One of the unexpected but kind of amusing things about my friendship with P and my subsequent involvement with genderqueer chicago has been that I managed to meet and befriend most of the staff of the local sex toy store that he works at. It's close to my job and I frequently walk by as I go to the grocery store on my way home from work, and I sometimes stop to chat with whoever's peddling lube and dildos to the citizens of Andersonville that evening. On other somewhat rarer occasions, I end up staying to talk for much longer. I'm particularly good friends with P's girlfriend N, and we've spent many hours now chatting and telling each other stories as customers wander in and out of the store. I've been going on and on about how many stories have been making themselves visible to me lately and I'm a sucker for a good starting line, so I have to admit that this is one of my favorites: "So I was hanging out at the sex toy store the other day talking to my ex's girlfriend and then..." In reality, I think of her as a friend and not as P's girlfriend, just as I think of him as a friend and not my ex; it's a subtle but important distinction, but as a story opener it's still entertaining to me to make clear just how interconnected everything in my life has become. It makes me terribly happy actually, that she and I can be friends, because in the "real" world I think this is a fairly unusual scenario, but it's true and I have benefited greatly from this bond that might seem on the surface to be so unlikely.
I also just like watching the customers. I appreciate being around sex-positive people, and I enjoy watching people buy things and knowing that they are going to have a really great afternoon or evening ahead of them. Some people are visibly uncomfortable and I wonder what they think of me, sitting on a stool by the register and trying not to make them feel watched as they peruse the shelves of toys and books and porn. Other people are chatty, and ask lots of questions or tell us about their experiences with toys or just life in general. Sometimes people ask me questions, and I either explain that I don't actually work there or, more rarely, I answer; my sales job has made me much more comfortable talking to strangers, and it can be hard to turn off the salesman persona that I adopt at work. (I recently talked a total stranger at Whole Foods into buying a seitan italian sausage that I hadn't even tasted. Granted, I was familiar with the same company's seitan chorizo, but still.) I certainly don't know as much as the people who actually work there, but even I know that you can't use a silicon-based lube with a silicon toy and occasionally I talk up some of the books that I've read. It makes me feel like an impostor, but it also kind of amuses me; it seems so indicative of the changes in my life, that I might spend a Saturday afternoon telling a stranger about how much I like The Ethical Slut.
A week or two ago, I was hanging out with N as she took pictures of a buttplug when a middle-aged Argentinian woman wandered into the store and started asking about dildos and harnesses. I watched as N helped her try on one of the harnesses over her pants, and then the woman began looking around and asking about other things. She ended up near where I was sitting; on the shelf behind me was a black criss-cross piece of lingerie that she seemed very intrigued by. She asked N if she could try that on too, and for a few minutes she and I both struggled to figure out all the pieces of fabric and snaps and cords that went into this particular outfit. We finally got it fastened and the woman stood back, admiring herself in the mirror, but still she looked dissatisfied. After a minute she pulled the shoulder straps down and asked if she could take her sweatshirt off to see more clearly how it fit. N nodded, and suddenly the woman was standing before us completely topless: no undershirt, no bra, just bare breasts.
"I'll just lock the door now..." N said, and went to do so. I was helping the woman pull the straps back up as N and I exchanged looks behind her back, and then suddenly a man was standing at the door. N began to shield the woman, and she exclaimed "No, he's my husband, let him in!" And so we did. He and his wife admired the lingerie, and then she told him about the harness and he nodded approvingly, and she put her shirt back on so that they could make their purchases and be on their merry way. Just another day, I suppose. I went to work after that and made up a bunch of flowers for somebody's wedding, and contemplated how very different her job was from mine, and how very glad I was that I'd been there.