Walking through the doors to the Portland Night Market I was met with giant hearts hanging from the ceiling accompanied by all the adornments of Valentine's day that toe the line between overwhelming kitch and perfectly romantic.
It seemed that there were an endless amount of people crowded around local vendors’ booths; a handful of white individuals selling “mexican textiles” quickly had me feeling some type of way as I bumped through shoulders standing on my toes to see what other items were being sold. After several minutes of this I found myself in the back corner where Empire Labs had set up a table for products Clone-a-Pussy and Clone-a-Willy, complete with nine colors of Willy Kits, the silicone Clone-a-Pussy, as well as a milk chocolate version of both. It seemed like a perfect fit for valentine's day especially in a self proclaimed sex positive city like Portland, I mean who wouldn't want a cast of their partner's genitals made out of chocolate? I’m being serious!
The majority of individuals making their way up to the booth were in their 20’s or 30’s and either blushing or awkwardly poking the silicone vagina cast. While it is important to emphasize that everyone’s relationship with genitals and sexuality is personal and valid, I couldn’t help but wonder why this booth made such a diverse group of typical seeming Portlanders act like teenagers in a Sex Ed class? Have we not normalized conversations on sexuality in a city where we have more per capita strip clubs than Las Vegas?
At this point it occurred to me that as a queer latinx woman I have always been aware of sexuality, and whether those dialogues were external or internal the concept that my own sexuality deviated from the norm and that my body was objectified and exotified from a young age made it impossible to forgo these conversations if I hoped to live a healthy life.
As I stood in front of the glow in the dark dildo kits and silicone pubic mound casts, I was hyper aware that this was a privilege that many individuals around me did not have and, as Valentine's Day seems to go, my heart broke a little. Not because they weren't going to make chocolate replicas of their genitalia but because conversations about sex were intimidating them.
Recognizing and normalizing human sexuality is one of the imperative steps in opening up conversations about consent, trauma, gender, heteronormativity, reproductive rights, the list only grows. If someone can’t see a vibrator without nervously giggling then how are we supposed to have serious and necessary conversations about cis male violence and dick-culture? How do we advocate for trans rights without being interrupted by ignorant questions on who has what? I am sure it may have been at times uncomfortable, even frustrating, but Empire Labs used their booth as a tool to proactively start talking about these complex issues.
As the night progressed I continued through the labyrinth of vendors, sampling gin and having the pleasure of meeting and chatting with members of multiple local business. It was a powerful experience to witness such a different side of the PDX community, but even after seeing every booth in the building I didn’t find anything I loved more than Empire Labs or anything more beautifully Portland than local companies paving the way for a more progressive future.
Written by local bad-ass babe, activist, and sex educator Kat Salas
Photography by Colette Pomerleau