Come As You Are is making the world a better place one dildo at a time

Honestly, if politicians behaved like the owners of Come As You Are, then we probably wouldn’t have Occupy Wall Street, Bay Street or any other street. This may seem like an odd way to lead into a post about Come As You Are’s sweet new location (493 Queen St. West) but that is the sentiment I left with after interviewing Jack Lamon, one of the original founders and part owners of the local sex shop. That and the fact that I really could use a new vibrator because my sex life sucks.

For fourteen years CAYA (Come As You Are) thrived in a little space just West of Bathurst on Queen. In fact, in its first year, the upstairs tenants were Peaches and Feist (fun fact for ya). Back then, sex and sexuality was different. I mean, that was before Will and Grace, before we all went online to jerk off, before Ellen or Rosie were mainstream lesbian talk show hosts and before the heartwrenching Boys Don’t Cry hit theatres. It was a different time.

In 1997 I, although more into men these days, was having a steamy sexual affair with my high school girlfriend. And it was a deep, dark secret…like, we are talking a Heavenly Creatures type of secret, minus bloody murder. NO ONE COULD KNOW! And we felt dirty. Real dirty. Real fucked up. But we were horny, and somewhat locked in an all-girls school….so, shit happens. Of course, this fear – coming out or coming to terms with one’s sexuality – still exists today, but we also have gay marriage. We still have a long way to go, but for the most part, things have changed.

While many sex shops limit themselves to nurse outfits, handcuffs and naughty cop outfits (yawn) CAYA has always been a lot more than that. Since its early days, it has defied the stereotype of a sex toy shop having dark tinted windows and neon XXX signs. Even in 1997, their core values were to challenge biases and assumptions about sex. Beyond being open to all sexual orientations, accessibility was and is paramount. “Our space has always been wheelchair accessible; we’ve always had a wheelchair accessible washroom. We’ve always been approachable for people to ask questions, we are super open to other people’s sexuality or politics or orientations – whatever it is. Open, honest, transparent and accessible to as many people as possible,” Lamon says. That’s a solid mandate that we absolutely respect.

For a long time, CAYA always had thick curtained front windows to make customers feel comfortable upon entering. Although switching this entrance was a rehashed conversation for many years, they decided to make the change and open up the windows for good with their move to Queen and Spadina. “We didn’t want to reinforce any feelings of shame that people had about coming in our shop. At a certain point, we found that having our windows curtained was more of a barrier. We are an open, available-to-all space and we want people to feel that. Also, our new store is a lot longer and deeper so you can have a lot of privacy when you are in the back of store browsing DVDs, men’s toys or dildos. The only time anyone ever sees you from the street is maybe looking at books which is pretty innocent.” Says Lamon. Giant dongs to the back people, giant dongs to the back.

The new move has also opened up CAYA to increased street traffic and a more mainstream demo. “In ’97 we were purely a destination store. Now, being closer to Spadina, we are getting folks who hang out at American Apparel and Urban Outfitters; it’s a whole new audience for us for sure.” Says Lamon as I squirt various lubes on my hand to test out.

So why is it called CAYA Co-op? Lamon gives us a lesson in politics: “We are worker owned. We (the three owners) are all equally invested financially and emotionally and our labour is equally invested in the running of the store. There is no hierarchy; we decide things on a consensus-reaching model. The cool thing about it means that our store, our selection of products, labour policies and hiring policies are all determined by more than one person. At all times the store reflects a diversity of views, just inherently because of how we are organized.” A consensus model may not work when it comes to governing a country or regulating world banking but CAYA’s management is the opposite of impulsive and greedy. They are conscientious, methodical and fair. We could all learn from them.

Beyond a mandate grounded in the core values of accessibility and open-mindedness and a democratic management style, CAYA also does a whole lot of outreach in high schools and universities to help young people think the same way they do, when it comes to sexuality. Further, they offer support to parents who are trying to understand their kids’ sexuality, be it straight, queer or transgendered. Seriously, if their philosophies were implemented by the powers that be, we really would have a more balanced, accepting society where equality was a real priority.

Whether you are a hetero girl who loves cock, a queer girl who loves pussy, a kinky girl who likes leather or a girl who feels more like a boy, CAYA has got something for you to try, experiment with and enhance your sex life. Heck, your confidence! I left with a beautiful book of erotic photos, a bottle of organic lube and four condoms. Maybe I’ll get lucky, but if not, I’m happy to just fuck myself.

Come As You Are new location is 493 Queen St. West, just west of Spadina.

Check out their website for a gazillion sex toy products and store info.

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