Fab Magazine: Come As You Are Celebrates 10 Years

Come As You Are in Fab Magazine

Come As You Are Celebrates 10 Years

Story by: Michael Rowe Photos by: Kevin Slack

From bondage and Tantric anal workshops, to trans porn and prostate massagers, Come As You Are celebrates 10 titillating years

Leave it to Toronto The Good to be the home base of the world’s only cooperatively-run sex toy, book, and video store, "proudly worker owned and operated" and run on "democratic principles," as the store’s website proclaims. But before anyone mistakes Come As You Are for some sort of granola-fueled, patchouli-scented Mecca of fuzzy hemp lingerie and hairy feet crowned with gnarled yellow toenails, they would be wise to remember one of the store’s primary mandates— it’s about hot sex.

"Our goal is to fuck sex up," says co-owner Cory Silverberg with a genial laugh. "To screw with how people think about sex."

Today, the store’s three partners — Silverberg, Jack Lamon and Sarah Forbes-Roberts — continue to do just that. Having just celebrated the 10th anniversary of the store’s current incarnation, Come As You Are has developed a loyal following based on their products and services, including a series of sex workshops that are gaining fame not only across the city but from points further afield.

"I experience Canada as a largely tolerant culture when it comes to sex," says Silverburg, who is also a world-renowned sexologist. "It doesn’t mean [Canadians] are tolerant of everything but it’s nothing compared to the U.S."

In the mid-’90s, there was still no one central sex store that served the needs of a sexually-diverse consumer market, Silverberg says, noting that in those days erotica shoppers filled their goodie baskets with a little of Lovecraft, a bit of Priape, and a dollop of Northbound Leather.

"There was no one place that had it all," he says of the era before words like "pansexual" had entered the popular lexicon. Today, Silverberg adds, the merchant market has grown in sophistication alongside the new, more complex needs of the millennial consumers.

"Everyone who works at the store identifies as feminist, sexpositive, and gender variant in one way or another," he says. "Our politics are more ‘queer’ than the traditional Yonge Street sex store or the traditional Church Street sex store. Or, for that matter, the kind of clinical women’s sex store which is about this very narrow way of understanding what a woman is—where it’s very ‘nice’ and ‘kind.’ By the time we opened, the horror of ‘identity politics’ from the ’80s had largely abated. Today, there is much more comfort and knowledge of, for instance, trans-issues."

The issue of trans-awareness recently resulted in an unpleasant encounter with censorship in the form of a refused UPS shipment of Buck Angel porn. Angel, the famed FTM transsexual "man with a cunt," as he bills himself, came to the attention of fab readers through Nina Arsenault’s T-Girl column.

Arsenault’s column resulted in "a lot of people coming in and asking for his porn." Silverberg contacted Angel, who in turn sent him a selection of his work, from which they chose several titles.

"The shipment never made it to the border because UPS refused to carry it. Courier companies will often refuse to carry things if they think it’s obscene. This is the first time it’s ever happened to us. Buck is openly trans, which is what is ‘edgy’ about his work," Silverberg says. This trans-phobia is "a step up from [the courier companies’] regular homophobia. It’s outrageous."

Some challenges, however, remain consistent and closer to home. Not everyone who’s curious about vibrators is comfortable asking about them. It’s a declarative statement about one’s desire for sexual pleasure, unrelated to having babies.

"The majority of customers who have trouble coming into a sex store are dealing with some shame issues, but then again there’s so much social weight put on NOT talking about sex," says Silverberg. "If it isn’t about shame, it’s about a lack of support. No one is encouraged to have great sex on their own terms. Healthy sexuality is about being a ‘good lover to your partner’ and learning to ‘drive your lover wild in bed.’ It’s never about driving yourself wild. And the thing about a sex store is, you can’t pretend it’s about procreation. When you’re buying a vibrator, it’s about pleasure."

That said, there are degrees. Among men, there is definitely a culture of public sex but less of a culture of public sex learning. Like driving, women are always readier, it seems, to ask for directions.

"Younger guys show more discomfort. They ‘read’ the store as being for women. It can be a bit weird for guys — straight or gay," Silverberg says, noting that most retail environments of this kind are set up for men. "Straight men have a lot of insecurities about their sexuality and everyone working on the floor looks like a woman, whether they identify as women or not. In terms of the gay men, there’s just a few seconds of, ‘Is this a place for me?’ Then, as soon as someone on the floor says, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ they’re immediately comfortable."

Interestingly, this difference even extends to tops and bottoms."It depends on how strongly you identify as a top or a bottom," Silverberg says. "There are tops who come in for whom that is a big part of their identity. You know right away because they’re topping you. They’re asking you some minute questions about a toy that they already know the answer to. They’re not being mean about it, but they’re asserting their superiority."

Bottoms—with the exception of the odd ‘pushy bottom’ who will engage the floor staff in a belligerent attempt to be "topped" by the clerk—are generally more upfront about their needs in a way that is not dissimilar to the female customers who will often come in and comfortably talk about their sexual needs, and the straight men who basically feel compelled to manifest that they already know it.

While Come As You Are has traditionally served the needs of straight women, queer women, and lesbians well, serving the needs of gay men has provided some interesting challenges.

"[In the early years] we had a handful of loyal gay customers, mostly couples who liked the atmosphere. We’d talk a lot because we didn’t have much for them. Over the years, it’s really changed. Gay male customers challenge us in a lot of different ways because, with the exception of porn, there isn’t a lot for them."

Silverberg points out that there are thousands of books for women and straight couples about sex but paradoxically, in spite of the sexual stereotyping, there are almost no books dealing specifically with sexual pleasure for gay men. There are books about safer sex and books on coming out but, in terms of exploring sexual pleasure, the field is wide open. The main consumer sex item marketed to gay men is porn.

"Beyond that," he says, "there’s a half-hearted attempt to market sex toys to gay men." In spite of the myth that gay men automatically have their sexuality down, many "have almost no idea about sex toys, or that almost all sex toys can be used on men."

The company’s number-one sex toy bought by gay men is the Aneros prostate massager, whose jolly website ecstatically describes it as "a patented anal sphincter-driven, prostateperineum stimulator! With the Aneros, men can achieve strong, continuous, non-ejaculatory, full-body orgasms previously unattainable through conventional sexual techniques."

"It’s the toy that changed the tide for us with gay men," says Silverberg. "We were kind of hesitant, because it’s really expensive. Then it was reviewed in fab, and it started to fly off the shelves." Come As You Are sells "hundreds" a month. The gay-identified men had "no trouble asking for it, but again straight men see sex as something they shouldn’t have to pay for," he says, laughing.

But if Come As You Are owes its rapidly-growing recognition among gay men to one individual aspect of its services, it’s the sex workshops they offer. Topics range from Japanese rope bondage (conducted by famed San Francisco bondage expert Diva Midori) and seminars by Annie Sprinkle to Tantric anal-massage seminars—with demos—by Paul Barber.

"Two of his workshops are especially popular," Silverberg says. "One is called ‘Waking Up The Neighborhood,’ again with a demo. When you have a demo, it’s very popular." The workshop is designed for women who want to learn the "gazillion" ways that the male anus can be stimulated, internally and externally. This includes—but is not limited to—penetration by fingers and toys. Barber arrives at the seminar bearing a massage table and two male models who strip down and spread their cheeks in the name of higher education.

"It’s really funny," Silverberg says, laughing, "because the straight women are totally sexualizing the models who are being penetrated. It’s this radically different way to objectify the men—in a way that is totally consensual and safe. Everyone knows what they’re there for."

But what the store prefers is a blended, open environment.

"What we really want to get are a lot of different kinds of people at the workshops," he says. "One of my favourite things is to get a group of people—gay people, straight people, queer people— who then learn things from each other. The store is a mission for us so when that happens, the mission is accomplished. When I started to work in sex stores 20 years ago, people didn’t know what to ask. Sex and the City—which I’m sure you know was written entirely by gay men—had the biggest impact of anything on this business. Also, there’s the extent to which magazines have embraced sexual health and product reviews—people come in with more confidence that this is something they can ask about."

That said, for some, a little discretion is still, well...sexy.

"People like leaving the village," Silverberg says. When shopping for sex toys and books, "they don’t necessarily want to meet everyone they know."

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