyone has recommendations of good discussions on this, or other radical readings of sex toys/sex shops, please send my way!

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