I Make Gun-Shaped Dildos: Deal With It

In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”

Marnika Shelton
Oakland, California 

I got a package of dicks in the mail this morning.

My typical day involves getting up at 7 am, having a cup of coffee and then several hours of meetings, emails and proposals on everything from manufacturing details to speaking engagements to the next sex-positive vending opportunity. Dozens of people have contributed to my project, Trigger Happy Toy, over the years. Currently I have a team of five dedicated people, but I’m the only one who is full time.

It takes a lot more to get dicks made than I originally anticipated. Most of the work has gone into making sure the design file is right, testing the product and then making adjustments. The other portion involves getting funding.

My background is in fine art, which I’ve done professionally for over two decades as a private and a public art contractor. During the dark years, when the public art was slow, I worked in a coffee shop. I also sold insurance and managed a small lighting consulting firm for five years. Those jobs gave me a lot of the skills I needed in the early stages of starting a business.

I love pushing boundaries, but this was different. Instead of talking about race, class or the Black cultural experience, I wanted to talk about sex.

Today is one of those days that feels like Christmas. No two of my days look alike, but days like this top the list. The package is of density samples from a new manufacturer. I’ve learned that finding the right firmness and texture for each toy makes all the difference in user experience.

I’m 32 and originally from Kansas City, Missouri. My journey started when I was a shy, queer, radical college kid who wasn’t quite out of the closet. In a third-year advanced ceramics course at California College of the Arts, the instructor told us to dig deep, to look into that dark place and find something funny, something light and let it speak out loud.

My work has always had something to say and I love pushing boundaries, but this was different. Instead of talking about race, class or the Black cultural experience, I wanted to talk about sex, more specifically, gender identity and overcompensation.

I wanted to talk about how sexual shame and toxic masculinity are major factors in gender-based crimes, and that the shooting of unarmed Black men is a gender-based crime. So I created the Dual Compensation Series, my first excursion into erotic art and the basis for the Nikita dildo.

Cocked and loaded.

The Dual Compensation Series was as personal as it was political. It was unlike any of my previous work: sexy, sleek, alluring and pretty funny. It combined two objects — firearms and dildos — that symbolize compensation in such an obvious and iconic way. The series was created to make a joke of toxic masculinity, shining a light on how anyone can be capable of it regardless of their gender identity.

My work portrays the gun as sexy and alluring, while in reality it is a tool of destruction and fear. I cried the first time I fired a gun. People are afraid to ask me about my personal beliefs and opinions on firearms. It’s easier to fall in line with the status quo and say that guns are a right than it is to challenge the fear that causes that belief. I believe that Americans are more comfortable with violence than with sexuality.

I created the Dual Compensation Series for queer radical feminists, for dissatisfied housewives, for anyone who has ever felt powerless or ashamed of who they are. What began as sexual, social and political satire took flight. By the end of the day people were asking: “Is it functional?” “When it will be functional?” “When can I get one?”

Choosing to develop the Nikita and the Trigger Happy Toy line has taken me to places I could not have imagined. The art series was deeply political. So, what did it mean to take an object that was both appealing and controversial and declare that it would be a viable product? I know it sounds like an odd choice for a shy, queer, radical feminist, but here I am. The toys I create are fine art that you can fuck!

When I began, I had to decide if this was a road I was willing to pave. Like others who possess the entrepreneurial spirit, I was excited by the challenge. As an entrepreneur there is no formula. But starting a sex toy business is starting a business. Like any other it takes passion and determination.

I sell the Nikita online and at community events. So far, all sales are preorders until I complete development of the final product. In addition to the Nikita, I offer a wide range of sex-positive products and information and free safe-sex supplies.

I haven’t sold many by big-business standards, but for a small business I have a loyal customer base; my customers really believe in the company. My last crowdfunding campaign was a success. 

Not bad for a small, mission-driven startup that aims to create a world free from sexual shame; one where people are educated, empowered to live as they choose and consent is the framework for human interaction.

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