“How’d you come up with the store’s name?” the director asks Marissa, our store manager.
Marissa and the documentary crew have set up in the BDSM corner today, their shot backdropped by feather ticklers and paddles. The other employees — Jay and Arman — and I are pretending to restock lingerie while secretly watching the interview.
“Well, we brainstormed a couple of ideas. Our first one was — A Sex Toy Shop for Misfits and Mutants. But then the sign people quoted us about a million dollars for that name,” Marissa speaks crisply. Smacks hard on her consonants. I’m guessing she’s spitting because the cameraman keeps backing away from her, only to bump into the mannequin sporting a strapon.
“Why would you call it ‘A Sex Toy Shop for Misfits and Mutants’?” the director asks.
“No one warned him?” I whisper to Jay.
“You’ll find out soon enough,” Marissa smiles at the director and then winks at us. Fuck, she knows we aren’t working. I hurriedly shove more knee-high stockings onto the shelf.
“Ok, I guess… What was your…” the director cuts himself off and throws his arms into the air. “Brett! Will you stop fucking moving. Our footage is going to be shaky.”
Brett, the cameraman, sulks back towards Marissa, glaring in turns at the director and the strapon mannequin.
The director sighs, “As I was saying, what other names did you come up with?”
Marissa smacks her lips again. I see Brett’s nostrils flare, but after getting a nasty side look from the director, he stays put.
“Well, we cut it to Misfits and Mutants, but then Jay said people are going to think we are literally selling misfits and mutants. Like mutant trafficking, I guess. He’s very dramatic like that,” Marissa’s shaking her head. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Arman’s eyes go wide. Probably picturing the director cutting Marissa saying “mutant trafficking, I guess” and using it for god knows what.
“I suggested just Dildos,” Marissa waves her hand across the air, like she’s presenting a Broadway play, before frowning. “But everyone said the name would be limiting. I mean, we have a fabulous dildo collection, don’t get me wrong. However, we don’t want people to think that we only sell dildos.”
“The other ideas were — Paddles for Non-Gendered Pussies, Misfit Magic ;), and Demons, Dildos, and Desire. Oh my!” Marissa counts the names off on her fingers.
“So why’d you go with Sex Toys.”
Marissa shrugs and pulls out her whiny, I’m mimicking corporate voice, “Oh, well, corporate called and said, ‘Franchises don’t get to choose their own name,’ or something dumb and uninspired liked that.”
“So, Callie, what’s your favorite part of working at the store?” the director asks me.
Jay and I are in the breakroom, sitting across from the director. Jay’s arms are crossed.
Marissa told Jay him he had to give at least one interview for the documentary about the store. Jay told Marrissa she was essentializing trans dudes to improve the diversity of the documentary. Marissa told Jay that he was a self-centered twat, not everything was about him, and all employees were required to give at least one interview. Jay told Marissa he didn’t appreciate her using feminine-gendered insults like twat. Marissa told Jay she calls everyone a twat and then, to prove it, summoned Arman and called him a twat. Arman told Marissa he didn’t mind being called that, even though he was obviously heartbroken (his cheeks got all saggy and his lips got all sad duck). Marissa told us to go just get on with the interview for christ’s sake and then had to leave and apologize to Arman and tell him she didn’t really think he was a twat and that she actually considered him a very good employee.
So Jay and I were abandoned to the somewhat shell-shocked director.
“The support group is nice, I guess,” I respond to the director.
Director: “What support group?”
Me: “Oh, I mean there’s a couple, but the shapeshifter one is obviously helpful for me.”
Me: “I mean, the support group is like, helping me come to terms with my chameleon-ing. For so many years I felt like I had the worst power. Like when will I ever need to look like a paisley chair? Plus it just feels like the Shapeshifter Power Giving Gods, or whoever the fuck hands this shit out, gave me the most mysoginistic power they had.
Like Jay gets to change all of his body hair, and I’m stuck with blending in with my environment? Isn’t that basically underscoring the narrative that femmes should be invisible? Anyhow, I guess the Shapeshifter Power Giving Gods probs don’t really worry about gender stereotypes. But the Shapeshifter Support Group is, uh, helpful, yea. To answer your question.”
Director: “Wait, WHAT?”
“So, welcome to the Shapeshifter Support Group!” Jay beams around the circle, gives a thumbs up to the doc crew sitting in the corner, and continues to read off the notes in front of him, “After after our discussion last week, we agreed to go with pronouns, powers, and pastries as our introduction?”
“We wanted something alliterative,” I say.
“We wanted something tasty,” Ella winks at us from across the chair circle that we set up close to the register.
“Well I’m Jay. My pronouns are he, him. I can shift my hair. All my body hair,” Jay winks at me. I roll my eyes. Done with today’s fucking winking trend. “And I like… bagels?”
“Bagels aren’t a pastry,” the new guy next to Jay mutters and folds his arms.
“What’s the definition of a pastry?” Jay makes a face at the new guy.
“Maybe it has to be sweet?” I say. A few people in the circle nod. Ella cups their chin thoughtfully. Aaron closes zir eyes. I check my watch. Aaron has never made it longer than three minutes into support group before ze disappears. Literally. We’ve made it seven minutes, so that’s exciting. I give Aaron a thumbs up, and the next second, zir chair is empty.
“Damnit,” I mutter under my breath.
“What?” Jay looks at me, and when I don’t respond, he continues, “Ok, fine, a strawberry bagel. I pick a strawberry bagel as my pastry.”
“Well…” new guy taps their cheek as they think.
“Does anybody make strawberry bagels?” Ella calls across the circle.
“So I think we should just move on to the next person. Jay, we’ll come back to you regarding the pastry part of your intro,” I sigh, staring at Aaron’s empty chair. I point at the new guy, “I think you’re next.”
“Fine. I’m Emmanuel. My pronouns are they, them. My pastry is toast,” new guy says.
Jay throws his hands into the air. His midnight skin flushes red, “You get toast?! And I can’t have a bagel?!”
“Toast with jam,” Emmanuel shrugs. “It’s sweet.”
Emmanuel glares around the circle. Ella nods supportively. Jay rolls his eyes. The air above Aaron’s chair seems to shift in a neutral way.
The director appears one afternoon to show us some edited clips his documentary team has been working on.
“I think these clips will give you a sense of the documentary’s main mission: to humanize and normalize different sexualities, and uh, abilities,” director man says.
“To humanize and normalize dildos,” Jay smirks and lazily drapes an arm across the back of my chair.
“Could you be serious for one second?” Arman squints his eyes at Jay.
Jay squints back at Arman, “Could you be not-ugly for one second?”
Marissa squints at everyone, “I think we are losing focus here.”
“Anyway….” the director clears his throat. “I am first going to show you a clip of Callie describing an experience with your district manager, Alec.”
I swallow loudly and end up coughing on my own spit. Jay pats my back. His fingers linger on the nape of my neck, and I wish I could just enjoy the feeling of his well moisturized fingers on my skin. But no. All I can think about his Alec and his pelvis walk.
The director clicks play on the laptop he’s put on the table in front of us. It’s me, sitting in the breakroom corner, a fern close behind me. At one point, I lean back too far back, right into the fern, a leaf poking at the corners of my mouth.
In the clip, I shove the fern away before saying, “So one night, I had to close the store with Alec, the district manager. I was playing my own music, but during cleanup, Alec disappeared into the back. After a minute, a new song comes on, and the lyrics are, ‘TAPE me / TAPE me, my friend / TAPE me / TAPE me again’. It was awful. I was so freaking scared, and I can’t even report it! Because the person I would report to is Alec.”
“I didn’t realize you had such a, uh, deep voice,” Marissa raises her eyebrows at me.
The director shuffles his feet and pauses the video. Looking at a spot above my head, he says, “So we had to censor a few words, dub over them, to make it appropriate for our audience.”
Arman laughs. Doubling over his neatly crossed legs, clasping his hands on his knees, “So we can say ‘vibrator’ and ‘sex toy,’ but not ‘rape’?”
The director nods vigorously, “Yes! I’m so glad you understand. But see, if you need to say ‘rape’, you could instead just say, ‘tape’.”
Arman tells Marissa he is “camera shy” (though, I guess not for Instagram photos?), so Marissa gives him permission to not do his interview.
“She said I just needed to provide some sort of representation of my experience working at the store,” Arman explains to me, smirking. “So I was wondering, do you know how to use a tape recorder?”
I raise my eyebrows before he hands me a series of drawings tilted, “An Illustrated Guide to Professional Clothing that Fits Over Wings: Arman’s Story.”
“Could you, like, narrate this or something? Then give it to the doc people?” he asks, converting his smirk to a smile I assume he considers sweet.
The next day, I hand him the following recording:
“Arman on Monday: Tight fitting, faux tux t-shirt with an open back.
Arman after Instagramming his outfit and reading the comments on his post for over an hour: ‘Do I have back fat?’
Arman on Tuesday: Detective cloak with two slits in the back. Fedora.
Arman after Jay looked at him: ‘What? It’s Burberry!’
Arman on Wednesday: Double suspenders over a backless button down.
Arman to me: ‘So the cloak was a knock-off, but don’t say anything to Jay…’
Arman on Thursday: Furry pink infinity scarf. No shirt.
Arman to Marissa’s raised eyebrows: ‘Is this against dress code?’”
The recording stops and Arman sighs for at least 10 seconds, rolling his eyes slowly,
“Fine, I’ll just ask Jay to do it.”
“Callie, we got a new shipment in. I need you to do inventory,” Marissa reads off the clipboard quickly. Chomps on her gum loudly. Blows a bubble and lets it pop over her lips. She scrapes the gum off with her teeth. I’m half-asleep against a locker in the back of the workroom, and only stir because I hear my name.
Marissa continues, “Arman, you’re on register. Jay’s re-stocking. Got it?”
Jay’s leaning back in his chair and raises his arm lazily. Barely makes a right angle.
Marissa chomps her gum louder and sneers at Jay’s hand. Probably wishes she could give him a detention for slouching. Given that the documentary people are sitting in on this team meeting, she’d told us to, “Behave like good school children,” and I think we are all embracing that direction in our own way.
“What?” she narrows her eyes at Jay. “We have to get the store open.”
“People have been asking questions about the Jesus dildo.” Jay drapes himself smugly against the back of his chair.
“What fucking Jesus dildo?” Marissa smacks her lips at each of us in turn. Arman’s eyes go wide. He stares determinately at a spider web in the corner.
I clear my throat, fully awake now, and shoot Jay a nasty look. “They came in last week. I think Alec ordered them.”
“That little…” Marissa bites her tongue and straightens her suit coat. “What questions, Jay?”
“Like why do we have a Jesus dildo? That old lady from the nursing home, who’s always coming in on her days out? She was super upset about it.” Jay’s tapping his feet and bites his lip to keep from laughing. It makes his dimples turn down in a stupid cute way. Even Arman, fucking lick Marissa’s asshole Arman, is covering his mouth as if he’s yawning.
“So what do we say to them?” Jay continues when Marissa doesn’t answer.
She slides her glasses onto her head and rubs her hand down her face.
“Just say…. Well, I guess, just say…” Marissa sighs deeply. “Say some customers feel it brings them closer to Jesus.”
Arman gawks. “Closer to Jesus? Like in a spiritual way?”
“I mean, I think it’s pretty literal. Since it’s a dildo,” Jay snickers.
“Just go open the store,” Marissa points at the door and taps her foot until we file out.
Ten minutes later, the bell rings, and a regular walks in. He’s middle-management at some corporate office across the street, and he has an impressive collection of pink polos and prostate stimulators. He does his regular loop then heads to the register.
“Why’d you start carrying a Jesus dildo?” he asks Arman.
I look up to see Arman stare at Marissa’s office, waiting for a save. When nothing comes, he shakes his head and says, “Well some customers say, it uh, brings them closer to Jesus.”
I can only see the back of Middle Management’s balding head, but I can see that he doesn’t respond. The register is having a slow day. Taking a full minute to process credit cards.
As the silence stretches out, Arman begins to sweat. Swipes his forehead. Scratches his ear. Eventually he clears his throat.
“You know. Closer to Jesus. Since you put Jesus inside yourself. Because its a didlo. So, uh, yea. Closer. To Jesus. I mean it’s kind of literal, I guess…” Arman begins to ramble.
“Got it. Thanks,” Pink Polo says quickly, grabbing his bejeweled butt plug and making a beeline for the door.
Jay hoots, looks over to where the doc crew is situated, and says directly into the camera lens, “We’re a regular fucking church! Hallelujah!”
Margaret Reynolds is a genderqueer author and educator based in Colorado. They enjoy writing queer romance with a sprinkle of ghost. You can find their fiction in The Thought Erotic and Danse Macabre. WEBSITE | TWITTER
Cover photo: Michael Prewett