I, like many of my fellow Texas progressives, love a good protest. I’ve gone to hundreds, taken my children to plenty and emceed more than my fair share. And as a long time theater performer and producer, I especially love a protest with bells, whistles, metaphor, and most importantly, a strong narrative. So when I heard about the Campus Dildo Carry protest, scheduled to coincide with the August 1, 2016 start of concealed carry on Texas college campuses and the heartbreaking 50th anniversary of the University of Texas at Austin Tower shooting, I was all in. The protest contained performance art, a can-do spirit, a keen sense of timing, and more than a fair share of humor. I mean, #CocksNotGlocks? That’s just genius.
Jessica Jin, a UT graduate and artist, decided to put this little shindig together with lots of time to plan. Her question is simple: if folks can bring guns to campus, why not dildos? It’s a very good question, and there is actually an answer. The university’s free speech and assembly policies prohibit violations of Texas’ obscenity law: “No person or organization will distribute or display on the campus any writing or visual image, or engage in any public performance, that is obscene.”
Jin has noted the odd contrast of state laws that allow guns on campus but prohibit the public display of dildos — so obscene! — at the same location. A deadly weapon? Allowed. A sex toy? Not on your life. Jin’s not just playing provocateur; she gave her astute take on masculinity, power and sexuality in an interview with The Guardian: “The dildo has proven itself to be interesting fodder for commentary on what our society does and does not consider ‘obscene.’ The narratives surrounding sexuality (or just dildos, in this case) and guns are more intertwined than one would expect, and more similarities seem to unfold every minute.”
We often think of protesting as using our voices in anger instead of in joy. But joy, pleasure, play? They are all really, really good for you — physically, emotionally and spiritually.
I love this protest for its outrageous spirit. Protesting is hard work, and often we come together over heavy topics. While it’s important to join in solidarity with chants and strong emotion, the work can be draining, and may not always strike folks as a pleasurable way to spend the afternoon.
But this event? It’s a direct commentary on gun legislation and is meant to get us riled in opposition to a law many, many Texans (and UT-Austin faculty) are opposed to, but it’s also provocative in its engagement of the premises behind both gun and obscenity laws. It forces us to ask: what’s really obscene here?
The protest itself, as Jin has imagined it, is creative and playful. I imagine the collegiate landscape dotted with a variety of toys in a rainbow of colors, with perhaps the errant buzz. People might make new friends, even get some of that much-needed comprehensive sex ed all while exercising their constitutional right to free speech and assembly. Playfulness seems in short supply in political debates these days, so I’m damn impressed with Ms. Jin, for an A+ political action that gets people laughing and involved early. But while Jin has had incredible support for the protest, there have been thousands (literally thousands) of angry comments (and photos, like one of an arsenal with the text “Hey Jessica, ooga booga booga”) on her Facebook page. They range from outright victim-blaming (“I am concerned that your dildo’s may mock and en-site (sic) somebody to commit violence”) to general insults (“How do you, as libtards, rationalize your hysterically emotional over reaction whenever the subject of guns comes up?”) to racist non-sequiteurs (“Disarm black males because #BlackLivesMatter”) to doxxing and threats. Real threats. Scary threats.
For planning a rally around sex toys.
I am confounded, but perhaps not surprised, by the tenor of the online conversations about the protest. Some commenters get what Jin is after — a performance art piece on the juxtaposition of gun and dildo, weapon and toy, threat and pleasure — but others, mostly those who support campus carry, bring an almost comic literalness to their interpretation of the event. Aside from the tut-tut, slut-slutting about what kind of a woman would suggest such a protest, the Facebook page is rife with posts telling Jin how absolutely wrong she is about safety and the need for a gun, instead of a sex toy, with which to fight off assailants. She knows! Her whole point is that the sex toy won’t hurt anyone.
Mostly though, I feel like I’m peering through some kind of topsy-turvy looking glass, seeing up close just how fierce the pushback is against pleasure, against the mere suggestion of creating a culture of pleasure. I see this all the time in the work I do with my storytelling series, BedPost Confessions; People are afraid, ashamed, to take pleasure in food, in their bodies, in their work, even in, yeah, sex. An activism of peace and pleasure is so, so needed.
The Campus Dildo Carry protest, and the reactionary opposition to it, shows us just how unsure we are of pleasure, how steeped we are in fear. A literal object of sexuality and play is verboten, while a literal object of death is welcomed. (And while I’m sure a dildo could harm someone if used incorrectly or with malice, that’s not their purpose.) Sex toys are designed for fun sexual encounters. Guns are designed to cause damage, whether in self-defense, in hunting or animus.
But sexual politics in Texas is strange like that. This is, after all, the state where it was once illegal to own more than six dildos. But it’s totally cool to own as many as you want now, so order up! Of course, you still can’t legally tote them on campus, but next year you’ll be able to bring your gun to class. Though why anyone would want to bring a gun to a dildo fight is beyond me.