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k, State Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth \(R-Burleson photo: Jana Birchurn FEATURE The Passion of Johnson County Long-legged tales from the County of Character BY P.A. HUMPHREY 1 t’s a warm spring Saturday in Burleson, and inside a tidy brick house on a tree-lined street in this Fort Worth suburb, a group of women are giggling over a pink penis-shaped vibrator. The womenold and young, mothers and daughters, friends and strangershave gathered for some good old-fashioned girl talk and the slightly naughty fun of a Passion Party. It’s kind of like a Mary Kay party, with sex toys, oils, and accessories instead of eyeliners, foundation, and lipstick. Passion Parties is a San Francisco-based company that has 3,200 consultants in the United States, raking in $20 million a year in business. There are 150 consultants in Texas and a handful of those live or work in Burleson, according to company officials. The goal of the company is to educate women about their sexuality, its promoters say. And sex toys aren’t new to Burleson either, according to long-time residents. Similar parties have been held in the county for at least 20 years. The company’s consultant demonstrates how the vibrating penis works and passes it around. Some of the women blush as they touch it, and others make bawdy comments that inspire more titters. The giggling turns into hilarity when one of the women puts the vibrator on the carpet and it begins to wiggle its way across the room. The introduction of another product, peppermint-laced body cream, is greeted with more giggles as the women rub the cream on their hands, arms, and legs and exclaim over the tingling feeling it causes. “Ladies, just use your imagination,” the consultant urges. “Think how much fun it would be to hand your husband a jar of this stuff tonight.” “I love it; I want it … I’ll buy it,” one young woman exclaims. As she bends over to peek at the sleeping baby in the carrier by her feet, she quips, “I just hope the pigs don’t show up and haul us outta here.” The joke provokes loud laughter, but some of the women take a surreptitious look out the front window, just in case. Sex is a lot more than just fun and games in Johnson County these days. Johnson County dubs itself “the county of character?’ Many of its towns and cities are “cities of character?’ An organization called the International Association of Character 10-story building in Oklahoma City with Character First, the supplier of the millions of dollars of merchandising that it uses to advertise its message of character laced with evangelical overtones. to county officials that they join the Cities of Character adopt whatever character traits the self-appointed guardians of morality dictate. Each month, a different character trait is announced, publicized in city mail-outs, touted at city council meetings, and taught to the kids in the public schools. For example, Burleson’s character trait for May is attentiveness, defined in the city’s latest progress report as “showing the worth of a person or task by giving my undivided cooperation?’ While the character initiative can be seen as a relatively benign exercise in groupthink, it forms part of a wider campaign by a network of local religious conservatives who control much of the area’s Republican Party and, by extension, local government. After the war in Afghanistan, some folks in the county took to calling this circle the Talibaptists. The activities of the Talibaptists have kept Johnson County in the news over the years. There was, for instance, the Satanist couple that tried to set up an on-line coven-supply business out of Cleburne, the county seat, during the Internet boom of 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5/21/04