By Allison Shyer
I quit my comfy straight-laced retail job in Wicker Park to work at an upscale sex shop; new beginnings here I come. What does one wear upon their first day working at a sex shop? Black, I decided, all black with a sheer button-up over-top and eyebrows fluffed and darkened so that I would appear serious and knowledgeable about sex (obviously!) I set my alarm a half hour early, listened to Devon by grimes on repeat and made my way to the brown line, trying to talk down my nerves in my head. When I got to my new workplace, my manager was sweeping the front, “everyone’s gathering in back” they told me. The Pleasure Chest is well lit, neatly organized and approachable. The front window hosts a display of bachelorette party favors including the classic penis shaped pasta, as you go further into the store the wares become more serious, organized by function and technique. The toys are enticing, many of them have shimmering plastic exteriors that you could easily mistake for apple products; some of them are even app operated. I turned a corner to find the employees only backroom. There my boss Sarah and my new co-workers awaited me. After reviewing some HR details, we went out on to the floor for an extensive round of introductions. I was starting to feel less nervous. My co-workers seemed like clever, competent twenty-somethings like me. “ I decided to work here because I am a feminist and I want to learn.” Said my co-worker Izzy. I started to think about my reasons for wanting to work at the Pleasure Chest.
Growing up, sex was a subject that was shrouded in mystery and fear. At my fairly liberal Quaker high school we were taught sex education through slides that showed genitals ravaged by disease, and there was no information about how queer people had sex. The messages I got about sex were pretty much that no matter what happened it was going to be wrong and embarrassing the first few times I tried it, but I was given little information on what “it” was, besides highly dangerous if done incorrectly or without protection. I tried my best at being heterosexual for a while, masturbating to a floating picture in my head of Brad Pitt’s face isolated from a body; (looking back this was a pretty funny attempt to achieve normative desire) there was something that just wasn’t clicking for me. My friends would moan and complain about their relationship problems or their one night stands, while I was much more interested in making collages alone and listening to Joanna Newsom. When I was 14, my mom sat me down in her bedroom and asked me if I was gay. Flustered and caught off guard I just muttered “no, I mean I don’t think so” and got out of there as quickly as I could. How I wish I could stand in for my fourteen year old self as the self I am today and say to my mother “as it stands, there is no model of sexuality that has presented itself that is relatable to me.” because that was my reality at the time. I discovered my sexuality in my early twenties after having a wild sex dream about another co-worker at a creative writing summer camp where I was a councilor. It was definitely an aha! moment, experiencing very raw and authentic sexual desire for the first time, but the fact that it was for another woman made me feel confused and unsure. “What is my life going to be?” I had to ask myself, because being queer was not part of my original plan. That question has lead me along the path that I am following today, one that is guided by my inner passions and curiosities and desire to achieve an authentic feeling of community and acceptance, as apposed to skewed perceptions of what is “right” or “expected” of me. This is what has lead me to the Pleasure Chest. I am so excited to talk to sex with people in an environment that is safe and de-stigmatized. I am excited to make people feel like their desires are valid and normal, probably because I needed that when I was young and I had to figure it out on my own. To some extent we all do.