Dear Dad Bod Dom, I’ve always felt like I was an ally and supporter of the LGBT community, but I’m learning I have no concept of what it means to be nonbinary or how to address my customers in a way that doesn’t involve gender. How am I supposed to sell toys to a man or a woman if they identify as neither?
I hear this question more often than you might think! Change is hard, and the ways in which we express and perceive gender and sexuality are changing rapidly. First, it’s important to clarify the difference between the two. Gender is who you go to bed as; sexuality is who you go to bed with. Those aspects of identity stand regardless of the anatomical parts a person may or may not possess.
Now that we’ve clarified that distinction, we do still need to consider the role of anatomy — but not as something that limits or restricts exploration and pleasure. In fact, we want to break free from “box advice,” which is how we refer to a manufacturer’s recommendations for using a product. Various sensations can feel just as amazing on a penis as on a clitoris. The same applies for penetration: vaginally or anally, it can be delightful for all bodies.
Let’s take as an example the “panty vibe.” Regardless of the parts you possess, a wearable vibe can work with your body. With a magnetic design, it can hold steady in panties, boxers or briefs, and it can stay where you want it to. It’s not reserved only for users with a clitoris. If we replace the word “panty” with “underwear” and we give our customers permission to venture outside of the box, the world opens up in new and stimulating ways.
Likewise, many prostate toys can be used vaginally to access the G-spot, and vice versa. Regardless of anatomy, our bodies are actually remarkably similar in how they experience pleasure, so let’s focus on those similarities rather than on the differences. I often offer inflatable prostate toys to transmasculine and nonbinary vulva-owning customers. The G-spot and P-spot are basically next-door neighbors in apartments with mirrored floor plans. All it takes to turn a great prostate toy into a great G-spot toy is to just turn that sucker around! Step outside of the box and step into mind-blowing, affirming pleasure.
I use the word “affirming” very intentionally. Our job isn’t simply to get our customers off. It is also to give our customers permission to experience pleasure in ways that affirm them. In other words: We don’t just want you to have an orgasm, we want you to feel fantastic about the way you achieved that orgasm. For trans and nonbinary folks, masturbation can be triggering. If you don’t jibe with your penis, the last thing you want to do is stroke it. If you aren’t on speaking terms with your vagina, you are unlikely to want to insert your fingers into it — but that doesn’t mean you can’t experience penetrative pleasure. For a transmasc person, getting to experience a penetrative orgasm with a toy designed for penis-owning bodies, one that is not pink and comes without the words “she/her” on the packaging, can elicit a sense of gender euphoria that feels nearly as good as the orgasm itself. For a transfemme person, getting to experience a hands-free orgasm with something petite and vibratory, without ever having to touch areas of their body they feel disconnected from, offers deep connection to their feminine energy in a way that masturbation involving the penis can lack.
We are talking about eliminating expectations and strictures that gender has traditionally placed on sexuality. One way to facilitate that as a retailer is by focusing on the feeling rather than the label. “Does vibration interest you?” “Is penetration something you’re wanting this toy to do?” Having open dialogue with your customers regarding toy features and safety helps remove gender from the equation.
If the customer wants a penetrative toy, go over the safety tips for vaginal and anal usage with that product. If its base is not flared, tell the consumer you don’t recommend it for anal insertion because it can get lost, but that it’s fine for vaginal penetration; give them the opportunity to be OK with that or look for something that is designed for anal penetration. Instead of making assumptions about how their body parts correlate with their identity, we can focus on facts and knowledge, while guiding them towards an educated purchase.
When customers enter your store, use words like “folks” and “friends” over “ladies” or “gents,” and never assume someone’s gender. “Hey folks/friends, thanks for coming in! Let me know if there’s anything I can help with.” It may feel awkward at first, but it helps send a message that your store is a space where everyone can find what they are looking for, regardless of their pronouns or anatomy. Since it’s a learning process, you will sometimes slip up, so it’s important to give yourself grace too. If you do slip up and someone corrects you, there’s no need to dwell on it or beat yourself up; just thank them, move on and make a conscious effort to get it right next time.
Part of our evolution as people and as a society is recognizing that gender, sexuality and our individual expression of those things are all far more fluid than most of us were taught to believe. Now that we know better, we can do better.
Setting a Welcoming Tone for Retail Shoppers of All Genders by Josh Ortiz originally appeared in XBIZ