As a transmasculine person, I’ve both understood and despised the trappings of society’s gender/sex binary — defining gender solely according to whether you are the owner of a vulva or a penis, and having that determine the rest of your life.
Society isn’t evolving as much or as quickly as is our knowledge and understanding of gender. Trans people have existed forever; so have non-binary people, two-spirited people, literally every version of queer you can imagine — we’re not new news. The difference between then and now, however, is our refusal to accept the status quo of a closeted existence or having to settle for most things being designed for, and marketed to, heterocisnormative bodies and desires.
A question I am constantly asked during my business travels is: “How can I/we be more inclusive of our trans or nonbinary customers?” It warms my heart every time, because I know that it means people are finally listening and creating a safe space for my community to gather and spend their queer dollars.
It’s a complicated question, but with a series of simple answers, all of which share the common denominator of realizing we all are part of the same humanity, regardless of how we identify. Times are changing, and while old habits die hard, there is always room for growth. I’m confident you’ll find it easier than you thought it would be!
First, never assume a person’s gender. Never assume a person’s pronouns. Like, ever. It seems simple enough, but in situations where you are faced with a masculine-presenting person with facial hair, it might be a habit to use masculine pronouns or titles. “Hey, man!” or “Yes, sir” may not be the appropriate greeting for that person, but in a public space, they may not feel safe enough to correct you. Immediately, they feel invalidated and tightly crammed into an invisible, yet very real, societal box.
When you really think about it, all society perceives gender as is whether you happen to have an innie or an outie below the belt. Do we really want to be immediately defined and sized up by what someone else thinks is in our pants? Of course not. Also, that’s super weird.
Instead of “Hey, ladies” or “Hey, guys,” greet people with a “Hey Folks!” I guarantee you that no one in any group will be offended by being addressed as “folks.” For individual customers, it can seem a little more complicated. How can we connect with them, without addressing them in a way that would be insensitive or offensive? The answer is by simply addressing them as a person, and not as a genital-determined person. “Hi! Thanks for coming in today. Please let me know if there’s anything I can help you find.” Eliminate gender from the equation, and the answer will never be wrong.
When we are face to face with our clientele, helping them make informed choices on the pleasure products they choose, it can often feel like a game of cat and mouse. Are you looking for G-Spot or P-Spot? Are you looking for vaginal or anal? Are you looking for this sensation or that sensation? We have to ask so many questions if we’re doing our job right, and still make sure our customers feel comfortable enough to really tell us what they are after. Breaking it down in ways we wouldn’t have thought of before may be the key to your success in breaking old habits.
Let’s broaden our scope when it comes to the idea of “how” toys are used. If we make it more about individual or customer preference, rather than the “listed” use, it gives our customers permission to experience pleasure in ways that affirm them. If we explain to our customers that the P-spot and G-spot are basically in the same location, just next door to each other, we widen the range of what our customers can feel comfortable buying. The person who presents in a masculine way may be the owner of a vagina, and not feel affirmed buying the pink and purple G-spot toys. Why settle, when a prostate toy can do the very same thing for the G-spot and vice versa? Prostate toys are just as much a delight vaginally as they are anally, and G-spot toys are just as intense anally as they are vaginally.
We work so hard in every one of our roles, from designing products, manufacturing and distributing, to unboxing and displaying in your stores, and interacting with the end consumer on their individual journeys to personal pleasure. The real work is done in those end moments, when they look to you for permission to experience pleasure on their terms, without settling. They are looking to you for validation, shame-shattering understanding — and most of all, the feeling that it is OK to be just as they are, even if it includes the very pleasurable help of the innovations we continually strive to create.
Whether male or female, trans masc or trans femme, non-binary, gender-fluid, cisgender, intersex, or any combination of the above, we are all people that are deserving of peace, happiness, love — and yes, pleasure. Our bodies are very much alike, regardless of their differences. Embracing true self-gratification, and providing the safe space to find the tools to do so, is the future of our industry and a most necessary means to remain relevant.
How to Address Gender on the Adult Retail Floor by Joshua Ortiz originally appeared in XBIZ