Lawrenceville lingerie shop Calligramme just celebrated its third anniversary on Dec. 13, and owner Marissa Vogel wanted to mark the occasion by starting a sex- and body-positive speaking series in the shop, called Let’s Talk About Sex.
The inaugural talk featured two young people who are working for positive change in the sex industry from the inside. Zoë Ligon, the self-proclaimed Duchess of Dildos, is a sex educator, journalist and porn collage artist based in Detroit who is also CEO of sex shop Spectrum Boutique, and uses she/her pronouns. Tatiana Farfan-Narcisse, a Pittsburgh-based musician, artist and sex worker, uses they/them pronouns. Ligon is currently working on a collaboration with Calligramme, where Farfan-Narcisse is an employee. City Paper sat down with both to talk sex, safety and the self.
How can people support the movement toward gender neutrality/gender fluidity/non-binary with younger people and their sex education?
TFN: I think about that pretty often as someone who is gender-fluid and orientation-fluid. Growing up, I didn’t realize that I was non-binary until I really knew there was a language for it. These are things I’ve felt my entire life. People think it’s a new thing, that it’s an internet trend. Non-binary and trans people have been around since ancient civilizations. As far as informing younger people, I feel like just talking about it and having it being known. It’s as simple as giving kids the opportunity to know that they dictate whatever it is that they are.
For people who are older, I think including [gender diversity] in porn, ’cause I know with me, my sexual exploration came largely from watching porn, and this was the early 2000s, so it was very straight. We have so much stuff out there right now, and it makes me tingle just knowing that there’s things out there for trans people. That they’re just included, and it’s not a weird separation like a kink, because it’s been there but as a fetishized category.
ZL: Everything is a spectrum. Obviously, the name of my business is Spectrum, but it truly boils down to sexuality itself. Some of us are asexual and in-between. It’s the same with vulva and a penis, and that’s exactly why I don’t gender the toys. I think it does a better job of representing the why-they-are-used. Instead of saying a “clitoral stimulator,” the clit is an homologous body part to the head of a penis. While we call these visual configurations of flesh different names, there are so many people who also have what maybe a doctor would visually say is a penis, but they don’t call that their penis. I don’t think it makes sense to say, “This is for a penis, this is for a vulva.” ... It’s so easy to remove the [gender] assignments of things and, in the end, I think it’s a genuinely a more effective way of communicating.
How do you deal with STIs in your work or talking to those that are or may be affected by them?
ZL: I like to disclose that I had three false-positive HIV tests and two false-positive hepatitis tests in my lifetime. I’ve lived periods of my life where I thought there was a decent chance I was HIV-positive. In reality, the only STI I’ve ever had is gonorrhea, and I was only ever having protected sex, literally even protected blowjobs, because this was after my first two scares. Still got gonorrhea. You’re truly never safe. ... Every sex act is different and with varying risk level, but it’s all risky. It’s no reason to be abstinent though. My best advice is to go about it the way you have a conversation with [a potential sex partner] about it. How do they talk about it? Are they comfortable? Are they defensive?
TFN: If I could tell anything to any younger person, it’s “be fucking safe with your body, especially if you’re seeing multiple partners.” Be respectful of yourself and your partners and disclose and communicate. When you get to having fun, that’s not always your first priority, but that’s what I want people to know. Have your good, sexy loose fun, but please, please communicate. Being sexual with other people is such a vulnerable, wonderful thing and people make it so ugly when they withhold information. You shouldn’t be shunned and shamed if you have an STI, but just be honest. It’s this bullshit [cultural] idea of purity and cleanliness, and it sets a negative connotation with things that are just normal. They happen so much to so many people and it’s not going to ruin your life.
Calligramme will host its next Let’s Talk About Sex at 7 p.m. Sat., Jan. 13, at its location in Lawrenceville. The topic is Kink and Power Exchange Relationships. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/calligramme.us/